by Claire Schooley.

Organization’s learning leaders hear the words “informal learning” or “eLearning 2.0” and think, “Oh my, now we have to change the way we provide training!” Yes, you may want to make some changes but, more importantly, you need to look at existing learning within your organization and determine what is training and what is education or development. I see two distinct types of learning that are both complementary, but also dramatically different. Today’s knowledge workers need both.

Training refers to the learning that employees access in order to do their job. This includes traditional mandated training for fields like accounting or pharmaceuticals. But a large percentage of training should be the “just-in-time” kind that gives the employees the information or knowledge refresher that they need to continue their work task. This informal learning is driven by the employee and is generally not tracked except to indicate the number of employees who have accessed the sites. Examples include online mentoring, clicking on the “just-in-time” learning related to the work topic for a three-to-five minute learning nugget, accessing the context-sensitive learning built into the application, or clicking on “expertise location” on the intranet to find a person in the organization who has the expertise to help. This kind of training or knowledge seeking requires a good search engine to find a document, PowerPoint, video, blog, wiki, etc. on the organization’s intranet site. A good practice is to make the five to ten-minute learning objects or course components searchable so an employee can find the exact part of a module or course that will provide the assistance they need.

Education and Development are about deeper, broader learning that employees need in order to grow. Today we are all lifelong learners. Changes in the business world are happening so fast that unless employees are constantly developing their expertise in their field and related fields, they will not be valued employees who move ahead in an organization. Programs both online and classroom-based prepare employees for promotions, transfers, or even planned downsizing. Sometimes these learning experiences may not focus on specific or even anticipated job needs but rather on general employee development. This kind of learning helps employees stay in a state of constant learning readiness, broaden their perspectives, and increase their ability to cope with change. Examples of learning for general education or future development include business acumen courses, leadership skill development, getting along with difficult people, simulated sales training, etc.

Employers should consider offering a mix of both training and education/development. The culture of your organization must put a premium on continual learning and reward employees who are working toward self-improvement and growth, as well as greater job skill expertise. Companies can compete more effectively by helping their employees learn how to learn.