Work Backwards & Define Results First: Measuring Informal Learning Strategically
by Tom Ford, MATD candidate
Informal learning is one of the greatest learning tools of the 21st century and also one of the biggest headaches for the modern trainer to evaluate effectively. Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels of Evaluation (Reaction, Learning, Behavior and Results) offers a starting point for tackling this problem but lacks a clear implementation framework. The problem is further exacerbated by inconsistent organizational policies around the use of one of the biggest informal learning platforms in existence today: social media. Therefore, how do you create a comprehensive evaluation framework to capture a wide variety of informal learning possibilities that exist in an organization while also promoting the adoption of an informal learning program? To begin, always start by working backward through the 4 levels:
- Create a clear, company-wide definition of what is and what is not informal learning that everyone is upheld to in the company in order to ensure that managers do not discredit or discourage employee time spent on informal learning. Creating this definition will also help with the development of organizationally relevant informal learning groups. As Mattox writes, these groups include: communities of practice, virtual knowledge sharing, performance support, and mentoring.  Understand what the end results or goals are and work with leadership to remove organizational barriers to achieving these goals before designing your program.
- Develop a qualitative feedback system with quantitative components for managers to evaluate their employees’ behavioral growth from informal learning. This could be as simple as sending out a survey with data showing the groups of informal learning employees have taken during a quarter that includes a numerical ranking system for managers to indicate the perceived impacts, or lack thereof, that specific informal learning groups have had on the performance of their direct reports. Both managers and employees should have a clear understanding of what the groups mean and how they are used in the evaluation process.
- Gather feedback from employees on what will motivate them to document their informal learning experiences so that they will be willing to A) briefly explain what they learned and B) briefly describe how they plan to practice their new skills. Motivation to do so could come in the form of a points system. For example, every time an employee documents an informal learning experience they will earn 100 points redeemable for purchases in an online store that sells merchandise, gift cards, and paid time off! As always, set the expectations with the employees at the beginning of the program.
- Establish a system where employees can document their reactions to different learnings and use the groups to classify their informal learning experiences. This system of record could be an LMS like Moneyball for Sales or it could be an HRIS like Workday.
When creating any evaluation program, it is essential to start with a strategic approach by defining the desired organizational results first. Once you know the expectations, the challenges of analyzing behavior, documenting learnings, promoting program adoption, and choosing the right system of record to become much easier to manage. Has your organization recently implemented an informal learning program? If so, how are you measuring the results and what challenges have you encountered?
 Kirkpatrick, D., & Kirkpatrick, J. (2006). Evaluating Training Programs: The Four Levels. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Mattox, John R., II. (2012). Measuring the effectiveness of informal learning methodologies. T + D, 66(2), 48-53,8. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.roosevelt.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/921536572?accountid=28518