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Martin Couzins

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Leaders prefer informal learning, says research


Leaders and managers prefer to learn informally, according to a study on leadership development carried out by GoodPractice.

The GoodPractice research looked at the key challenges faced by managers in UK organisations today, where they go for support and to understand the effectiveness of the support they receive.

The biggest challenge faced by leaders and managers is having difficult conversations with team members. This ranked far ahead of all other issues discussed in the research with more than half the participants citing it as a challenging area. Managing the capability and unde-rperformance of teams and dealing with resistance to change were also highlighted as key challenges.

When presented with these and other difficult situations, leaders have access to a variety of resources to support them. Increasingly these are technology-based tools such as Learning Management Systems, but corporate intranets received negative ratings with many singled out for ‘poor structure’ and ‘dry, uninspiring content’.

More than half the leaders surveyed revealed a strong preference for informal learning and support. Activities such as face-to-face or telephone discussions with peers, senior management and subject matter experts were popular choices in times of need. Participants highly rated social learning methods such as peer-to-peer coaching, on-the-job learning and tapping into informal hubs of expertise in order to share their experiences and highlight best practice.

‘This strong tendency to opt for informal learning is at odds with the perceptions of learning and development professionals’ comments GoodPractice CEO, Peter Casebow. "L&D provision still often relies on traditional methods of workplace learning such as formal courses and classroom instruction. This implies an imbalance between what learners want and what L&D is currently providing which needs to be addressed. We need to nurture internal networks and communities of practice and develop high quality resources to support more informal ways of learning."

Nigel Paine, strategic advisor on leadership and talent development and who contributed to the research design, said: "GoodPractice has done us all a great service by confronting us with what managers actually do to develop themselves and what they like best and get the most out of. More formal programmes of learning are not dead but they are harder to access and rarely coincide with the moment of need.

"This is the age of informal learning and that can happen face-to-face, inside or outside an organisation or in myriad ways online," he added.

The research involved in-depth interviews with 36 managers and leaders across public and private sector organisations. The report is available here.


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