Posts Categorized: Informal Learning

A Learning + Web Unworkshop

Interested in how to use blogs, wikis and other web tools for specific learning applications? Then join Jay Cross, Judy Brown and me for an informl learning unworkshop. The format of the unworkshop is different from a typical online course or webinar and is focused on the working professional. First of all, it’s based on… Read more »

Quotable Comments on Learning

Here is a random selection of some quotes that I’ve been collecting. This collection is one example of why I focus my efforts on informal learning rather than more formalised education. “… curriculum is a solution to a problem we created.” Brian Alger “No generation in history has ever been so thoroughly prepared for the… Read more »

Jay Cross on Informal Learning

Jay Cross has posted a Breeze presentation that you can watch and listen to online. It’s a review of his research over the past year that informed his in-press book on informal learning.
There’s a lot here and worth the time (35 minutes) to sit back and learn. Jay and I share perspectives on many things, including the importance of performance & the power of networks. In this presentation Jay gives a lot of food for thought on the important role of informal learning.
His statement that only 0.4% of behaviour change is attributable to formal learning should make training organisations and educational institutions shake in their boots, but of course it won’t (until it’s too late).

Connecting formal & informal learning

Dave Tosh, co-creator of Elgg, has a model in progress of "how to facilitate the social interaction of learners and resources within the current architecture most institutions employ." His two-layer model is similar to what Mancomm has developed for a healthcare institutional setting:

 Layer 2  Personal Learning Landscape
e.g. Elgg
Informal
Learner defined
Social
 Layer 1 Course Management System
e.g. Moodle
Formal
Institution defined
Task based

By using Elgg linked to a more formal system like Moodle you can provide traditional training & education, focused on specific tasks while encouraging emergent and informal learning in the less structured elgg learning landscape.
In a later post, Dave links to a concept map being developed by Andrew Chambers. This map shows the wide variety of tools currently available for informal learning, in order to organise, connect, create and share. These really are "small pieces loosely joined" for informal learning.
The trick will be in linking informal & formal systems so that the learner can easily move from one environment to another. This is probably the biggest challenge for institutions and their IT departments. If they aren’t linked, then learners may find less use for them. That’s why I continue to recommend the Elgg and Moodle communities because they are actively working on integrating these two layers.

Informal Learning for a Flat World

A flattened world is one where skilled workers compete with each other, no matter where they live. With the opening of China, India and Russia to the world economy, the world is becoming flatter. Thomas Friedman, in The World is Flat says that there are four categories of workers who will prosper in a flattened global economy – special workers, specialized workers, anchored workers and really adaptable workers. Learning how to learn will be the critical skill for this last group; who in my opinion will be the largest. In 1998 I noted in my thesis that learning how to learn would be the crtitical job skill for the future. It’s now becoming reality.
Given the huge diversity of learning needs for these adaptable workers, we need to move away from a one size fits all educational approach. One of the answers is informal learning (see Jay Cross), which can be likened to mass customisation. It allows the learner to co-design the learning process. 
This means that informal learning environments have to be loose structures that can accomodate as many different learning needs as possible. Instructional systems design (ISD) was developed to train soldiers for war so that everyone would have the same skills. In a global, networked world the last thing you want are the same skills as everyone else, as you will then be an interchangeable commodity.
Therefore in an economy that needs adaptable learners, the type of learning environment that they will demand will be an adaptable one as well. A single course, with established learning objectives that all students must achieve, just won’t cut it.

Learning Landscape

Jay Cross uses a landscape analogy to describe informal learning:

Courses end; learnscapes persist. Organizations and their members are living things, and the landscape/learnscape analogy invites us to consider nature, symbiosis, interconnections, genetic make-up, adaptation, the change of seasons, and life cycles. People are not plants, so the analogy doesn’t stretch into self-expression, thinking, identity, personality, and collaboration.


This got me thinking about how useful I’m finding ELGG, the learner-centric environment, which has the tagline "learning landscape".

Elgg lets you set up a personal presence online and then use it to interact with others!
Create your own weblog, journal, store of files like photos and Word documents, communities, social networks.
Use Elgg to enhance reflective thought, your development, your resource base.
Share them with your friends, teachers, instructors and other Elgg users. YOU decide who can see what!


Unfortunately, since no one can pronounce or understand the name ELGG (I’m told it’s a Swiss deer), I suggest a petition to change the name to "learning landscape" or something like that. It looks like ELGG is making very exciting progress and it will be a heck of a lot easier for me to convince my clients to use it if they can pronounce it 😉

Learn@Work Week

I’m a bit late, but I guess I should underline the fact that it’s Learn@Work Week in Canada; an event kicked-off by CSTD.  Our Premier of New Brunswick is the honourary chair. For me, and many of my colleagues & associates, every week is learn at work week.
In reviewing my own learning, I see that t it has been a very long time since I took any formal instruction. I find that much of what interests me is expensive and for the high price I feel that it’s not focused enough on my personal learning needs. That’s the dilemma with training & education programs. To be able to make any money you have to find an audience that’s willing to pay for the offering. However, in order to attract more people you have to make it less personal. I would love a personalised training program, but I couldn’t afford it and conversely, I find that the more general offerings aren’t worth my time and money. That’s the learner’s dilemma.
Currently, all of my learning is informal.

Performative Ties

An article on Performative Ties from Knowledge@Wharton (requires free membership) describes how professional services companies use informal transfer methods to leverage their knowledge. In a study conducted by Prof. Sheen Levine, it was found that:

…what gives firms competitive advantage isn’t just their repository of sheer knowledge, but their use and encouragement of so-called "performative ties" — those impromptu communications made by colleagues who are strangers in which critical knowledge is transferred with no expectation of a quid pro quo.

Performative ties, as described in this article,  seem to be similar to the weak ties that could help you get a job much easier than strong, familial ties can. The research on performative ties for knowledge-sharing inside corporations shows that loose peer-to-peer networks are effective ways to transfer implicit knowlede.
I think that those same performative ties exist outside these professional services companies, especially amongst bloggers. Reading or commenting on a blog creates a weak tie that can be used to ask a more pointed question via e-mail. I have done this on a several occasions, and have received similar requests. The responses are always quick and candid.
According to Levine, "What they [professional services firms] do well, is move knowledge around effectively, taking the company’s entire accumulated know-how and gathering it quickly to a single point to create a solution for a client." If that is their prime competitive advantage then looser groups of independent consultants, who share through their blogs, may be just as effective at providing professional services as these more structured companies that currently rule the market. That’s positive news for me and my associates 🙂