Digital has brought new and informal ways of learning


View a video tutorial on YouTube or an online dictionary, work on English in public transport thanks to a dedicated application … To develop their skills, professionals are increasingly using these modes of informal digital learning. This is shown by two studies conducted by the [HRM Digital Lab] of the Institut Mines-Télécom Business School, with a representative sample of 1,000 employees in France.

According to the 2016 Kantar TNS study, just over one in two employees used informal digital learning to develop their skills at work. A second study administered by OpinionWay in 2018 showed that today this figure is just over [ 60% of assets ].

Basic needs

It is not new that employees train themselves on a daily basis, by observing their colleagues or managers, reading professional journals, interacting with their peers … This set of learning behaviors has begun to be studied and formalized in the 1950s in the wake of Knowles , considered the father of andragogy.

Formed from the ancient Greek words andros (ἀνδρὀς), which means “man” (in the sense of mature man, and by extension of the adult human being, not gendered), and agogos (ἀγωγός), which means ” guide “, this term refers to the acquisition of knowledge as an adult.

As early as the 1960s, Bandura explored the phenomena of mimicry, where individuals learn by observing or listening to others, considered as “role models” or “point formators”. Then, in 1996, three researchers, Morgan McCall, Robert W. Eichinger and Michael M. Lombardo, of the Center for Creative Leadership (North Carolina, USA) demonstrated, based on a study of 200 executives, that the individual learns throughout his life and in various ways.

In this study, traditional (off-the-job learning) and formal learning situations (ie official and / or certifying training channels) account for only 10% of the learning time, compared with 90% for informal learning times, more instant and disorganized.

At a time when the obsolescence of skills is growing rapidly, informal learning is becoming crucial for employees and professionals so that they can remain effective at work. The study conducted by Kelley shows that the share of knowledge stored in memory and necessary for professional action is estimated by workers in constant decline: 75% in 1986, 20% in 1997, then 10% in 2006.

A culture of lifelong learning or lifelong learning is gradually coming into competition with the old culture of training.

In an interconnected world, opportunities for informal learning are also multiplied. The tools have imposed a large-scale metamorphosis that goes from the office neighbor to the 4 billion Internet users, the book borrowed from the 30 million articles created in more than 280 languages ​​on Wikipedia, through the 2 million entries on the French MOOC platform FUN.

New modalities

Through two case studies, we analyzed this reality with consultants, auditors, and professionals practicing in liberal, identified the factors of recourse to these practices, and highlighted four informal modes of digital learning:

  • Panoramix broadcasts content to its Gallic village thanks to tools such as social networks. This is the case, for example, of Laura, a 31-year-old speech-language pathologist who creates, distributes and shares content that she considers interesting within the group of brothers and sisters speech-language pathologists, on social networks. In a Facebook group, “The Orthos and the Neuro”, they are more than 11,000 colleagues to exchange, share, debate on current issues and concerns related to their profession.
  • Idéfix follows the tendencies of its trade or its sector of activities by punctual and reactive updates. This is the case of Vincent, 32, a manager in an audit and consulting firm, who, before sleeping, scrolls LinkedIn news. This vigilance approach is opportunistic and this mode is mobilized if the circumstances allow it such as the use of downtime, waiting and transport.
  • Asterix mobilizes all available digital resources needed to achieve its goal. This is the case of Caroline, 29, senior consultant, who is proposed an ambitious mission, far from its current skills. It takes up this challenge, and self-forms via all online resources that it deems relevant. His approach is intense and associated with a specific objective represented here by this new mission. It can also be another personal step, such as promotion or conversion.
  • Obelix responds to the difficulties that arise in the exercise of his activity, and uses his learning force for the right need, at the right time. This is the case of Sarah, 36, pharmacist, who must answer questions and requests for advice from his patients. For this, it uses the appropriate contacts or relies on trusted sites referenced upstream to provide a very fast and effective response.

The four informal modes of digital learning identified in this article resonate in step with the abandonment of the training plan since January 1, 2019 , in favor of a skills development plan in the direction of a more personalized approach and focused on the training objectives that are the target skills. This law offers flexibilities in the implementation of learning pathways that come out of the traditional schema planned in time and space.

Companies, and all forms of organization, have the opportunity to gain flexibility to stick to the real practices and needs of employees and professionals today. This opens up, for example, a reflection on (co) -production, structuring, making available, using, sharing, etc. digital resources.

Author Bios: Benabid Myriam is Program Director, Emmanuel Baudoin is Associate Professor in HR both at Institut Mines-Télécom (IMT) and Serge Perrot is Professor of Management at Paris Dauphine University – PSL