Getting better at supporting informal learning

Informal Learning – The Other 80%. I don't know how to emphasize more that this – rather than classroom-based learning – is where we should be focussing our efforts. As Cross writes, “Informal learning has always played a larger role than most people imagined, but it’s becoming increasingly important as workers take responsibility for their own destinies. Formal learning consists of instruction and events imposed by others. When a worker chooses his path to learning independent of others, by definition, that’s informal.” This is an outstanding article, clearly documenting the importance of informal learning, defining it, and showing how organizations can make the most of it. By Jay Cross, Internet Time Group, May 8, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect] [OLDaily]

This is just one of many pointers to Jay Cross's excellent piece on why we should be focusing on informal learning. Accomplishing this boils down to an issue of leadership over management. From a management perspective it's easy to see why formal learning dominates, especially in organizational settings. There's stuff you can point to, there's stuff you can measure, and you can put someone in charge. The only problem is that all this activitiy doesn't make much of a difference.

It takes a huge act of leadership to acknowledge where the real learning takes place and to start figuring out how to better support that learning. First, it takes a huge act of trust in believing that your people can figure out on their own what they need to learn. Second, you need to start helping them get better at doing that figuring out. They may still be under the illusion, perpetuated by your training systems, that they should be looking for classroom courses or looking for their slick e-learning equivalents.

Most of us are products of educational systems that leave us confused about how and when we learn best, partly because those systems are dedicated to preserving themselves. It takes time to develop skill at self-managed learning. It also takes time to learn how to tap into the informal systems that are out there to support you (another of the huge advantages of weblogs, BTW). Some resources I would recommend here would be Ron Gross's books, The Independent Scholar's Handbook and Peak Learning, Peter Vaill's Learning As a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water, and Roger Schank's Coloring Outside the Lines : Raising a Smarter Kid by Breaking All the Rules.

My stop is up next, so I'll pick this up in another post later.