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.
In my final bath of the year, I finished reading Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton, an inspiring book on the spirit of design and how innovation really works.
Buxton quotes T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom:
The closer that one gets to Route 128 or Silicon Valley, the more it appears that people seem to think that innovation is all about invention, and seem to ignore the critical role in this played by research and scholarship.
Innovation in process trumps innovation in product. In order to create successful products, it is as important (if not more) to invest in the design of the design process, as in the design of the product itself.
From the perspective of management, the take=away lesson is that you must foster an overall culture of creativity within your organization–one that not only has good ideas, but also understands them, is receptive to them, and knows what to do with them. Otherwise, you will lose both the benefit of the ideas that you paid for as well as your most creative people. Goog ideas are not sufficient and innovation and creativity cannot be compartmentalized.
It takes even more creativity to productize a good idea than it does to have the idea in the first place.
Uta and I drove over to the Legion of Honor Museum. Donated to San Francisco by Alma Spreckles, a personal friend of Rodin, The Thinker sits in the front courtyard. The museum was closing 40 minutes after we arrived, so admission was free.
I’d been looking for a good Cezanne on which to vertify Jonah Lehrer’s hypothesis that the artist left paintings purposefully unfinished to enable the viewer to complete the picture. That’s certainly at work here:
Uta and I had an hour to kill before our dinner reservation, so we dropped by a Russian deli in the Richmond District and bought poppyseed pastry and champagne to enjoy later this evening. Very authentic deli chock full of smoked fish, caviar, packages with Cyrillic lettering, heavy accents, fatty sausages, and hearty cheer.
We ate supper at Aziza, a Michelin-starred Morocco-California fusion restaurant. Olives, spicy almonds, sardine filets with kohlrabi coins, cauliflower couscous with harissa, bastilla with duck confit, burnt vanilla bean ice cream with berries, and chocolate cake with meringue.
Life is good.
On December 12, I turned over a small package to DHL in Berlin for delivery to Berkeley. When it had not arrived ten days later, I entered the tracking number I received in Berlin. No such number. The carton arrived December 29, yesterday. Happy Belated Christmas, everyone!
My package appeared to have been attacked by someone wielding a machete. The carton was ripped open in three places. The top of the box had been slashed by a sharp blade.
DHL did a similar number on me in May of this year. We sent home a care package containing things that would have pushed us over the weight alliance for our flights. The carton arrived with a gaping hole in the side. Several items were missing, among them the printed proceedings of the event I’d just addressed in Barcelona. DHL told us we couldn’t prove what was missing (How would you do that?) and that we could not enter an insurance claim.
I’m very biased here. I think of Germans as being careful, together, and effective. DHL is ruining that positive stereotype.
On the 22nd, I emailed DHL:
I mailed a package via DHL from Berlin on December 6 2010. I have not received it.
When I enter the tracking number, it is rejected as invalid.
What can I do to follow up on my package?
I have not heard back from them.
What are these guys smoking?
Check out this awesome history of corporate education from Eileen Clegg:
“Ongoing project with IFTF and Global Learning Resources, 4 X 12 foot graphic map documenting corporate education over 120 years in historical context, leading to a forecast through 2010″
Never heard of these guys, but if I’m ever in the market for a Taiwanese milking machine, I’ll keep them in mind. Email:
Thanks very much for your great support, we are a company with 52 years experience in dairy, drinks equipment production.
As the holiday season approaches, we here at Hong Guan Machinery would like to take this opportunity to wish you a Happy New Year and thank you for your continued partnership. It is business associates like you who make our jobs a pleasure and keep our company successful.
May your holiday season be filled with much joy, happiness and success. We look forward to working with you in the coming year and hope our business relationship continues for many years to come.
From the HONG GUAN MACHINERY CO.,LTD, Your best sourcing partner’.
Waiting for your earlier visit to our factory.
All your bases are belong to us.
Over the course of 18 days in December 2010, I took part in learning events in seven countries. Here are some of the things I learned.
