Published by HRMblogs, on 23/07/2021
By Lisa MD Owens (Author, Consultant, Speaker for Learning and Careers)
Non-formal learning, when designed in combination with formal and informal learning, can make it easier for talent professionals to measure contributions to the business.
Talent professionals know that one-and-done training doesn’t work. We’ve moved on to blended learning, learning journeys and learning clusters so we can chunk content into a more digestible bites of spaced learning delivered over time. If we are willing to navigate further into the murky area of non-formal learning, we can still measure success.
Why non-formal learning?
There are three commonly considered forms of learning: formal, informal and non-formal.
Even though our days are full trying to meet the formal training needs, non-formal learning assets can help us deliver more for the business and employees – and we can prove that it works with effective measurement objectives.
Non-formal learning benefits
Before we dig into non-formal learning measurements, let’s look briefly at the benefits of designing non-formal learning assets, including lower talent development (TD) staffing needs, increased employee learning, increased knowledge retention and improved workplace performance.
How can we measure non-formal learning?
When we design learning assets, learning professionals start with learning objectives. Learning objectives are wonderful for keeping instructional designers focused on the end goal and for communicating with learners what they can expect from a learning program. Our typical structure is “By the end of this course, you will be able to ….” We can measure and prove that learners meet these objectives by building in end-of-course activities or tests.
To do the same thing for nonformal learning, apply a concept from the Learning Cluster Design (LCD) model – a strategic performance objective (SPO). It describes behaviors learners will take in the workplace, as a result of learning — actions that will positively impact a business measure. While the template for an SPO is similar to a traditional learning objective, it goes further by going outside the formal environment and linking the desired business result to a change in on-the-job behavior. Here is the template:
Figure 1: SPO Template
(from the Learning Cluster Design Model)
Once the SPO is agreed upon, instructional designers can focus on crafting a learning asset that guides people to learn on their own in a way that is consistent with their workplace context. Next, design a tool to measure for the desired behavior. For example, provide learners with a self-assessment tool, ask managers of learners for a pre/post-assessment or track the change digitally with help of the IT department or other online systems. These measurement tools are often simply tangible variations of the information already gathered to define ideal performance. The difference is the ideal performance information is being shared with learners and not just the instructors and designers. Here is an example:
The Ontime Project Delivery Project. The company was losing customers due to repeated inability of project teams to meet the project deadlines. The SPO:
By improving project time management (skill) for project teams (learners) the business will reduce late project deliveries by 70 percent (KPI). Expected changes to on-the-job behavior include:
a) all project managers using the online Stage Gate software (SGS);
b) team members access their projects on the SGS at least weekly,
c) in project meetings, team members commit to deadlines only after checking the SGS, and
d) project managers regularly update senior leaders on schedule, including specific requests for resources to address unexpected critical path issues that threaten on-time delivery.
The formal, informal and non-formal learning assets designed to meet this SPO include:
Imagine everyone’s delight when the percentage of on-time projects improves within 6 months after each department rolls out this training solution. These numbers encourage previously reluctant departments to quickly deploy the same training.
Note that the SPO measures the combination of learning assets, not just the formal event. As Mosher and Gottfredson said in their 2011 book “Innovative Performance Support,” “There is a huge gap between mastering content delivered in a learning event and being able to apply that content in an effective and productive way on the job.” By using the higher order strategic performance objective to measure the overall impact of formal, informal and non-formal learning, we are better able to show how learning programs are delivering business results.
Note too, in this example, the impact on TD staffing, employee learning, knowledge retention and workplace performance. TD staff could roll out an overview course plus some templates and job aids faster than they could roll out their standard two-day class to teach time management and scheduling. Employees learn over time, with reminders for the first four weeks, ongoing from the team’s project manager, and further learning through the online forum where they could post their own learnings and gain from others’ posts. Knowledge retention improves with reflection, application activities, goal setting and periodic self-assessments. And workplace performance changes as behaviors change, to deliver what the business needs.
When to design formal, informal or non-formal
Instead of focusing our design efforts on formal training and adding in other things, consider designing learning clusters instead. A learning cluster is a group of learning assets that take into account what each primary learner persona needs. While developing a learning cluster that consists of formal, informal and non-formal learning assets, it helps to identify learner needs by keeping in mind Mosher & Gottfredson’s “Five Moments of Learning Need.” Here is a map of the learning cluster for the above example.
|Learning Assets (by Personas)|
|Project Manager||Project Team Members||Learning Type||5 Moments of Learning Need*|
|Overview Class||Overview Class||Formal||New|
|SGS Tracking||SGS Tracking||Non Formal||More|
|SGS Job Aid||Online Forum; PM coaching||Informal||Apply|
|Online Forum||Online Forum||Informal||Solve|
|Online Forum||Online Forum||Informal||Change|
Non-formal learning, when designed and measured in combination with formal and informal learning, can make it easier to measure contributions to the business. The strategic performance objective is the key. The SPO establishes our focus, aligns our multiple learning assets to observable on-the-job behavior change, and prompts us to build in measures that demonstrate how the learning cluster delivers employee and business success.
(This article was originally published on chieflearningofficer.com)
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