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by Eileen Van Tyne and Mary WilliamsGetting started with informal learning, step 3: change management

When organizations move to include an informal learning strategy in a previously “formal learning only” model, the transition heralds change on many levels. It affects areas as varied as learning measurement and assessment strategies, delivery platforms, governance, maintenance, and roles and responsibilities across the organization.

Fear of the unknown

This kind of sweeping change is often met with widespread resistance. Though the symptoms, concerns, and objections may vary, the root causes of resistance are usually barriers such as skepticism, disinterest, fear, or lack of skills/knowledge. But by implementing your informal learning strategy in a careful and considered manner – including defining what informal learning means to your organization and gathering your requirements before you create a strategy – you can find ways to minimize resistance to change and maximize benefits to your end users.

Change management

Change management is a process that helps individuals and organizations shift from a current state to a different, desired one. Change management involves stakeholders in the process of the change, helping them gain motivation, skills, knowledge, and confidence in their ability to succeed in a new situation. Using techniques from the change management toolbox, champions of informal learning can anticipate and mitigate these barriers and facilitate people’s transition to the new learning form.

Common barriers to informal learning

There is some common resistance (often expressed as disinterest) that you may anticipate or encounter when transitioning from formal to informal learning.

In the case of stakeholders, resistance tends to be rooted in two areas:

  • Loss of authority or control. Informal learning that incorporates social elements – commenting, contributing, and crowdsourcing – can cause concerns about the ”right” information being shared. This is understandable as it’s a shift from formal learning, where the content goes through an approval process before it’s disseminated, and usually isn’t revised until the next official update.
  • Concern that informal learning will not be effective. Consider that measurement of formal learning – course registrations, assessment scores and learner reaction scores – won’t translate precisely to informal learning. Informal learning can provide meaningful metrics and analytics, but what’s measured and communicated will be different.

For learners, anxiety arises from other sources:

  • No role models for engagement. Though learners may not articulate this concern, informal learning is a shift and they may not know what the right behavior is: “Should I comment? Should I contribute? Am I expert enough? How much is too much?”
  • Belief that informal learning will not be relevant or helpful to their work. Learners today have access to many sources of information. They may see informal learning as another drag on their information load, as opposed to beneficial.

Elements of a change plan that will help with success

While every situation will be unique in its needs and solutions, there are a few ways that change management techniques can support most organizations’ transition to informal learning:

  • Create a business case that aligns motivators with plan and proves relevance. This will be an effective tool to use with stakeholders to align expected benefits with stakeholder needs, and to monitor results.
  • Craft effective communications to reduce fear and answer questions. This can help learners transition to informal learning confidently, knowing what their expectations and behaviors should be. Ongoing communications can provide as encouragement and reinforcement of new behavior, as well.
  • Provide education/training to raise skills and lower fear. This can help learners to understand how to find the informal learning that’s appropriate for them, and to model desired behaviors.

By carefully managing your learners’ transition into an informal learning environment – as well as setting realistic expectations with your stakeholders – you can alleviate friction and increase adoption of your chosen informal learning delivery method.

What do you think?

Have you encountered resistance to change in your organization, from other people — ore even from yourself? What steps did you take to overcome it? Let us know in the comments section below.

Read more

Visit Intrepid’s Informal Learning: Starting at Square One page for a collection of resources to help you begin the informal learning journey in your organization.

Eileen is a senior learning consultant, based in Oakland, California. She has over 11 years experience performing analysis, design and development to help clients achieve business goals through learning solutions.

Mary is a senior instructional designer, based in Seattle, WA. She has over 20 years experience building and executing workforce development programs and tools to empower and inspire talent.

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