Monthly Archives: February 2010

Informal learning from the horse's mouth

Every morning, my email is littered with very basic questions about informal learning. I’ve been ranting about informal and computer-supported learning in organizations for twelve years now. I’m the Johnny Appleseed of networked, social learning

I make 95% of my work available on the net at no charge. You can find it in blogs, presentations, articles, books, YouTube, free book chapters. Google “informal learning jay cross;” go to the Informal Learning Page, for an overview and links..

(20 minutes later) I just set up the Jaycross FAQ. It’s going to encourage people who want the basics to read this interview with the eLearning Coach before asking questions. It’s all in there.

The eLearning Coach interviewed me a few days ago. Fun questions. Visit her site. (Isn’t this great? It’s the Coach’s list of Stock Photo sites.

The Coach

Welcome to readers around the planet! This is the website of Connie Malamed, an eLearning, information and visual designer with a Masters Degree in Instructional Design & Technology and 20 years of experience in the trenches. The eLearning Coach is where I share actionable strategies, practical content, personal reviews and resources to help you design, develop and understand online learning.

The interview:

Connie: A funny thing happened while we were learning informally. A few astute people noticed it, wrote about it and brought it to the forefront of the learning arena. In fact, the buzz about informal learning seems to grow every day. You’ll find it discussed in training forums, featured in conferences and the subject of many presentations.

Social learning technologies, which often facilitate informal learning, seem to have paved the way for greater interest in this approach. So I think readers of The eLearning Coach would appreciate an interview with a person who wrote the book on the subject … literally. Meet Jay Cross, author of Informal Learning, speaker and consultant.

Connie: What is your definition of informal learning?
Jay: Learning is that which enables you to participate successfully in life, at work, and in the groups that matter to you. Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way people learn to do their jobs.

Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. Informal learning is like riding a bike: the rider chooses the destination, the speed, and the route. The rider can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or go to the bathroom. Learning is adaptation. Taking advantage of the double meaning of the word network, to learn is to optimize the quality of one’s networks.

That said, all learning is part formal and part informal; neither exist in pure, unadulterated form. The issue we’re really addressing is whether the learning is mainly formal (imposed) or informal (sought).

Three hallmarks of formal learning are: a curriculum, a schedule and recognition upon completion (even if only a checkmark in an LMS).

Coach: What are examples of offline informal learning?
Jay: Learning to walk, talk, eat, kiss, smooch, run or ride a bicycle.

Coach: And examples of online informal learning?
Jay: Getting an answer from the Help Desk, asking Twitter friends for an answer, looking at a FAQ on a wiki.

Coach: What motivational factors underlie informal learning?
Jay: The primary motivation is needing to learn something in order to do something. There are so many forms of learning, it’s tough to generalize. I might want to learn Italian to foster my relationship with Sophia. I might learn to program Cisco routers in order to get a raise. I might seek an answer to a customer’s question.

Coach: How do you think cognitive processes differ when someone is learning informally as opposed to formally?
Jay: Generally informal learning is demand-driven. I’m more interested because I’ve chosen the subject matter and extent of the learning. It’s likely I’ll reinforce my learning almost immediately and that will make it stick. (Can anybody really remember the content of their high school coursework?)

Coach: Formal and structured learning can potentially promote efficient organization in long-term memory. Would this be an advantage of formal learning over informal?
Jay: Organization in a curriculum isn’t efficient unless it’s the right stuff. Generally, informal learning will take less time and effort to learn an equivalent amount of material.

Coach: Is there more potential for picking up incorrect information or developing inaccurate mental models when learning informally?
Jay: There’s potential for picking up incorrect information from informal learning or formal learning or newspapers or television or one’s brother. Learners need to be able to apply tests of reasonableness. Can the information be substantiated? Do others agree? Has it been vetted by thousands of others? Does it make sense to me?

Coach: Are there advantages to informal collaborative learning as compared to informal individualized learning?
Jay: Learning is social. Most learning is collaborative. Other people are providing the context and the need, even if they’re not in the room. Relative advantages would depend on the nature of what’s being learned. I don’t sense that there are absolutes.

Coach: How can organizations optimize the workplace for informal learning?
Jay: I’ve written books on this, but in short, organizations need to trust their people. People confronted by high expectations tend to live up to them. (And when confronted with low expectations, they tend to sink down to a low level.)

There are hundreds of smaller interventions that nurture informal learning. Examples might be setting up facilities to encourage conversation, providing time and encouragement of reflection, displaying graphics that explain company processes, building a social network infrastructure, setting up ways to share information, and viewing learning as part of every job.

There’s a lengthy summary of this at Internet Time Wiki. That’s the “informal learning page” I set up just for people who are curious about informal learning. You can download book chapters, watch a video, find white papers, etc.

Thanks for a great interview, Jay!

You’re quite welcome, Connie. I’m on a crusade to show businesspeople the enormous potential return on small investments in informal learning. Investments in learning return huge amounts; neglect of informal and social learning both demeans employees and leaves gobs of money on the table. Thanks for putting this together.

customer learning

Learning is woven into the fabric of every modern business. It’s the way we adapt to change. Learning is the lifeblood of commerce, and it’s every corporate citizen’s job to make it better. It’s time to invite customers to join the party.

