Informal Learning Hits Brick Walls

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Informal Learning Hits Brick Walls

There is more than one way to implement informal learning. The approach differs depending on the nature of the organization.

Organizations have plenty of formal structures – brick walls or command and control environments.

It is better to deal with the “formal” requirements of the organization on informal learning. This is a reality for many types of enterprise programs that impacts learning, work and performance.

I agree with Jay Cross and Harold Jarche that we should not box-in or put constraints on informal learning otherwise it does not flourish. At the core of informal learning are freedom, independence and flexibility. Perhaps another way to look at “formalizing” informal learning is

deepening informal learning.”

However, there are considerations we need to incorporate and reconcile in our decisions on informal learning:

  1. Do we need some form of structure and formal approach to strategize the implementation of informal learning or do we not?

  2. How do we launch and initiate informal learning? Will everyone suddenly spend time in water coolers to share news? Who sets-up the water coolers to begin with?

  3. Will organizational structure disappear? Hierarchies will persist as predictable as the sun will rise tomorrow. Hence, how do we make the informal learning work, live within these structures and move around, play around, approach problems and deal with issues pertaining to reporting responsibilities?

  4. Will companies continue to pay for the time of employees, informal learning software purchases, and the time of people who lead informal learning? If companies pay for informal learning someone has to justify the costs and organize it.

  5. What do we do with critical corporate assets like legal, marketing, security and confidentiality concerns? They follow rigid rules and policies. Who is accountable for these assets as impacted by informal learning?

Informal learning have great contributions. But it has to be reconciled with formal structures; otherwise, it will hit break walls.

I am concerned that in our earnest desire to promote informal learning as a “dogma”, we make informal learning as another form of a “brick wall”; which is a pity.

There are many ways to implement informal learning and each way has to deal with organizational brick walls as opportunities, not constraints.

Ray Jimenez, PhD

3Minute Worlds – Learning Community

Social Learning, Work and Performance

3Minute eLearning Games

“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

One thought on “Informal Learning Hits Brick Walls

  1. There is no argument that people learn not only in intentionally formal settings. But the only other choice isn't 'informal learning'.

    I believe there are really four sets of choices we have when we think about using learning to solve business problems – and it is important to distinguish between them.

    1) intentionally formal (courses, simulations)

    2) unintentionally formal (teams, stretch assignments)

    3) intentionally informal (planned for – blogs, wikis, networks, searches, etc.)

    4) unintentionally informal (unplanned for conversations, etc.)

    The problem has been we have polarized the conversation so that it appears one is forced to choose between formal and informal learning. And, when doing so we loose these other more important choices we have.

    And, we also reinforce the mistake of focusing the conversation on the how rather than the more important what and why. Its like building a house by first collecting the two materials you have in hand before you know what type of house your client wants! And, as with a house, the reality is that you need a great variety of materials that each serve a different purpose.

    So, I feel it is time to move this conversation beyond this simplistic either – or of formal – informal and into the more compelling conversation about what can we do today – with the wide range of tools and approaches we have in hand – that we couldn't have done before.

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