According to informal learning guru, Jay Cross, most learning in organisations takes place informally (70:20:10) and yet most organisations spend the majority of their learning budgets on formal learning courses. Informal learning is nothing new, people have been learning from their colleagues and on-the-job long before the social media revolution began, but now, with social media so prolific, informal learning has come under the spotlight.
What is informal learning?
Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way many people learn to do their jobs (www.informl.com). Driven by conversations, communities of practice, context and social media, informal learning provides opportunities to put into practice what has been learned.
What about formal learning?
While informal learning plays a critical role in learning, formal learning is absolutely necessary for creating a foundation of principles and concepts as a starting point. I think we can all imagine what might happen if we left compliance and systems training solely up to learning from buddies. While learning may strictly still take place, it may not be the type of learning that is required. We don’t necessarily want the shortest or easiest ‘cheat method’ when it comes to compliance…
Neither formal nor informal learning can be left to chance. When it comes to informal learning, organisations must create opportunities for this to take place. Recently there’s been a move towards a naturalistic style of learning based on the way people interact with one another in the work environment. So while we acknowledge the role of formal learning, we must not underestimate the value of interactions between colleagues and how this leads to learning.
We must make a distinction between push and pull learning. Formal training, driven by a manager, is push. Learning sought out by the employee learner, is pull. Throw into the mix of formal and informal learning, experiential learning and you have a holistic learning model of 70:20:10 where 70% of learning is experiential, 20 % comes from working with others, and 10% results from formal training.
In order to take advantage of experiential learning, employees need to learn to pull learning instead of waiting for managers to push. This often necessitates a culture change and a shift in the way learning is thought about in organisations. It also means that learning should be something that is ongoing, proactive and sought by employees as opposed to something pushed by managers when a problem needs to be resolved.