Learning and social networks and customer communications and partner relations and marketing and sales aren’t islands. They’re all facets of the same thing: the corporate commons of work and learning. Some astute companies are exploring how a social learning community can remove barriers separating customer and corporation. It’s all about learning conversations.

The Cluetrain Manifesto is one of the most important business books of the late 20th century. Its primary message is that markets are conversations. That conversation must be authentic; you can’t fake it. Its language is “natural, open, direct, funny and often shocking.” Honest conversation builds lasting customer relationships.

Conversations also are the most effective learning technology ever invented. Learning is social. Most of what you learn, you learn from and with other people. You do so in the give-and-take of conversation. While it’s a book about business, not learning,The Cluetrain Manifesto presciently challenges its readers to “imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you know, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge.”

Making a lesson stick takes more than a talking-head video, no matter how compelling the speaker. That’s why this community site challenges participants to specify their goals, set up milestones and receive reminders. There’s a personal learning journal for keeping track of progress, there’s a forum for asking questions and sharing opinions, and there’s a community that enables members to learn with one another. The entire site was designed with learning in mind.

When thousands of people join a community, its conveners need metrics to assess progress and chart their next steps. Web-based analytics are easily baked into online communities such as this, and Google now provides a service that enables a Web site to compare itself to its peers.

Most people who visit a social networking site never go beyond the opening page. Yet, the promise of learning and community motivates six out of seven visitors to the Covey site to continue on to other pages. Visitors to the average community site stay for two minutes, whereas members of the Covey community remain for nearly 15 minutes. Only one in seven visitors to a typical community site are back for a second time, but two out of three Covey visitors are repeats. People hate to be taught, but they love to learn.

Combining learning and marketing is win-win. Here’s why:

1. Informed customers are better customers. They know the goods. They trust the brand. They buy more.

2. Learning relationships are two-way. Customer-learners keep coming back. Familiarity breeds loyalty. Participants bring in their friends.

3. Analytics inform marketing decisions. Administrators monitor changes in customer interests and behavior. They have a channel for direct feedback and suggestions from the marketplace.

You can set up an online social learning community without waiting in line for IT to help. The Covey community runs on a turnkey platform. Cut it on, and you’re good to go. Isn’t it time to include customers in your organization’s learning plans?

Making business decisions: the hand and the heart

Inside Learning Technologies is an important magazine in the U.K. (Isn’t it odd that while the net spans the globe, learning magazines remain confined to their home countries?)

For the current issue, I wrote an article entitled Making Business Decision: the Hand and the Heart. This is the sequel to last month’s Speaking the Language of Business.

Hats off to Donald Taylor, a big cheese at the Learning Technologies Conference and chair of the Learning & Skills Group

Donald excerpted and edited sections of my book-in-progress, What Would Andrew Do?, to create both articles.

Time once again for The Big Question. This month we turn to Instruction in an Information Snacking Culture.

  • Has there really been a shift? Are people changing their information consumption? Are they really snacking more?
  • Do we need to think about instruction differently? Is it a matter of better design so that people are engaged beyond a snack?
  • Is this a problem? How can we effectively work and learn in an information snacking world?

Yes, there has been a massive shift in how we consume information. People used to read daily newspapers. I remember when I read Newsweek cover-to-cover. A dozen years ago I began working from my home office; now I no longer listen to NPR.

When the web was new, finding interesting things to read was not easy. Yahoo’s directory and the Alta Vista search engine debuted in 1994. Google came along two years later. Now instead of groping around in the dark, you could specify what you were looking for.

In the 2005-2006, RSS made it possible to subscribe to websites. You no longer needed to go to the site itself to read what we new. Feed readers kept track of what you’d already seen. It became feasible to read the web when you felt like it with that feed-reading software acting like a Tivo for blogs.

Free Learning to Learn course going strong

Addictive Learning That Sticks

In a hurry? Enroll in the course here.

I announced this free course on Learning to Learn on this blog two days ago. Fifty people have enrolled. Most have completed their first three questions. 16% of the participants answered question 1 correctly and won’t see that one again. Only 8% answered question 2. 10% got question 3 right.

There’s still plenty of room in our virtual classroom. Please join us.

Announcement of free Learning to Learn course

Social Media Camp

Today I joined more than a hundred people at the Presidio Officers Club for a day-long Social Media Camp. Another 650 attended remotely by via

Many participants were novices. The majority were interested in social media as a marketing tool. We saw some cool technology, e.g. 12 Sprints (knowledge workflow from SAP). Kevin Marks gave an interesting keynote on Tummlers (moderator – geisha – steward role).

Who do you suppose is in charge of social media within companies? In the group, 10% lodge it under PR. The remaining 90% consider social media a marketing function. Mind you, many in the audience were one- or two-person businesses, so their answers may not account for much. I’m going to take a poll asking who owns social media in large corporations.

Surprisingly, wi-fi was not available, so our online socializing was confined to Twitter.