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Leverage the Fruits — and Ease — of Informal Learning
With the cost of formal education rising, informal learning can outperform traditional learning and reignite organizational development.
Former General Electric Co. CEO Jack Welch may not have been the first leader to recognize the importance of employee education, but he was one of the most perceptive. According to the company’s website, Welch set the example of how to reinvest in ongoing, non-traditional employee education methods — most notably, the website said he spent $1 billion per year on efforts that generated value and opportunities for the firm’s employees.
Welch, however, worked in a more structured, hierarchical business environment than most current executives. Now, learning professionals face tremendous macroeconomic and social headwinds.
Amid tumultuous change, however, is a possible fix that enables learning leaders both to educate employees and remain flexible and relevant: informal learning.
Investing in ongoing informal education can turn a company’s economic vulnerability into growth by ensuring the ongoing preparedness of its people. Helping employees stay relevant and competitive also potentially puts a company ahead of a national crisis — namely the growing so-called “skills gap.”
But learning leaders aren’t the only ones faced with this challenge; colleges and universities are also bracing for the new demands of this evolving economy. By 2020 the U.S. will have 123 million well-paying jobs, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit survey, but only 50 million Americans with the right backgrounds to fill them.
Despite a focus on narrowing the education gap, moreover, Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis found that the achievement gap between rich and poor is widening. Informal learning, some might argue, may be the bridge the business world can build across that gap.
Unless education systems nurture future skilled professionals, HR executives will be hard-pressed to meet their firms’ competitive need for talent. The problem stems from the cost of education. While companies gauge prospective talent based on college degrees, tuition rose 32 percent from 1999 to 2009, according to a report from Reuters, making it more expensive for people to acquire the skills firms needed. Moreover, the imbalance between the number of rich and poor students who complete college has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.
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