Jay Cross helps people work and live smarter. Jay is the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. He wrote the book on it. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix.

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Learning: traditional or independent?

posted on
March 5th, 2010

This post continues the discussion among the members of the Internet Time Alliance about appropriate terminology for learning in the network era. This is an exploration, not an ultimatum.

The main point is getting the job done. That pays the bills. Everything flows from working smarter.

All learning is social, so that’s not really a useful distinction unless we’re stressing social networked learning.

Learning has replaced training as the term of choice. (For more on that issue, see transcript of tonight’s #lrnchat.)

There’s a continuum from top-down, mandated learning (“formal”) to self-directed, intrinsically-motivated learning (“informal”). Unfortunately, “formal” and “informal” are tainted words that invite misinterpretation. Formal can mean stodgy or accepted. Informal can mean casual or flippant.

I prefer calling the bookends of the spectrum of corporate learning….

Traditional learning is not better than independent learning or vice-versa; context determines utility.

What are your thoughts about this?

Related posts

Understanding learning (Jane Hart)

Social media and self-directed learning (Harold Jarche)

Formalizing informal learning (Clark Quinn)

Interdependent Learning (Harold Jarche)

Informal Snake Oil (moi)


  • Janet Laane Effron - March 5, 2010 at 6:51 am -

    Thank you for stating so concisely the issues and for your definition of terms; this post will be very helpful to keep in mind as I go back and review last night’s #lrnchat at a more thoughtful pace. As always, your writing has a focus and a clarity which I deeply respect.

  • Rich - March 5, 2010 at 9:30 am -

    I think there can be negative value associated with “traditional” as so many argue for new technologies and techniques to transform or go beyond the “way we’ve always done it” — i.e. tradition.

    Perhaps simply calling one end “instruction” and the other end “independent learning” describes the contexts in a broad sense without carrying much baggage. There is a time and place for each.

  • Josh - March 6, 2010 at 9:15 am -

    I think that both are important in an all-around education of a child. It is important for a student to learn the material as a professional (the teacher) sees it. This gives the student guidance and an overall grasp of what is to be learned. Independent learning is also extremely important because it gives students a feeling of independence and pride in their work. Many students work harder at something that they are “in charge” of. This different area of “thinking and exploring to learn” can be much more beneficial than “listening to learn,” although I believe a mix of the two benefit students the most.

  • Mary Adams - March 11, 2010 at 7:26 am -

    I see this question as parallel to a larger question that is faced every day in knowledge era workplaces: What do we need to tell our people to do and what should they be left to figure out for themselves? This is one of the greatest management questions today and it will only become more acute as the role of knowledge and innovation continue to grow.

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