Category Archives: Informal Learning

Twelve more shopping days until Christmas

There’s still time to buy a copy of Informal Learning before Christmas.

I know, I know. My wife and I still chuckle over a Christmas episode of the Bob Newhart show where Bob gives Emily a thoroughly utilitarian gift, a blenderizer. But maybe you’re stuck for ideas about what to give your staff.

The above comes from the Wiley & Co. site. They provide a free chapter, A Natural Way of Learning, and link to some reviews.  Here’s a more comprehensive review from Bob Morris.

If you’re going to buy a copy, you can get the hardcopy on Amazon for $34.25. (Kindle version for $32.54.) Barnes and Noble offers it as a Nook book for $22.80. Apple lists it on iTunes for $33.99.


Update from Europe

Foreign environments exhilarate me. I just got back from Online Educa Berlin and a series of private conversations in Europe. Insights are overflowing my ability to record them and I’m having a ball.

Online Educa Berlin Online Educa Berlin

Online Educa always leaves a special afterglow. Over the course of three days, I conversed with hundreds of colleagues from forty or fifty countries. I used to say that after conversation, the most important learning accelerant was beer. I’ve changed my mind. Riesling is a more effective learning lubricant.

Online Educa Berlin Online Educa Berlin

This year’s highlight was the debate. Donald Clark and Jef Staes convinced an audience filled with academics that “banning schools and universities from awarding degrees and diplomas would improve both competence development and lifelong learning.” Read Donald’s take on the debate here. As recently as a year ago, this outcome would have been impossible.

Online Educa Berlin Online Educa Berlin

The eloquent opening keynotes by Mark Milliron (Western Governors Univesity) and Sir Michael Barber (Pearson) undoubtedly softened up the debate audience. College and universities that fail to change face extinction.

So many friends, too little time.

Online Educa Berlin Online Educa Berlin

Online Educa Berlin Online Educa Berlin

After Berlin, I flew to Frankfurt. At an outrageously tasty Italian restaurant, TULSER‘s Jos Arets and Vivian Heijnen and I brainstormed plans to help people be healthy, happy, and productive:

Frankfurt Frankfurt

Stay tuned.

Travel has its up and downs. The biggest downer was United Air Lines. I flew UAL back because I qualified for more legroom – “economy plus.” I don’t know how UAL stays in business.

United Air Lines United Air Lines

Pre-arrival lunch consisted of a bag of potato chips, an inedible cold cheese and turkey roll, a packet of mustard, and a small piece of candy.

“I can’t believe you serve this incredibly unhealthy food,” I told the cabinet attendant as I handed back my untouched meal.

“I can’t either,” she replied. “It’s worse when flying the other direction, and there’s nothing I can do about it. You have more power to fix this than I do, but you don’t have much power either.”

Unlike my Lufthansa flight to Europe, United charges for wine and beer. I paid $7 for a plastic bottle of mediocre red. Also, there’s no individual entertainment. Everyone watches the same movie. I told the cabin attendant I was going to cut my Gold Premier card in pieces and send it to UAL management. She wished me luck.

At the opposite extreme, the Hotel Spenerhaus in Frankfurt was a dream. I had a small but adequate room. Squeaky clean. Across from a church but they’d considerately provided ear plugs. Free Gummi bears on the pillow. Free peanuts on my desk in the afternoon. Fine free breakfast. Free newspaper. Free apples on the counter.

When I checked in, I asked about Wi-Fi. Free. “You are our guest,” said the manager. Recommendations for dinner? A great tapas bar two blocks away the first night. The Italian restaurant served the marvelous antipasti pictured above with lunch. (We returned that evening for pasta with fresh white truffles.) Two blocks from the cathedral. Three blocks from the Christmas market. Surrounded by art galleries and antique stores. Wunderbar.

The function of business is to delight the customer. Hotel Spenerhaus gets it. United Air Lines doesn’t. United says “United is the world’s leading airline and is focused on being the airline customers want to fly, the airline employees want to work for and the airline shareholders want to invest in.” Ha! I bet UAL doesn’t exist ten years from now.




Internet Time Blog 2012-11-02 00:03:56

October 26, 2012, 12:26 p.m. ET


So Much Training, So Little to Show for It

An expert on corporate programs reveals why they often are a waste of time and money

In this lopsided Wall Street Journal article, a professor slams training for all the wrong reasons.

For one thing, he disregards experiential learning on the job and seems to think that training always takes place away from the job.