Brussels, Belgium. Jane Hart and I keynoted “Learning Day” for senior training managers of the European Commission. The sixteenth-century guild halls that line Brussels’ Grand Place (AKA Grote Markt) are a reminder of the ancient communities of practice where craftsmen learned their trade through apprenticeship and curated their professional know-how. Ironically, their lesson has been lost. The European Commission relies on 19,000 courses for training, shuns social media, and does not provide wi-fi in its classrooms. Participants asked Jane and me if real people use Twitter. Few saw any value in blogging. The guilds were more advanced in their thinking.
Berlin, Germany. Charles Jennings, Laura Overton, and I planned Business Educa and coordinated a number of sessions. We discovered that spontaneity is not always the best approach. Some people feel uncomfortable without a clear structure. More.
Berlin was cold enough to warrant wearing long johns.
One vendor showcased the women’s world champion foosball player. She stomped me ten to nothing, slamming the ball into the goal so hard it sounded like rifle shots. Her focus was winning at all costs. I kept waiting for some tips or coaching, but that wasn’t part of the deal. Sometimes you can’t escape your pre-defined structure. That evening, learning pros danced themselves into a frenzy at the Online Educa party. We were passionate about learning and life.
Clark Quinn, Ellen Wagner, and I spent the day after Educa on a frenetic gluhwein and museum romp.
Rebecca Stromeyer or Annie Hall?
Doha, Qatar. The World Innovation Summit on Learning. Platitudes about education being the salvation of the world are hot air, but practical examples of local community learning initiatives are inspiring, for example: Pakistani schools for 92,000 girls, largely funded by entrepreneurs; learning by radio for small farmers in Nigeria; skills development for hundreds of thousands at Indira Gandhi Open University; South Africa’s Next Einstein initiative. New Orleans created vibrant primary and secondary schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by decentralizing administration.
Her Excellency Sheikha Mayassa Bint Hamad Al-Thani is the power behind Qatar’s stunning Museum of Islamic Art. She is also a supporter of informal learning. Her Excellency agreed with my suggestion that claims that injecting collaboration into the classroom was costly, complex, and difficult disappear if the world is the classroom, the self-organizing internet is the technology, and the smart phone is the access device.
Stockholm, Sweden. Cisco Public Services Summit. Some medical schools have shifted to patient-centered education. Future doctors learn from diagnosing patients instead of studying academic subjects. Shouldn’t we refocus undergraduate education on solving important problems instead of following increasingly dated curricula? You’d learn what’s needed instead studying fragmented, aging disciplines.
As usual, Clay Shirky was perceptive, persuasive, and ahead of the pack. I’m about half way through Cognitive Surplus.
Oslo, Norway. Noble Peace Prize Concert. Cisco chartered a private train to take more than a hundred of us to Oslo. Five hours of conversation as we rolled past the idyllic Swedish countryside provided a peak learning experience.
At the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, the poems and protests of Liu Xiaobo were a reminder of the potential of a single voice.
Maastrich, Netherlands. TULSER. All five members of the Internet Time Alliance led sessions on working smarter for TULSER, a former training company that has reinvented itself as an implementer of human performance technology. I talked about dealing with conceptual work, intangibles, the acceleration of time, information glut, unpredictability and other aspects of our new world. Clark Quinn described strategies for mobile learning. Harold Jarche explained the shape of the 21st century training department. Jane Hart provided insights into social media learning. Charles Jennings explained the concept of workscapes, where enterprise work and learning converge.
We lodged at a hotel built into a fifteenth century cloister and church. We dined at a former thirteenth-century convent.
TULSER itself just moved to a minimalist, high-tech environment in cement plant. The re-purposed buildings were the perfect backdrop for our forming a community of practice dedicated to re-configuring learning and development.
London, U.K. Reed Learning. Innovative organizations were grappling with the same issues every place we spoke. Paradigm drag blocks progress. Wikileaks send social media shivers up the spines of conservative managers. Leaders do not trust employees with social media.
