Well-trained employees are good for business. They perform better, stay in their jobs longer, and create happier customers. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get these benefits. You can use informal on-the-job training to improve performance and save money.
Formal training takes a big investment.
Formal training, which includes highly structured classes, courses, videos or games often come in expensive packages with high costs for development and instruction. But most companies only use formal training for their employee development programs.
According to the Association for Training and Development’s 2015 Industry Report, U.S. businesses spent $70.6 billion on training programs and personnel. The average company spends $702 on training for one employee in one year, and an average employee spends 53.8 hours in training.
However, it’s estimated that as little as 10-15% of what an employee learns in training gets applied in everyday work. So with traditional training programs, we pay a lot of money for little real return. And that high cost-to-benefit ratio may keep many businesses from developing any form of training.
Informal learning combines low cost with strong results.
Employees don’t really need a formal program to learn their jobs. They watch others, ask questions, get little demos from their colleagues, and make mistakes until they’ve figured out what to do.
It’s effective, but it’s not efficient.
It’s effective because
- Employees seek out knowledge they need to complete their jobs.
- They apply learning immediately.
- They see the advantage of the new knowledge immediately.
- They’re less likely to forget new information.
But it’s inefficient because
- People don’t always know what they need to know.
- They learn in a haphazard manner.
- Managers have a hard time measuring their progress.
- They may not learn according to best practice standards.
However, with a little organization, you can use informal learning channels to deliver a well-planned, measurable training program at a low cost.
How to Build a Learning Plan based on Informal Channels
A learning and development plan starts with the behaviors you want employees to adopt. These can range from operating equipment to handling customer complaints.
- Start by listing several of these key behaviors.
- Describe the best practice standards for each.
- Identify informal channels through which employees can learn them. For example, an experienced employee can demonstrate how to use equipment and supervise until the learner can do it alone. Or you can discuss customer complaints in team meetings and agree on an escalation procedure for everyone to use.
- If the skill you want employees to learn is complex, you can break it into smaller steps. This is optional depending on your needs.
- Identify experienced employees who can act as “teachers” for these skills. These are the people who can demonstrate how to use equipment, help people handle customer complaints or lead group discussions.
- Assign specific skills to employees. Tell them which people to work with and point out any existing resources they can use, such as an operating manual for equipment.
Because you’ve listed each behavior and assigned it to specific employees, managers or learning and development professionals can track how well each person is doing.
This approach solves several problems with un-managed informal learning.
- You help employees understand what they need to know.
- You give them a step-by-step approach with support so they don’t get frustrated.
- You can track and manage progress.
- You emphasize best practices by incorporating them into the behavior description.
Rather than pushing formal training from the top down, you can ask employees to take accountability for learning because you’ve given them the pathway and tools to do so.
Informal training keeps costs low.
Informal learning with this kind of structure keeps costs low because the resources you can use don’t have to be classroom presentations or videos. Your greatest teachers are your team members.
Match up learners with experienced colleagues to demonstrate skills, coach their efforts, and validate their achievements. You can mix in videos, instructional articles or other resources if you have them, but you don’t have to sink money into building out full courses or hiring professional instructors.
(By the way, if you’d still like to create a formal program at some point, start with informal learning to find out what works and what doesn’t before you spend on development.)
Informal learning offers flexibility.
In addition to saving money, informal learning gives you the flexibility to react to changing business needs. Since you haven’t built out a training program of classes or videos, if you update your customer care practices, you can easily adjust your training program to match.
Informal learning can give you better results.
Informal training is, by nature, results-oriented. Employees are learning by doing and applying their new knowledge immediately.
They’re also receiving immediate feedback from their co-worker “teachers,” which greatly speeds up learning and gives people a sense of progress and achievement.
Social interaction improves employee engagement.
Research has shown that employees who have friends at work are more engaged and satisfied with their jobs. Social interactions, such as those employed for informal training, makes learning more engaging and helps with retention. It also helps people develop strong bonds with co-workers.
There’s no need to spend a lot of money on training. Your employees already know how to learn from each other. You only need to provide the support and resources to make that process easier and more efficient. And in return, you get all the advantages of a training program with much lower costs.