Informal learning and the use of Web 2.0 within SME training strategies
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Small and medium sized companies (SMEs) have particular needs in facing the challenges of their daily operations; about 10% of them quote lack of skills as a barrier to growth, highlighting the link between training and sustainability. In order to keep their competencies updated, staff from SMEs need access to appropriate educational opportunities and new technologies, particularly eLearning, which by using Web 2.0 applications enhance knowledge sharing, cultural interchange and networking.
Learning by using Web 2.0 (eLearning 2.0) is based on tools that combine ease of creation of content with web delivery. In eLearning 2.0 the driver is the worker, as the content can be created by the users, individually or together. Using the familiar tools of Web 2.0 (such as wikis, social networking, bookmarks, blogs, etc) everyone can be a learner-teacher, as the barriers to ICT based training are removed. With its clear focus on community, eLearning 2.0 is ideal for SMEs, as it supports natural informal learning by simplifying the tasks involved in working and learning in groups.
Communities of practice (CoPs) can also become a powerful way for SMEs to innovate and develop new capabilities, as they consist of voluntary members who share similar challenges, interact regularly, can learn from and with each other and would like to improve their ability to address the challenges they face.
In this paper we first summarise the current training needs and learning methods used in SMEs, outlining the features of Web 2.0 that may be utilised to fulfil these needs. Then we discuss if Communities of Practice are a suitable environment for informal learning within SMEs. Finally we offer an example of how informal learning and CoPs can efficiently improve skills within SMEs.