Informal economy; informal learning

I’ve read most of the Toffler’s books over the years, including Future Shock, The Third Wave and Powershift; and have yet to read Revolutionary Wealth. I agree with Lawrence Fisher (S+B) that the value in their work is not crystal ball gazing but making sense of various patterns:

In retrospect, Mr. Toffler was less a reliable prophet than a brilliant synthesist. Future Shock and its successors, The Third Wave (Morrow, 1980) and Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century (Bantam, 1990) were at their best not when predicting what would happen, but when drawing from a vast array of disciplines – science, technology, sociology, and religion – to explain the circumstances of the world at large.

Their latest book says that we are seeing huge growth in the informal economy, “According to the Tofflers, countless other industries and institutions face waves of “prosumers”, who produce and consume products and services outside the monetary economy. This is a historic change in the way wealth is created, the Tofflers write, spearheaded (for now, at least) by the United States.”

Here are some thoughts on education from the interview:

S+B: In the book, you write of education’s failure to move from the industrial age to the knowledge economy. Is homeschooling a prosumer response to this crisis?
Yes, now that you mention it. It is an important and growing form of prosuming. The parents do it themselves, because the market does not supply what they want or need, or for that matter what the market needs.

Think about how we learned to use personal computers. PC use went from zero to hundreds of millions of people who know and use PCs routinely, and nobody went to school to learn how.

Instead, chances are you found a guru, and a guru was anyone who bought his PC a week before you bought yours. And there were user groups – volunteers passing valuable knowledge back and forth. If you agree that the PC has had an impact on productivity in the money economy, then the fact that people taught each other how to use this thing without money changing hands is another example of what a big impact prosumers can have on the money economy. Add these things together — homeschooling, teaching how to use PCs, Linux, etc. – and you begin to understand this big invisible economic force. People have written about each of these pieces, but haven’t seen them as part of a huge nonmoney economy interacting with the money economy.

It’s not just parents, but knowledge workers inside and outside of organisations, who are taking learning into their own hands. As the non-money economy is affecting the measured economy, informal learning is affecting education. More and more, we can do it ourselves, whether it be printing our own photographs or learning a new skill. Homeschooling is getting easier with the Internet and so is learning for yourself. Formal training and education (one size fits nobody) can’t react quick enough to our changing needs and expanding fields knowledge.

That’s where I see the importance of understanding informal learning within organisations. It’s happening anyway, and at an accelerating rate. Organisations should look at tapping informal learning, not controlling it. The more free-thinkers and independent learners that an organisation has, the more resilient it will be in times of change. This of course is subversive thinking for any command and control organisation, so perhaps we really need new organisational models. The film crew is an example.

Formal education exploded as we moved into the industrial age one hundred years ago, with larger organisations demanding Taylorist job functions. As the industrial age gives way to a networked age, there is less need for well-defined, cookie-cutter jobs. With fewer standardized jobs, why do we need standardized education, or even standardized training? [I know that there are exceptions to this statement, but they are becoming fewer]

7 Responses to “Informal economy; informal learning”

  1. Roger Hiles

    I’ve thought about Toffler and other vintage futurists a lot recently. Remember the “crisis” of leisure time some people worried about in the 60s and 70s? Looks like technology has enabled people to increasingly spend their “free” time in the informal economy.

    It’s interesting to speculate that the expansion of formal professions that has been one of the hallmarks of the industrial age may be temporary, and that “gifted amateurs” may again play an increasing role.

  2. Harold

    I don’t think so, Daniel. My clients and projects are rather varied –

    In many ways, I try to put myself out of business with each project. My aim is to make my clients self-sufficient. Only by staying ahead of the curve can I offer value to my clients. So far, every one of my projects has been unique, so there have been no cookie-cutter solutions.

    I’m not in a formal profession anymore myself. For instance; am I a management, training, educational or IT consultant? I’m all and neither. I’m a Pro-Am, with some formal education, a lot of informal learning and a good network.

  3. Jon Husband

    Have you also read War and Anti-War ?

    Not as high-profile and perhaps not as “catchy” as Future Shock and PowerShift, but pretty “accurate” once again … as we all observe the US and Canadian and what’s-left-of-the-coalition troops being put through their paces by the guerillas who seem to insist on wanting to disinvite the invaders 😉

  4. robertogreco

    I just found you through a comment that you made over at think:lab.

    In your comment above you say: “In many ways, I try to put myself out of business with each project. My aim is to make my clients self-sufficient.”

    This is how everyone should approach what they do. Anyone who is confident in their ability to continually learn and adapt does not feel the need to preserve their job. In fact they look forward to new challenges and opportunities. How can educators prepare students for life-long learning and adaptation if they are unwilling to do it themselves? Teacher self preservation is part of the reason schools are so behind the rest of society.

    You might find this 2001 Daniel Pink essay interesting:

    He talks about “the homeschooling revolution”, “free agent teaching” and “the end of high school” after summarizing the Taylorist foundation that our school system is built upon.


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