He touts the need for a thorough needs analysis which defines who will take what topic and be tested on it. That might have worked before jobs became complex. It’s tough to pull off when the future is unpredictable and work involves dealing with novel situations.

He laughs off companies that believe technology will solve all training problems. I’ve been in the learning business for forty years and have yet to meet someone who thinks tech will solve all training problems.

I couldn’t resist leaving a snarky comment:

Dr Salas focuses on training that takes place away from the job. He’s looking in the wrong place. Most corporate learning takes place informally in the course of doing the job, not in training courses away from the job.

These days, many organizations support what’s known as the 70-20-10 model that says 70% of learning is experiential, 20% guided by others (often managers and supervisors) and a mere 10% via formal instruction. Salas offers common sense advice on making the 10% work better. There’s a lot bigger bang for the buck in making the learning ecosystem supportive of learner-directed “pull” learning.

The school system is one of the few institutions where lectures, courses conducted in artificial environments away from the context of what’s to be learned, and one-way “push” learning are the norm.

Corporate learning has its flaws, to be sure, but they are minuscule when compared to the practices that are commonplace in schools and colleges. Most corporate trainers know more about learning theory than the grad students who lecture in colleges.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.



How to Replace Top-Down Training with Collaborative Learning (3)

Third post in a series. In case you missed it, here are the first and second.

Technological infrastructure for social learning

Work and learning are converging, and as this change happens, the infrastructure of the old corporate learning must go – things like traditional one-size-fit-all in-person training seminars. In its place enters social and informal learning hubs like on-demand content, live online discussions, wikis and forums, and searchable content archives. The great news is that social and informal learning don’t require new systems because learning can take place on the same “platform” as the existing social network, if a company already has one.

The primary thing to bear in mind, says MIT’s Andy McAfee (McAfee), is INATT. That’s short for a phrase that kept coming up in conversation when he was writing Enterprise 2.0. It’s short for “It’s Not About The Technology.” People come first.

But you can’t do without the technology either. Social networks are the ideal platform for the new corporate learning, so let’s briefly examine how they support corporate learning.

Social computing

Early personal computing was based on corporate computing. Conventions like ASCII, programming languages, Internet protocol, and encryption were developed for corporate mainframe computers and only later adopted for personal computers. That situation has flip-flopped. Innovations in applications and user-interface design are born on the consumer side and migrate to the enterprise.

Forbes named the world’s most innovative company. Where did that innovation come from? says cloud-based Customer Relationship Management application borrowed heavily from Amazon.’s social network application was inspired by Facebook.’s Chatter began its life as in-house Twitter. As the web turns social, has changed its mission to “leading the shift to the Social Enterprise,” and that’s where it’s proving its forward-thinking nature.

So how do you find the right social platform to enhance your corporate training program? When an organization is improving its workscape, looking at consumer applications is a good way to think about what’s required in the corporate space. Ask net-savvy younger workers how they would like to learn new skills, and they bring up the features they enjoy outside of work:

  • A personal profile so I can share information with my connections
  • A personalized experience and recommendations, like Amazon
  • Connections to friends and colleagues, like Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Activity streams, like Twitter, so I know what’s going on and what people are talking about
  • Face-to-face interaction and desktop sharing through video conferencing
  • Multiple access options, like a bank that offers access by ATM, the Web, phone, or human tellers
  • A diverse learning library, made up of videos, FAQs and links to relevant information
  • Single sign-on access, like using my LinkedIn profile to access other programs
  • Choosing and subscribing to streams of information I’m interested in
  • Provide a single, simple, all-in-one interface, like that provided by Google
  • Make it easy to share photos and video, as on Flickr and YouTube
  • Leverage “the wisdom of crowds,” by allowing me to pose a question to my connections
  • Enable users to rate content that they liked the most or found the most helpful

Minimum viable workscape

What we’re talking about is a social work hub where every employee and external partner can come to collaborate, share information, get information and provide updates and ask questions. When it comes time to build your new collaborative and social learning center, some of those consumer applications are simple to replicate in-house. Others are not. You probably can’t afford, and definitely don’t need, to create your own Facebook or Google behind your firewall. There are lots of applications you can implement at reasonable cost. Be skeptical if your collaborative infrastructure doesn’t include these minimal functions:

Profiles – so each employee can personally connect to the network. Profile should contain photo, position, location, email address, expertise (tagged so it’s searchable). Nice-to-haves include how to reach you (noting whether you’re online now), reporting chain (boss, boss’s boss, etc.), link to your blog and bookmarks, people in your network, links to documents you frequently share, members of your network.

