The Power of Informal Learning Experiences

What is missing from your learning experiences today?

According to this infographic, the power of the informal learning experience is what’s missing.  This week, you may be with many of our industry peers in New York City at Legal Tech New York. This conference and trade show presents a great opportunity to experience the power of the informal learning experience as you network and visit the exhibit halls.  The conference itself is a formal learning experience and you may spend time sitting and listening and taking notes on your iPAD. However, what I have enjoyed and valued the most over the years has been the informal conversations with my peers.

It has been my experience as a trainer that adults who need to learn a skill or concept in order to successfully complete a task or project, absorb information best in an informal setting. Many of us are still dealing with test anxiety from driver’s ed or the SAT … even if that was 25 or 30 years ago. LOL! Sitting in a traditional classroom is not for everyone, especially if a “test” or assessment is looming at the end the of week. When I was the lead trainer at Litworks, it was not uncommon for one or two students to become ill at the end of the week in anticipation of their presentation assessment. If you suffer from test anxiety then perhaps you might want to take a look at other options for learning … I call it the “hide-the-veggies-in-the-cookies” method.

Informal learning through coaching and targeted learning plans allow you and your team to work at your own pace and have fun while doing so. Watch a webinar, listen to a podcast, read a blog post or white paper on the subject matter you need to learn. Take your time so that you can digest and apply the new information to your daily workload.  Then have a conversation with your learning coach to make sure that you understood it all. Many of us are the only person we know (outside of work) who understands e-discovery or litigation technology. So that limits our learning conversations to our co-workers and /or our boss … maybe you have a good report with your vendors and can comfortably ask them questions… but if you’re a service provider, who do you ask? I’ve had some very real conversations with industry professionals who enjoy simply having an existential discussion about e-discovery and the fall of the Roman Empire. :-)

In a recent Gartner report, it was suggested that CIOs would have better results with talent management if they trained their staff instead of outsourcing for skills. In other words, why hire an outside consultant when you have capable staff? It benefits the whole company or organization if new skills are learned and applied to projects. This is especially true in e-discovery project management as you and your team work to develop a repeatable and defensible process and workflow.

This internal development consisted of measures such as job rotations, training on the job, stretch tasks, shadowing and mentoring. Other effective techniques for holding onto or fostering the necessary skills internally were paying above average salaries and recruiting people from the business side of the organization.

Most litigation support and e-discovery professionals are not formally trained. We were recruited from the business side of the organization: IT, paralegals, attorneys.  We learn on the job through shadowing and mentoring. If you are an e-discovery or litigation support manager, you should be mentoring your team and encouraging them to share tasks and mentor others. It does not have to be formal. Everyone is too busy to attend a training class anyway…  ;-) Mentor your paralegals and invite them to watch you set up a processing project or the technology component of a document production. They may never actually do it themselves but for the purpose and success of an e-discovery project, they should know and understand what it takes to accomplish the technology tasks. Informal learning experiences work well with busy attorneys, too. It is one of the reasons, I believe that internal litigation support staff generate great value to a law firm or corporate legal department.

Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about whether it makes more sense to insource or outsource the litigation support department.  If you want to read the articles that sparked the discussion, you may do so here and here.  The article in favor of keeping and investing in your litigation support team points out that “institutional knowledge, trust and accountability” are all excellent reasons for direct employment of litigation support professionals. I think that firms that choose to outsource their staff will find these three areas lacking in the long run while they may save a few dollars in the short term. However, if the organizational infrastructure does not exist to support and develop the litigation support team, then perhaps outsourcing is the best move. I don’t think a blanket approach is best for any organization. All of this said, I strongly support informal training as a successful means to support and develop your litigation support and e-discovery team. I would include paralegals and attorneys in this approach. Formal training has its place in the learning and educational process but I have to agree with the infographic that the true success lies in the informal moments that build teams, build relationships, and enhance learning.

informal training infographic

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