Informal Learning Revisited

Six years ago I wrote Informal Learning, Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance. The book came out before iPhones and iPads. Facebook was only available to students. Twitter had not been born. eLearning was still haled as a panacea. Andy McAfee had just coined the term Enterprise 2.0, and nobody was talking about Social Business. It’s time for an upgrade.

This is the first in a series of posts about what informal learning is and how to put it into practice.

Synopsis of Informal Learning
The book made the case that most learning about how to do a job is informal. An organization that fails to address informal learning leaves a tremendous amount of learning to chance.

Most corporations spend most of their training budget on formal learning, despite the fact that most of the learning that goes on is informal.

What is learning?
Learning is how people adapt to changing conditions, and things are changing faster than ever before.

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.

Corporations would bypass learning altogether were it not politically incorrect to do so. Executives don’t want learning; they want execution. They want the job done. They want performance.

Formal and informal learning
Learning is neither formal nor informal; it’s always a bit of both.

Learning that is more formal has a curriculum: content and objectives that are set by someone other than the learner. Often people learn formally in groups at set times. It’s like riding a bus. The bus follows the official route regardless of the requests of individual passengers. Formal learning frequently concludes with some sort of recognition, be it a certificate or grade or checkmark in a learning management system. People participate in formal learning because they are told to.

Informal learning is more personalized. The learner chooses the subject matter and often decides how and when to learn it. Learning may be solo or with others. It’s like riding a bicycle. The bike rider selects the route, often changing in mid-course. The rider may stop short of the original destination. People generally learn informally to get something done, and it’s the ability to do something that demonstrates that learning took place.

Listening to a lecture or attending a workshop are primarily formal learning. Asking questions of co-workers or trial-and-error are informal.

This is the first post of many. You can find more information about informal learning here.


3 thoughts on “Informal Learning Revisited

  1. Pingback: Jay Cross » Informal Learning is Business

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  3. Pingback: Informal Learning Center | Jay Cross

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