Workspaces – to break up the organization’s activity into relevant, digestible feeds for each individual and feeds. Workspaces are networks within the organization that are created by employees to gather a team or group in a specific area. For example, new hires that are brought on at the same time, may create a workspace where they can ask each other questions and share information that they find out.

Activity stream – for monitoring the organization pulse in real time, sharing what you’re doing, being referred to useful information, asking for help, accelerating the flow of news and information, and keeping up with change. Activity streams should be available for the company at large and for workspaces.

Wikis or notes – for writing collaboratively, eliminating multiple versions of documents, sharing information with a relevant group, eliminating unnecessary email, and sharing responsibility for updates and error correction.

Integrated virtual meetings – to make it easy to meet online, because there needs to be room in your learning program for group discussion and application. Minimum feature set: shared screen, text chat, video conferencing streams.

Mobile access – Half of America’s workforce works away from the office at least sometimes. Smart phones are surpassing PCs for connecting to networks for access and participation. People post more Tweets via phone than via computers. Google designs its apps for mobile before porting them to PCs. What does all of this mean? Your new social workscape needs to be mobile so people can collaborate from anywhere.

Putting a learning platform in place

When it’s time to put a learning platform in place, it’s a good idea to make a company wide commitment to your new philosophy on learning. Here’s an example from a company I recently worked with:

  • We are open and transparent
  • We narrate our work. Need to share.
  • We offer live and on-demand training content as a part of continuous learning
  • We value conversation as a learning vehicle
  • We make our work accessible to others
  • We are a vanguard of change within the company
  • Our bottom line is business success
  • We know learning is work; work is learning
  • We are a learning organization
  • We value time for self-development and reflection
  • We recognize that reflection is a key to learning

Changing behavior requires continual reinforcement, so be ready to tackle the concern and resistance that some people may have toward becoming a more collaborative organization.

A great way to embrace your new collaborative nature while helping people adapt to it, is to host all-hands virtual meetings to share your process toward becoming a collaborative organization. Make your employees a part of the evolution; keep them in the loop.

Learning Networks

Networks are not only the environment of learning; they’re also the place where problems are solved, discoveries are made, and new knowledge is created.

This way of looking at learning platforms builds on
the work of Harold Jarche and the Internet Time Alliance.

Workers are members of multiple, interconnected networks.

Everyone has personal face-to-face networks: the friends, neighbors, colleagues, and acquaintances we talk with. Most people have electronic personal networks, too: Facebook, discussions groups, and a variety of followers and followed comrades. We rely on our networks to help us learn what’s going on in our worlds. The collaborative organization may replicate those personal connections through social work platforms with customizable workspaces. Each workspace is for a group of connected people – teams, departments, project contributors, and so on.

Communities are networks of people who share common interests and identify themselves as cohorts. A community may be a group of professionals (e.g. chefs or chip designers) or people with shared passions (e.g. model railroaders and cyclists) or co-workers from different work teams (e.g. the United Way Committee or neighborhood watch). Communities share knowledge (“Here’s a great recipe for crayfish with foie gras”), help one another (“There’s an opening for a sous-chef at the Fish Trap in Key West”), validate best practices (“Use coddled eggs in Caesar salad to avoid salmonella”), and develop apprentices into professionals (“My salad chef is ready to become a pastry chef”). Communities can exist internally (the United Way Committee) or externally (the chefs). Innovation in Silicon Valley is enhanced when competitors share trade secrets because allegiance to their professional community (“We’re chip designers”) is strong than to their employer (“I work for AMD.”)

Many companies enable workers to establish a personal node in the company’s social platform. This is where your individual profile enables people to find you, know what your good at, and share things you may be interested in. Many workers narrate their work on individual blogs. Transparency builds trust.

Most information work is carried out by project teams. When team members are unable to meet in the same physical space, they rely on networks to collaborate on getting projects done. Team members who work together, learn together. In time, team members develop strong social ties, trust emerges, and they co-create new knowledge and innovation. Experience is the best teacher and work teams are where it happens.

Project Teams have a job to do; communities come together to cooperate and share for the good of the group. Project teams inevitably need to acquire knowledge from outside their small circle. Their individual members are often members of several communities, which they tap for knowledge and guidance. A smart organization supports its internal teams and encourages its people to take part in external teams.

Many progressive companies have set up social work platforms that connect all employees to an activity feed that lists activities and pointers from all over the company. Social workspaces are the ultimate silo busters, enabling everyone to be on the same page, accelerating the organization’s cycle time, and letting “the company know what the company knows.”

