Formalising the informal?

by Viv on April 14, 2009

There’s a popular myth in the learning industry that 80% of the learning that happens in organisations is informal whilst 20% is derived from formal learning interventions e.g. face to face courses and e-learning. Think about it. How could you actually measure how much informal learning is actually happening with any degree of scientific robustness? Once again the assumption that the Pareto Principle applies has been repeated enough times for it to become an accepted truth.

But putting aside my hobby horses, I have read quite a lot about informal learning over the past few weeks. After all, if 80% of the learning does actually happen despite what an L&D does, what savvy L&D practitioner would not be wanting to claim the credit for informal learning?

In April’s e-learning Age, Vaughan Waller argues that attempts by an L&D department to ‘formalise’ learning are doomed, especially if this process of annexation is done clumsily. At April’s ELN webinar on informal learning, there was a degree of confusion of how to deal with informal learning – it seems like accurately defining the boundary between formal and informal is quite difficult in practice.

Since that webinar, I think that Jane Knight has struck the right tone by aligning informal learning with Web 2.0 and social learning.

There are several things that a formal L&D department can be doing to empower an organisation to be better at informal learning – it’s many of the things proposed by Senge in The Fifth Discipline (the most famous work on creating a learning organisation), except this time the chances of success are higher as we’ve got better technology and potentially a smaller degree of cultural change required when it comes to using the technology. However, this is not to underestimate the cultural change of getting people schooled in the world of “knowledge is power” to share when they feel their jobs are at risk e.g. would a partner be happy to offer up his ten top tips for negotiating fees?

The more critical question is, do you feel politically brave enough to make the case for increasing the use of informal learning when the budget that your salary comes out of might be put under yet more threat?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: