Friday, December 16, 2011

Informal Learning Tools Will Also Promote Formal Learning

When I started working closely with some young product management professionals and product management interns, I focused on teaching them on the job because there was no degree program for product management. My favorite method was  to ask them to join a project that I was doing and help them learn on the job. They watched me do things such as visit customers, conduct co-innovation sessions, present to analysts, organize information, train the sales force, handle a release, manage partners, take decisions and prepare a business case. We also had sessions where we spoke about specific topics where I shared my experiences with them and answered their questions.

However, not everything was informal. I also recommended that they should attend certain formal product management training programs. I also took them along to attend certain conferences where they could listen to formal classroom lectures.

Some of them took the recommendation so seriously that they traveled from abroad to attend these training programs, conducted in the bay area and travel to conferences with me. They said that they wanted to attend the classroom training programs that I attended and wanted to go to the conferences that I went to. I realized that informal collaboration, on the job learning and learning by conversation does not eliminate the need for or diminish the importance of formal, structured learning. It helps people identify the formal training programs that are effective and avoid the ones that are not useful.

It is best when the recommendation for a formal training program comes from a colleague or friend the learner trusts and respects. It is not good for the business when the recommendation comes as a solicitation from a training group because they have a quota to achieve. Nor does it help when it comes from the human resources team because they need to count the number of hours of training delivered.

Outside of compliance driven training, I have not seen the approach of attaching training programs to job positions in organizational charts be effective. I believe that the best way for identifying formal training programs for people is to enable them to learn from others and help them find out about the training programs other successful people in the organization or role models outside the organization have done.

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