A Note About Internet Access

Many companies signal their lack of trust in their employees by denying them access to the greatest assembly of knowledge in the history of humanity, the Internet. To be consistent, they should probably take away their telephones (They might make long distance calls to China!) and pencils (They might waste time playing tic-tac-toe). Bad apples are going to do bad things with or without the Internet, but by hoarding access to the web, you’re not only punishing your good apples, but also hindering their ability to learn.

For many people today, working without the net is equivalent to working blindfolded. When companies deny access to the net, employees route around them with smartphones and tablets that bypass corporate IT. The price of criminalizing access to the net is lower morale, the message that it’s okay to break rules (wink, wink), and to give up on hiring the best and the brightest (who will work somewhere they are trusted to act like responsible citizens). Companies should encourage workers to connect to the outside world, for that’s where the customers are.

The Internet is an essential library of information for today’s workforce. David Weinberger points out that the web has changed the nature of knowledge itself. Knowledge that was once limited to what you could print on a page is now connected to all manner of evidence, counter-claims, elaboration, and interpretations.

The basic idea is that the properties of knowledge that we’ve taken for granted at least in the West for, oh, 2,500 years are not actually properties of knowledge. They’re properties of knowledge when its medium is paper. And when you remove the paper and put things online, it takes on the properties of its new medium—of the Internet. Importantly, knowledge in a network includes differences and disagreements in a way that traditional knowledge is uncomfortable with. Everything is unsettled, everything is argued about, and very few things are ever totally resolved on the Net.

There’s a word for companies that deny workers access to the riches of the Internet. That word is stupid.


The next post in this series will address readiness for and benefits of collaborative learning.

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Isn’t this how organizational learning cultures progress?

Jane Hart’s post yesterday on The differences between learning in an e-business and learning in a social business got me thinking about the evolution of learning culture in organizations.

It’s all to0 easy to mistakenly think of formal learning as the antiquated, primitive way of doing things, something an organization shucks off as it becomes enlightened and gives its people the autonomy to work on their own. The notion of stages suggests that a corporation hops from one stage to the next, abandoning past approaches as it advances.

What really happens is that one innovation is built on top of what’s gone before. Just as bicycles did not eliminate walking and cars did not do away with automobiles, informal learning doesn’t snuff out formal learning. That’s why models like 80/20 and 70:20:10 retain the 20 and the 10.

Think of it this way. Most organizations begin life with classroom learning and experiential learning:

As organizations mature, they take advantage of other methods of formal delivery, for example eLearning. Often this gives the worker more say-so about when to attend and sometimes whether to take part at all. They also improve the effectiveness of experiential learning by enlisting managers as coaches who give stretch assignments to develop their people and by developing practices that nurture self-directed learning.

Take a core sample of overall learning and you still find classroom training for newbies, compliance, and technical subjects. As the organization progresses, it adds more layers to the mix of learning going on. The newer approaches often diminish the importance of the lower layers but does not eliminate them.

Bear in mind that all learning is part informal/part formal and part social/part solo. These diagrams are conceptual, not derived from actual measurements.

The ultimate stage is the convergence of work and learning. As Jane points out, you don’t get this far just unless the organization has become a social business. Check her list of learning practices (the right column). Jane describes both the way people learn and the way the business functions; the two are inseparable.

Be careful not to confuse the progression of learning for the organization with the progression of learning for the individual:

Typically, the individual does phase out of most formal learning over time. Been there, done that, moving on.

Bonus question: Where would you place your organization in the progression to the convergence of work and learning?



Informal Learning for people in a hurry

Need to get your arms around the essence of informal learning in business in a hurry? Try these ten:

Courses are dead. Just foolin’

Several people have asked me not to denigrate formal learning in the workplace, the 10 of the 70:20:10 model. Indeed. Formal learning has its place. It’s apt for bringing people up to speed in a new discipline or topic. Formal learning accelerates exposure to the landscape, the rules of thumb, the frameworks and specialized vocabulary, and a lot of other things that would be laborious to learn from experience.

Standing around the water cooler is not the best way to learn algebra.

Furthermore, it’s a fast-changing world. We’re all novices at some things so even senior people shouldn’t write off attending the occasional workshop.


Curious video. I’m a raving fan of conversation. “Conversations are the stem cells of learning.”

The video makes conversation very attractive, but it doesn’t tell me how Branch is going to make it better.

This reminds me of the Doonesbury cartoon where Mike Doonesbury has created an ad for a new bicycle that shows a jumble of ecstatic people. Zonker innocently asks, “But where’s the bicycle?”