Let’s Put Informal Learning to Work

Six years ago, Pfeiffer published Informal Learning, Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance. The book advanced the then-controversial thesis that people mostly learn their jobs experientially. Workers learn more in the coffee room than in the classroom.

They do not move
I thought I had made a sound business case for investing more in informal learning, but few organizations changed their ways. They continued to put almost all of the training budget into schooling novices. They acted as if the natural way of informal learning didn’t exist. Or was someone else’s responsibility. They squandered the opportunity to increase their effectiveness by becoming networked learning organizations.

More smoke than fire
Today informal learning tops many training department agendas. They’re attracted by the low price tag. However, few of them are doing much systematically. They give lip-service to doing more with less but run a few experiments rather than embracing the philosophy. Times are tough, and they are leaving money on the table. This is crazy-making. I’m convinced that working smarter by boosting informal performance is a key to survival in today’s topsy-turvy business climate.

Showing organizations what to do
I’ve resolved to turn the situation around by showing organizations what to do — how to increase the effectiveness and depth of informal learning — in the larger context of working smarter in the digital enterprise. Working Smarter is not education for intellectual enrichment; it is how people get better at doing their jobs over time.

The first phase is research, identifying what works best, gathering good examples and stories, building learning communities, creating model, drawing the graphics, shooting the video, and communicating the recommended approaches. This is ongoing.

Vendors who sponsor the research will gain insight into how to design products and services to support working smarter, thereby improving client profitability. Vendors also get bragging rights, insight into customer needs, and guidance on sustainable product development. Sponsors may host webinars, conference presentations, Major sponsors gain access to the Internet Time Alliance brain trust as well.

This is a live project. I’m currently getting my arms around it, reviewing changes over the past half dozen years, and pondering where we’ll be headed in the next two or three.

Help me unearth practical examples and stories of organizations that are taking advantage of informal learning. Among the questions I’m looking for answer to…

  • How can an organization accelerate the transition from push learning to pull?
  • What skills and attitudes empower an informal learner do well?
  • What are the most lucrative ways organizations are taking advantage of informal learning?
  • What’s the payback for working smarter?

I’ll keep you posted. Get in touch or leave a comment if you’d like to participate.


5 thoughts on “Let’s Put Informal Learning to Work

  1. Pingback: learning and education | Pearltrees

  2. Pingback: Jay Cross » Controversy over Informal Learning

  3. Vic Divecha

    Quite thought provoking. When you say, “They squandered the opportunity to increase their effectiveness by becoming networked learning organizations” you mean “… By NOT becoming networked learning organizations.” right?

  4. Niklas Angmyr

    Is “employee driven learning” a better notion than “informal learning”?

    Ever since your book “Informal Learning” has the concept of informal learning become prevalent for the type of learning that takes place in work, on the employee’s initiative and with diverse methods. The opposite becomes formal learning, meaning learning based on management initiatives. And as you say, informal learning has become popular to speak of about but so far has not had such an impact. Perhaps because the concept of “informal”? The concept can mean something that is done unofficially, behind closed doors, in opposition, perhaps even prohibited or at least not sanctioned.

    What if the concept of informal learning is altered to “employee driven learning”? It is about who has the initiative. In informal learning the employee has the initiative. Employee driven learning must not stand in opposition to the translation of formal learning which becomes leadership driven learning. Employee driven learning is a different approach and for other applications. Leadership driven learning is often used when new tasks are launched or when new products are released, or to make staff more service oriented etc. Management has the ambition to change the organization of strategic or tactical reasons. The operation is often courses or events in which employees are to achieve or acquire values, knowledge or attitudes, to at least minimum acceptable level. The principle is push. Learning is often passive, which means that the effect is quite weak.

    The employee driven learning is learning that takes place in the present. It is the employee who is seeking answers when solving problems in work and is based on their individual learning style, not someone´s else. The principle is pull, employees pick up and assimilate the information and knowledge that is relevant, everything else are disregarded. It is active learning that will result in permanent learning effects.

    Personally, I am much more fond of the employee driven and management driven learning notions, than informal and formal learning. I think these new notions are more transparent. Can they imply a more widespread and systematically use of employee driven learning/(informal learning)?

  5. Jay Post author

    I like the designation employee-driven learning. My shorthand definition of informal learning is that it’s where the learned choses what’s to be learned; there’s no curriculum. It’s a matter of control: as you say, employee-driven or manager-driven.

    I’ve been shying away from using “informal learning” because the terms (both “informal” and “learning”) are so subject to misinterpretation. Lately I’ve been talking about pull vs. push and working smarter. I’ll address terminology in my next post here.

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