Tony Karrer's eLearning Blog on e-Learning Trends eLearning 2.0 Personal Learning Informal Learning eLearning Design Authoring Tools Rapid e-Learning Tools Blended e-Learning e-Learning Tools Learning Management Systems (LMS) e-Learning ROI and Metrics

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Informal Learning - Harold Tells Us Where To Put It - Now What

Great post by Harold Jarche - Informal Learning and Performance Technology responding to my post - Informal Learning - Let's Get Real. His post is the kind of reasoned thinking that helps make sense of different approaches. It's interesting how Harold has broken up the world, and, frankly, I'm not sure how universal this is, but I think it helps.

* Performance Interventions
** Learning Interventions
*** Instructional Interventions (e.g., Training)
*** Non-Instructional Interventions (e.g., Job Aids)
**** Informal Learning Approaches
** Other Interventions
*** Long list here including things like Career Development, Feedback Systems, ...

Harold then gives a sample list of non-instructional performance interventions:
  1. Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS)
  2. Workplace Design
  3. Knowledge Management (KM)
  4. Just-in-Time Support
  5. Communities of Practice
  6. Multimedia
  7. Internet and Intranets
  8. Corporate Culture changes
  9. Process Re-engineering
  10. Job Aids

Learning Professionals I think would say that they commonly use: EPSS, parts of KM, Just-in-Time Support, Multimedia, Intranets, and Job Aids as part of their tool set. And realistically, we are beginning to see all of these be parts of the solution mix. And realistically, this is part of the challenge today, the broadening to look at a broader solution mix.

What is curious though is that much of the discussion around Informal Learning seems to center on Communities of Practice. I like that Harold has gone back to the more classic definition of HPT and just includes these kinds of solutions as part of his overall mix.

Harold states:

I think that informal learning is a way of categorising a whole range of strategies that we now have available with the advent of cheap web access, powerful personal computers and low cost applications likes blogs, wikis, tags, etc. Informal learning offers a new array of tools for the learning professional’s tool box.

So, it sounds like Harold positions this in with non-instructional learning interventions and sees the new array of tools (blogs, wikis, etc.) key to informal learning solutions.

I personally like Harold's direction on this because it is hopeful that we can find more systematic ways to think about where, when and how Informal Learning solutions can fit into the overall mix. I personally think that there's a disconnect between the design and implementation of HPT solutions and the "free range" approach that many in the Informal Learning community take.

Of course, even if we tend to agree with Harold's positioning of Informal Learning and his assessment of some of the kinds of tools used in Informal Learning, it still leaves us with an awfully blurry picture. A comment on my last post by Guy L. Levert provides a telling picture of how most of us feel on the subject:

my take on informal learning is a little blurry but I think there is value in there ...

I have more questions than answers - hence the blurryness of my understanding of that informal learning beast. Lots to find out - but that's good, it's informal!

So, I want to go back to my challenge in the last post:
But, are we collectively making progress in this? Where are the resources for learning professionals that help us learn? Where's our great examples of informal learning support? Please don't tell me it's TrDev and ASTD. Is that all we've got?

Let's get real... If supporting informal learning is the wave of the future and a critical capability for learning professionals of tomorrow, we had better come up with something more than "unclear process" and based on a "rough end target."


Harold Jarche said...

Have to agree with you, Tony, when you say, "I personally think that there's a disconnect between the design and implementation of HPT solutions and the "free range" approach that many in the Informal Learning community take."

I think it's similar to the design of EPSS. Other than Gloria's book and a few other sources, there is not a large body of information on how to analyse and design performance support. EPSS has been around for ten years, but it's still a bit of a black art. Same goes for CoP's. There are lots of stories, a few general guidelines, but not a lot of specifics on building and supporting online communities.

Overall, I think it means that there is a lot of room for more applied research and a lot more work on developing methods. My post was just from the the perspective of HPT, and there are many other ways of looking at informal learning, such as from an OD perspective or an educator's perspective.

Dave Lee said...

I agree with you Tony and also have a great appreciation of Harold's perspective. I've begun to wonder if all of this hub bub about informal learning isn't really the learning community coming to an understanding of what everyone else in the corporation has known for sometime.

Some examples:

Way back when I was a sales representative, it was common understanding that the people and place you were going to truly learn about your product was your customer in his or her office.

One of the key pieces of advice given to young managers with aspirations to the executive suite has long been find the person who is doing what you want to be doing and do what they do.

Product designers, project managers, and others responsible for creation and production of products have made a habit of spending time with customers using their products.

These are clearly learning activities and by most definitions they'd be classified as informal. Where's the black art? Sounds more like SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) to me.

Tony Karrer said...

Harold thanks for the continued thoughts on this - you've really helped me think through this!