We encouraged those in the room to recognize that learning is now a team sport. Sharing replaces hoarding. We learning professionals must become change agents and promoters. We need to sell senior management on social media and open collaboration. In twenty minutes, we set up an enterprise-strength workscape on Socialcast to support our new London community of practice.
You can see 750 photos and videos of this journey at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaycross/tags/euro2010/
My work is what I want to do in life. I have no work/life balance. I have work/life equality. I just designed a two-sided business card to communicate that Jay Cross the person and my work with Internet Time Alliance are two sides of the same thing.
Please note the new phone number for 2011. The old ones still work, but this Google Phone number has a better chance of finding me and emails me your messages:
In the five years since the publication of Informal Learning, I’ve become the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning. I didn’t invent the concept. Informal learning is older than civilization. My contribution has been pointing out that overemphasis on formal learning in organizations is dysfunctional, uneconomic, bad business, and not a whole lot of fun.
Formal learning is characterized by a curriculum, i.e., content chosen by someone other than the learner. Delivered in courses or workshops or semesters or degree programs, episodes of formal learning always come to an end, although learning never does. Completion of a formal learning experience is generally celebrated by awarding a grade, certificate, degree, checkmark in an LMS or other symbol.
Often, formal learning is delivered to many people at once. It’s like riding a bus. The bus follows the same route to the same destination, regardless of the needs or desires of the passengers. It’s efficient. By contrast, informal learning is like riding a bicycle. The rider chooses his or her destination and changes the route at will. People who set their own direction are more likely to get where they want to go and enjoy the journey.
The analogy breaks down because you can ride a bus or a bike, but not both at once. Learning, however, is not either-or. It is always part formal — common language, shared context, fundamentals — and informal — social, learning outside the classroom. The learner accepts or rejects what’s presented formally.
Learning is a continuum of degrees of formality. The challenge is choosing among shades of gray. People who tell me informal or formal learning is bad oversimplify reality; I call their thinking bipolar.
Permit me to answer the critics of informal learning, usually people who confuse learning and schooling.
Question: How do we know that informal learning works?
Answer: How did you learn to walk, to talk, to kiss a sweetheart or to be productive in society?
Question: Isn’t informal learning an erosion of discipline and control?
Answer: Informal means unbounded, not haphazard. It’s a better way to work. If you have high expectations of people, they live up to them. Management control is largely fiction anyway.
Question: What’s the ROI? We’re not going to do this without proof.
Answer: Hold on. Informal learning is already the primary way your people learn their jobs. By paying attention, you make what’s already going on more productive.
Question: Where is the evidence that 80 percent of job learning is informal?
Answer: Multiple reputable studies have come up with the 80 percent figure. Of course, this varies by job. More importantly, the studies predate the Web. In our world of social networks and collaboration software, I’m confident the number for informal has risen much higher than 80 percent.
Formal learning is ideal for novices. People without a framework and vocabulary for dealing with an area that is foreign to them can learn a lot from formal courses and workshops. Imagine trying to master mathematics or chemistry by hanging out around the water cooler. Better to dip into the wisdom of the ages.
Formal learning doesn’t work so well for accomplished practitioners. Once people have a mental tapestry for how things work, they are looking to fill in holes in their knowledge. They want to learn what they need to know to get something done. ‘laking a course to learn one small item is a waste of lime and an insult to a practitioner’s prior learning.
By the way, this is what’s behind the “informal learning paradox,” the fact that corporations invest most heavily in formal learning while workers learn mostly through informal means. Corporate training focuses on novices. It’s school. Schools neglect alumni, and training departments neglect the experienced people, those who generate the profits.
Once upon a time, people were paid to follow instructions. We thought we could train them to do their jobs. Now, work is more like improv theater. Workers have to solve problems on the fly. They confront situations no one has encountered before. They must perform on the spot. And the only way they can keep up is by learning for themselves. Learning has become the work.
Instructional designers used to design programs. Today they need to invest in building learning environments that enable workers to take learning into their own hands.
This instance is part of the latest upgrade to Firefox. The push button takes you to their Tweetstream.