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Monday, July 24, 2006

Informal Learning - Let's Get Real - Part II

I've received quite a bit of input on my blog post Informal Learning - Let's Get Real. I feel like many of us are in the same boat. We want to figure out what the process and mechanisms should look like when we are going after Intentional Informal Learning. Interestingly, Stephen Downes' new presentation - e-Learning 2.0 - Why the New Tools includes a slide that quotes my blog post:
I'm becoming convinced that folks in the informal learning realm are quite
willing to live with "free range" learning. It's way too touchy-feely and
abstract for me. If this stuff is important, then I want to:
  • Know that it will work
  • Know why it works
  • Know that its repeatable

At first I was surprised, because Stephen is more of the "free range" approach, but once I listened to the presenation, I realized he was using my quote as a counter-example to comment about how wrong I am. Stephen's counter arguments are roughly that (a) informal learning happens all the time "so we know it works", (b) it depends on how you define "works", and (c) if your definition of "works" is that people learn what you want them to learn then you have defined it wrong.

The good news is that it actually helps in clarifying my thinking (and our differences).

Let's me define "works" for most of my projects - changes human performance in a way that achieves desired business outcomes. For example, changes how store managers work with front-line employees in order to improve customer satisfaction scores.

If I look at what I do, I often start by breaking the problem up into Intermediate Factors (see also - Elves, Measuring Results and Informal Learning). In this example, an important factor might be Knowldge of Store Layout. And when you take a look at that factor you realize that the performance in question is really all about how the front-line employee answers a particular kind of question - "Where do I find X?" Unfortunately, there's a lot rolled up into being good at answering this question (product knowledge - what is that thing, store layout knowledge, how you answer questions, helping store managers instruct and work with front-line employees). And there are many, many ways that we could use to help the store manager help the front-line employee improve their performance here.

The answer to whether it works is quite scientific, has our customer satisfaction score improved on that question (in stores where the numbers were down).

So, while our solution allowed for limited bottom-up content creation (best practices capture), this was controlled and closely monitored against metrics - certainly not "free range." I'm not sure that I buy that we would have had nearly the same effectiveness by providing a more open environment. I think the initial seeding of best practices, the on-going follow-up and the control structure we put on top of this system where critical to driving the numbers at the end of the day.

Finally, back to Stephen Downes' comment that if you define "works" as "learning what you want them to learn" ... Well I didn't define it that way, but it was awfully important at the end of the day for the managers to learn certain things about how to affect positive change around the numbers and important to help the managers help employees improve their performance. Maybe it's the difference between corporate environments and academic environments, but I think there's more to it than defining "works" ... there's a fundamental difference in eLearning 2.0: Informal Learning, Communities, Bottom-up vs. Top-Down.

Keywords: eLearning Trends, eLearning 2.0, Web 2.0, Informal Learning, Collaborative Learning

1 comment:

George Siemens said...

Hi Tony - do you have time for a skype chat on this? my id is gsiemens...