Although most Training and Development professionals conduct survey learners in individual courses immediately after those learning events, practical issues (such as the fact that informal learning often happens unconsciously, outside of the scope of a scheduled event) make such methods difficult to use in many informal learning settings.
In such cases, a few strategically placed questions on surveys used for other purposes can provide insights into broader informal learning processes and the resources used for informal learning.
Consider these three opportunities.
Opportunity 1: Employee Opinion Surveys. To learn about the informal learning habits of employees and contractors, place some questions about informal learning on an employee opinion survey.
Many organizations conduct to get a sense about which aspects of the workplace are satisfactory, which ones need attention, and the extent of engagement workers feel with their employers. These surveys address a wide range of topics, from management and facilities to awareness of benefits and, of course, learning and development opportunities.
In addition to asking workers about their awareness of formal learning opportunities, employee opinion surveys might also ask about workers’ awareness of, participation in, and satisfaction with informal learning opportunities. Specifically, employee opinion surveys might explore these issues:
- In terms of awareness, the survey might ask workers about their awareness of specific programs that might be offered, such as mentoring, self-study e-learning courses, and lecture series, as well as perceptions about the appropriateness of workers’ use of work time to learn informally
- In terms of participation, the survey might ask about workers’ participation in a variety of activities intended for informal learning, as well as the extent to which they feel they can learn from existing job assignments and activities (like meetings)
- In terms of satisfaction, the survey might ask workers the extent to which they feel the organization supports not only formal learning efforts, but the need to learn outside of the classroom and on work time.
Opportunity 2: Customer Surveys, which play a similar role to employee opinion surveys. These surveys assess customer perceptions of, and satisfaction with, the entire customer experience–not treatment and availability of information before a sale and treatment and availability of support after a sale.
Because informal learning plays a crucial role in all of these sales-related activities, customer surveys might inquire about it. Specifically, surveys might explore these issues:
- Before the sale, how did customers feel about the extent of information available to help them make a purchase, the quality of that information, and the usefulness of that information in making a decision?
- After the sale, how did customers feel about the extent of information available to help them install the product (if needed) and integrate it into the operations, the quality of that information, and the usefulness of that information in making a decision?
- Which resources did customers use? Why did they use those resources and how did they feel about them?
Opportunity 3: Perception Studies. In addition to tracking opinion at a point in time, surveys that are conducted at several points in time—using the exact same questions—can also track changes in attitudes over time.
In terms of informal learning, such surveys might track changes in awareness of organizational initiatives or adoption of changed work processes. Such surveys are usually conducted several times.
The first usually occurs before the materials are introduced; subsequent surveys taken at periodic intervals track changes in awareness and attitudes. Such approaches to surveys are regularly used in marketing and public relations to track the impact of campaigns.
Tip: To learn more about evaluating informal learning, see chapter 8 of the book, Informal Learning Basics.