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Monday, May 01, 2006

Informal Learning is Too Important to Leave to Chance

An interesting comment from Jay Cross (Mr. Informal Learning) relative to my earlier eLearning 2.0: Informal Learning, Communities, Bottom-up vs. Top-Down got me to thinking.

Jay says -
Serendipity is cool and I always leave room for it, but the learning I write about is always intentional. Otherwise, it's a tough sell.

So, we agree that most learning professionals are being asked for Intentional Learning (as opposed to Unexpected). Jay and I also agree that performance and business results are what matter at the end of the day, not seat time.

Where I'm not sure if we agree is whether intermediate results such as learning objectives, skill development opportunities, etc. are important in order to ensure that we will reach the performance and business results.

Maybe it's just me, but some folks (especially those coming from a background in Communities of Practice) believe that you foster learning but you don't control it. You provide the environment and people will learn.

Jay commented:
The question "How can I make sure that I'm able to hit my learning objectives if I don't control the content and the learning process?" assumes that you are ever in control. I think the learner should always be in control.

Well, maybe it's just semantics around learner control vs. learning professional control, but I'm not a big fan of leaving the learning to chance. Don't get me wrong. I like to create fairly open learning experiences, e.g., collaborative learning through discussions. I like people to have lots of opportunity to find their answers along the way themselves. But, I'm personally much more confident if I have a set of performance objectives that I can use to derive learning objectives and skill development opportunities around. I want to put structure in place that guides the learner along the way. I want to put them back "inbounds" as needed. All of this gives me a much higher degree of confidence that I will achieve the performance and business results I want at the end of the day.

Again, I would point us to George Siemens in his article Theories for Informal Learning Design:

Informal learning is too important leave to chance. But why don't we have theories that provide guidelines?

What we need is practical guidelines, lots of examples, etc.

I'll be saying more on this shortly based on the results of my Collaborative Learning class that I'm teaching right now.

Keywords: Informal Learning


Nancy White said...

I'm looking forward to reading more, Tony, What I think I hear you saying is our competence at finding the right balance between control and emergence. Am I getting that right?

I get all bothered when I hear pronouncements that are all or nothing. There is a dance between the formal and the informal.

Keep the good stuff coming, and THANKS!

Tony Karrer said...

Nancy and Karyn, those are both excellent insights. We need to build our capability of providing more learner control (when appropriate, which is often) but doing it in a way that can be known (take the chance out). I don't think there is much out there right now in how to do that. And, Nancy, coming from your CoP background, you probably understand this as well as anyone. I'm going to go take a look at Karyn's post, but I'd be curious to get Nancy's take.

roy said...

Hi, interesting issues. I have a different take on it. I borrow the term 'ante-narrative' from Narrative (Boje)and form the new term 'ante-formal' learning.

Ante-formal learning can do some interesting work, for me. It's simply learning which has 'not yet been formalised'. So: emails, water-cooler chatter, discussion forum posts, blog-stuff, etc, some recorded, some not.

This raises different issues:
1. If ante-formal learning is valuable (yes) then how do we nurture it, foster it, give it space, celebrate it?

2. Separate issue: what parts of ante-formal learning might benefit from being linked through to formal learning? (Conversely, what parts might be killed off - especially by assessment?)

3. What are the processes that transform/ transcribe ante-formal learning into formal learning?

4. What is the nature (epistemology) of ante-formal vs. formal, and tacit vs. explicit, and how do we put all of these into a sympathetic environment in which conversations, learning, assessment etc can all flourish?