Thursday 30 April 2015

Thoughts on valuing informal learning

Thank you Jane Hart for tweeting a link to this infographic on Informal Learning and to Stefania Scott the creator and Lead Research Editor at GoodPractice who has given me permission to include it in this blog post. 

The infographic begins by sharing some examples of informal learning in the workplace:
  • asking a colleague to show you how to do something
  • watching a how to video online
  • googling a solution to a problem you have
With the growth of easy to use social media tools and mobile devices that allow users to generate their own multimedia content, individuals are constantly contributing to resources that provide informal learning opportunities. Anyone can now create a how to video using a simple tool like screencast-o-matic, a few slides and a voice over. In corridor conversations may lead to a quick demo using the devices we carry in our pockets. Wifi and smart phones enable us to access information whenever and wherever we are. 

The infographic (see below) refers to three examples of informal learning models that describe how people learn at work - the work of Jay Cross, Dan Pontefract and the 70:20:10 model. Jay Cross author of Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance. Cross refers to the shift from push to pull where learning is 'just in time' rather than 'just in case'. 

The 70:20:10 model is a model created in the 80s by Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger which suggests that the optimum formula for work based learning is 70% experiential, 20% social and 10% formal.  
    • 70% of learning happens on the job through real life assignments
    • 20% of learning comes from feedback, our networks, and relationships with others
    • 10% of learning comes from formal training such as courses and workshops
Dan Pontefract's author of The Flat Army introducing something he calls ‘Pervasive Learning’ and the ‘3-33 Model’. Here formal, informal and social learning are evenly split. In chapter 9 he talks about learning at the speed of need and defines informal learning as "an opportunity without conventionalism that provides guidance, inspiration, expertise or acumen typically in a non-formal environment." (Pontefract 2013:200).
    • 33% of learning is formal physical or virtual classrooms, conferences, roadshows or e-learning
    • 33% of learning is informal mentoring, coaching, webinars, reading books, listening to podcasts and role shadowing.
    • 33% is social via user generated content, wikis, blogs, videos, discussion and instant messaging tools.
The conclusion at this point is that a learning event is not the whole story about learning. We can consider how informal learning might connect with or encourage formal learning. What is the context of the learning? Is the learning related to our job, everyday life or is it for pleasure? All are valuable and can complement each other; adding richness to our lifewide learning experiences (Jackson 2014). 

What resonated me immediately when I came upon the infographic (an informal learning experience in itself) was the recommendations to boost informal learning. I had been talking about some of these with colleagues that very same day.

Stefania captures how we might boost informal learning experiences by doing the following:
  • Make coaching and mentoring part of everyone's job, not just managers. Buddy up experiences hands with new employees. set up an informal in your department or team.
  • Make it easy for your team to find people wit tacit knowledge. Set up a shareable database of team members and their specific skills everyone can access.
  • Encourage everyone to document and share their work. Use wikis and other collaborative tools like Google docs, Trello, Yammer and Mindmeister.
  • Ban information hording. Don't let people work in silos, and end up re-inventing the wheel.
  • Encourage people to generate their own content, such as blogs and videos to show people how things are done.
My conversation had been around the value of a personal learning network and how through this it was possible to openly learn both independently but also as co-learners. Sharing the process of our learning, reflections on what we have learned and engaging in digital open learning forums to discuss, question, challenge - were examples of how the informal learning process can be enhanced. In the workplace it is often difficult to find out what others have done in relation to developing innovative practice in the classroom for example. What worked well and what didn't are questions we might want to ask. Often it is not until such work is published that we get to hear about it. However where colleagues are engaging in social media, for example blogging and Twitter, there is the potential to share ongoing practice and pedagogic research to a wider audience. These forums open up opportunities for dialogues to take place, but also provide individuals to informally learn from others by simply reading the reflections of others. 

So it is clear that those engaging in informal and social learning value this activity, however what is not evident is the value organisations place on these activities - how readily are theses CPD activities recognised and acknowledged in the same way as formal learning? 



Cross, J. (2007) Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance

Jackson, N. J. (2014) Lifewide Learning and Education in Universities and Colleges: Concepts and Conceptual Aids, Chapter A1  in N. J. Jackson and J. Willis (eds) Lifewide Learning and Education in Universities and Colleges. 

Pontefract, D. (2013) The Flat Army

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