Training & Development: Why More Employers Will Be Off the Hook

Eighty percent of learning in the workplace is informal, according to Jay Cross and a number of other researchers. That means that 20 percent of the learning is formal, structured training, organized, funded and required by employers.

Think about it. When your boss gives you a new task with no instruction or direction, you will likely turn to a coworker or search engine to guide you. In certain environments, particularly professional services (consulting), you are likely to be challenged in this manner several times a week, if not daily.

Also, when it comes to cross-functional groups within the workplace, we learn from peers who work in different functions by listening to the way they solve their slice of the problem in the project, as well as by their actions in key situations. We take that new knowledge and apply it, sometimes subconsciously, to future projects and roles.

As HR teams consider and assess learning functions within their organizations, they must factor in the digital component to learning, particularly in organizations with large employee bases. It’s also important that HR professionals realize that they will likely not be able to keep up with the learning required to keep every employee properly trained to industry standards and demand. With this in mind, some organizations will have to realize that search engines, blogs, and collaboration portals will likely fulfill the learning needs for most of your employees 80 percent of the time.


  1. Speed - Time is money, and Google’s algorithms get it right most of the time. And chat is quicker than reading a book or pamphlet.
  2. Error Recovery -  When Google gets it wrong, just reword the query.
  3. On-Demand coaching - Peers can provide coaching and support while educating, online and in-person.
  4. Neapolitan results - Depending on the challenge, there’s likely several approaches from credible sources online.
  5. Embarrassment Avoidance - No one looks stupid on a search engine or on a portal. (Some people really are afraid of looking incompetent and won’t ask a peer or manager.)

What does it mean for HR?

  1. Research your employees. Before investing in any learning approach, most organizations should actually study how their employees learn across multiple functions. Whether through ethnography, interviews, or college campus visits (for future planning), build an understanding of YOUR organization. Secondary research and previous experience can only take an HR professional so far in unearthing realized and unrealized learning needs specific to their company.
  2. Plan to teach your employees how to fish. HR professionals should be looking at ways to teach employees resourcefulness versus teaching leadership and/or hard skills. The organization of the future will be looking for employees who are resourceful enough to get in front of problems by way of their own (or borrowed) ingenuity.
  3. Build learning platforms, not modules. Most learning managers tend to think in courses and modules, which works for the organization of yesterday. Today, we should be creating learning platforms that truly become a resource year-round. From collaboration to knowledge-sharing to employee-led social interactions, let informal learning have a formal place within your learning structure.
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