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Informal Learning

For Free-range Learners and Disgruntled Managers

Shorter URL for this page: http://tinyurl.com/3t5ec I'm writing a book for Pfeiffer on informal learning. They get the manuscript 12/31/05; the book pops out nearly a year later. In the meanwhile, I'll be offering previews and opinions right here.

Learning is everything people do to adapt to their environment that is not genetically determined. DNA is the hard-wired aspect of the body; learning is the ever-changing software. You're stuck with the gene sequences your parents gave you (at least for now). All you can change is your learning. Luckily for us, learning is a skill. You can improve your ability to learn. That's what this book is about.

Learning comes in two varieties: formal and informal. We're going to focus primarily on informal learning, for that's how we humans acquire most of what we know.

Formal learning is school, courses, classrooms, and workshops. It's official. It's scheduled. It teaches a curriculum. Most of the time, it's top-down. Learners are evaluated and graded on mastering material someone else deems important. Those who have good memories or test well receive gold stars and privileged placement. Graduates receive diplomas, degrees, and certificates. Generally, formal learning occurs so far in advance of application that people have forgotten most of what they learned before they have an opportunity to apply it. Informal learning flies under the official radar. It can happen intentionally or by accident. No one takes attendance, for there are no classes. No one assigns grades, for success in life and work is the measure of its effectiveness. No one graduates, because learning never ends. Examples are learning through observing, trial-and-error, calling the help line, asking a neighbor, traveling to a new place, reading a magazine, conversing with others, taking part in a community, composing a story, reflecting on the day's events, burning you finger on a hot stove, awakening with an inspiration, raising a child, visiting a museum, pursuing a hobby, traipsing out of one's comfort zone, and on and on and on. As Roger Schank points out, "People who learn on their own learn exactly what they find interesting and potentially useful."


We'll offer ways of looking at informal learning that build a more adaptable workforce, strengthen relationships with customers, reduce operational inefficiencies, and strengthen the connection between strategy and execution. Since people learn their jobs informally, it's foolish to leave that part of their learning to chance. Points of leverage include communities of practice, workflow learning, knowledge measurement, collaboration, demolishing cubicles, and Friday-afternoon beer busts.

(The upside opportunity is huge.)

Why aren't people and organizations hungry to learn how to learn? I'm convinced it's because they don't believe in the payback. For the organization, I want to show the bottom-line impact of investing in informal learning. For the individual, I offer the promise of a more fulfilling life.

The word learning is an obstacle. So many people have made up their minds, consciously or not, that they don't have the time or that they're beyond all that, or that they are too old to care or...whatever rationalization fits their takes on the world.

For some of us, learning is fun. It's the way we make friends, improve our work, and earn our keep. Very little of it is bookish. None of it takes place on campus. Read my friend Marcia Conner's article from Fast Company, Learn More Now.

Corporate learning is out of sync with the new, more natural world we're entering into. When the individual learner is empowered, the instructional designer is dethoned. Informal learning is co-created, not designed by experts.

Contact Jay


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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/01/2008 03:20:00 AM  

  • really informative article, thanks.
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    By Blogger Ray Creations, at 1/11/2009 04:05:00 AM  

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