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Going Beyond Traditional Learning Programs

70% of learning is informal, so it’s time for managers to think beyond just traditional training programs

On September 3, 2014, American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) will be hosting the Government Workforce: Learning Innovations Conference. The conference will provide a unique opportunity for government leaders to explore how new learning models can help solve government challenges. The goal of the conference is to highlight government collaboration and give attendees the knowledge to adopt new learning methods within their agency.

Recently, GovLoop spoke with Gus Crosetto, chief learning officer, GAO, to learn more about his session at the event: Integrated Training Platforms: Mobile Learning, Social Learning, In-Person and Learning Teams. “There is more to learning than just structured education and formal training,” said Crosetto.

At the GAO, Crosetto is leading the charge to explore new ways to introduce informal learning to guide performance initiatives at the individual, organizational and agency level – and that includes both informal and formal learning.

“We recognize that about 70% of the learning is informal. And we recognize that there are ways to harness these elements of learning to either evaluate it or enable it to complement formal learning,” said Crosetto. “We also realize that in some cases informal learning takes precedence over formal learning and that traditional classroom, or some kind of structured learning event is a complement to the informal learning, but it works both ways.”

But in order to reform learning at GAO, Crosetto and his team face a few obstacles. “The biggest challenge that we face is changing the prevalent mindset that traditional education is the only valid way to learn,” Crosetto said. “Many organizational structures in the federal government are based on 20 to 30 year old models and mindsets that still linger today, and learning assessments are no exceptions.”

More challenges faced by government include the facts that formal training is becoming unsustainable, spaces are being reduced and travel is being restricted. “The time away from actual work of learners is being scrutinized more closely because of budget constraints and right now, training time and resources are more limited,” said Crosetto.

In this kind of environment, agencies are paying closer attention to the time that employees spend on training, and are more reluctant to provide more traditional learning opportunities. “However, there is always time to learn on your own what you need to do your job, when and where it is most convenient for you and your employees, and we have to capitalize on that,” said Crosetto.

Crosetto reminded us that although “leading practices” are important, these practices must be placed in the right context, mapping to the culture of a particular agency.

“You’ll find that each organization culture differs so much from your own, it’s sometimes very hard to adopt [leading practices],” said Crosetto. It’s important that government agencies share their knowledge and collaborate with each other, but there is a need to integrate and assimilate that knowledge carefully to fit their agency’s cultural norms and established operating procedures.

At the GAO, Crosetto is experimenting with a three-stage organizational learning framework. The first stage is the acquisition of knowledge, by thinking of new ways for employees to learn through informal and formal learning practices. The second stage is the socialization of knowledge, or understanding how to “operationalize” new insights and bring them into the agency in ways that actually advance its mission. The final stage is the self-assessment of knowledge, so both individuals and teams can measure progress and seek ways to achieve mastery of skills and competencies.

“Whether employees acquire knowledge informally, accidently or from experiences in other organizations, we particularly don’t care, as long as they bring in that knowledge and it is contextualized to the agency,” said Crosetto. By providing flexible learning opportunities, the agency is able to facilitate individual informal learning and at the same time provide “…the structure necessary for this learning to be evaluated and integrated to accomplish its mission.”

“There is movement in the federal government to change the ways we learn, how we create knowledge and how we transfer it to others,” said Crosetto.

You can find more information on the ASTD event here.

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