Dave - I hear what you are saying and somewhat share the sentiment that informal learning is all around us (and we are doing it right now). However, I agree with Harold's assessment that if you compare some of the types of interventions we typically get involved in the understanding of where they fit, the process to use to design and implement it is well-understood for instructional approaches, somewhat understood for EPSS, Job Aids, Reference Guides (but a lot more is needed) and is really not well defined for Informal Learning.

The good news is that as we start to have these kinds of discussions, I somewhat see at least a list of types of informal learning interventions being defined (Dave - your list is somewhat interesting just for that) and with that we could begin to define when they might be called for as part of the larger Performance Analysis and Design Process.

Of course this is still a different feel than many in the informal learning community, because I'm wanting a controlled, understood process for Informal Learning.

Dave Lee said...

Well Tony, they say that there are no new ideas left out there and perhaps they're right. Those tasks came from a list I've been accumulating with the express purpose of drawing up on the blogosphere to help flesh it out through eelearning. I suppose I should move it up on my priority list now. LOL Sheesh, thanks Tony!

As to the control issue, I do believe we are faced with a "hold on loosely" situation when it comes to directing and measuring the impact of interventions in the informal realm. I have the theory that if we look to some of the social science research, sometimes controversial, on influence, persuasion, and propaganda, we might just find some tools which can be used for good. (Boy, I'm glad I broached that topic on your blog and not mine. LOL)

Mark said...

Now I'm just a simple country boy but isn't defining informal learning a but like trying to define ambiguity? By that I mean, I believe that there are real consequences to us continuing to use "learning" as if it is something we can engineer. I'm using the "define" tool in Google to bring up a bunch of definitions for learning:
*the cognitive process of acquiring skill or knowledge
*a change in neural function as a consequence of experience
*is an increase in the capability for effective action
*The relative permanent change in a person's knowledge or behavior due to experience.

So we have changes and increases and internal cognitive processes; what we don't have are products. Ask me what learning is and I'll tell you it's what goes on inside my head. Ask me to really define informal learning and I'll tell you it's what goes on inside my head when I'm dressed casually. This is not to say that I don't rejoice in the tenets are being espoused under this rubric. Just that I think honesty compels us to say that what we are debating are ways in which we think, based on our learning (see the irony?), we can use emerging technologies coupled with appropriate methodologies to better engineer chances/opportunities/spaces in which it is more likely than not that learning will occur. Not sexy but is it more accurate? P.S. Can I just say that I love this debate and think that it is serving our industry well and that we need more of this and we need it at conferences, up on stage in front of thousands of people. Beats the hell out of talking about templates and per seat licensing fees!!

Tony Karrer said...

Mark - I'm not a fan of your tongue-in-cheek definition of informal learning (learning with casual clothes on), but leaving that aside, I think you've hit the crux of it and the challenge.

We have these new techniques, technologies, tools available to us - and we are struggling with what/how/when to apply them.

I'm actually not so sure that the debate over the definition of what constitutes informal learning is all that important, i.e., does it matter whether EPSS is part of informal learning or not? If you ask George Siemens and Harold Jarche you will get a different answer.

But, the real issue is getting our list of possible techniques (more help needed here Dave, Jay, and then getting help in understanding where they apply (and don't) and how to apply them so it helps.

BTW - as a long-time reader of your blog, nice to have you visit/comment Mark.

Mark said...

Tony - thx for the welcome - longtime reader of your blog as well. Also based on your recommendation, I'll keep my day job and not pursue comedy full-time. :-)

I will still argue though that the words we use to describe things are important. They color perceptions and expectations. As you so rightly point out - I hope that as we struggle to grasp the application of all these new capabilities - that we can also struggle with finding the appropriate way to describe them.

As to the gathering the list of the possible - again you're right and again I'll reveal by educational bias and say that especially as it relates to "informal learning" we should probably be employing (at least to some degree) observational techniques born from ethnography to fully explore what people are already doing. I mean they are already learning in their own ways - I think it would be valuable to take some research cycles and find out exact;y how people are meeting their knowledge needs.

Tony Karrer said...

Mark - great comments again.

I agree that it would be helpful to have agreement on what we really mean when we say informal learning. I'm personally happy with informal learning as defined by Harold Jarche to mean that it is all non-instructional learning interventions. However, others such as George Siemens seem to define it Categories of eLearning as only information foraging and separates out EPSS, Communities and others. I assume Jay Cross uses the broader definition.

I'm still more interested in the list - and I agree with you and Dave Lee that a really good initial list likely can come from looking at what's happening already. How are we learning today?

Unfortunately, I'm still on my rant about how we really are not doing a good job of learning how to learn: eLearning Technology: Personal Learning for Learning Professionals - Using Web 2.0 Tools to Make Reading & Research More Effective. But I look forward to hearing more from folks like yourself and Dave (and hopefully Jay and many others) about the list of techniques and at least some sense of rubric for what applies when.