Informal Learning

Informal learning, collaborative learning and social learning are all terms we often hear and are used interchangeably.
Informal learning
What do we mean by the term Informal learning and how technology can play a part?

Informal learning, collaborative learning and social learning are all terms we often hear and are used interchangeably. Yet while linked and not mutually exclusive, each is different and should be understood in  context.

Of the three terms, informal learning and social learning are perhaps nearer to each other, collaborative learning is much more structured than either informal learning or social learning.
We cover collaborative learning and social learning in more detail elsewhere. 
The term social learning came to the fore with the rise of social networking and social media. Naturally learning thought leaders were quick to realise that tools such as Twitter,Yammer, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and many more could be leveraged to support learning. 

There have been interesting experiments in using Facebook to deliver courses, or parts of courses and social learning tools such as Twitter and Yammer were often bolted into learning architectures in organisations.

Those of us with longer memories will recall the excitement around Blogs and Wikis as well as RSS feeds and even podcasts as new learning tools in 2007 and 2008. We were told we would all use these as part of the Web 2.0 and Learning 2.0 revolution.

Well for many the idea of keeping a blog was swiftly by passed by as many many more individuals kept a Facebook page and a Twitter account or a LinkedIn profile.
Many LMS (Learning Management Systems) vendors’ added blogs and wiki’s etc….to their platforms and were very disappointed that they were hardly used at all!
Many LMS vendors are now wrestling with how social learning can be made to work principally by enhancing the community of users within the LMS to create forms of shareable learning interactions between learners and learners and learners and tutors. Again it is clear to see simple bolt ons or replicas will not work unless the thought process around encouraging usage is fundamentally changed.    

Let’s step back to the origination of the term informal learning for a moment:
The term informal learning really emerged from a book by Jay Cross, (one of the most inspirational of thought leaders in the learning industry) and published in 2007. Its fundamental belief is based on the proven fact that most workers learn most (70% or more) from their colleagues (we in the UK call it learning from Nellie) than they do on formal training courses in classrooms or on line. You may well have heard of 70 20 10 learning models pioneered by another thought leader, Charles Jennings.   

Jay Cross did not really focus on the technologies needed for Informal Learning, but really put forward a call to action (just do it and trust your people as they want to learn) and a series of interesting models that would play a part…Unconferences and Grokking, as well as a real recognition of the importance of communities, networks and the role of the Web in resourcing this and facilitating this change in how organisations actually learn.

So informal learning is much more than social learning, it’s a mind-set, a recognition factor (which was not new) and something if done properly can be hugely popular and effective.

There is however a real reason to realise that if informal learning is going to work, technology will have to be used and used effectively. Why?

  1. The modern employee is now adept at Social media usage and spends a large amount of time in on-line environments, living: shopping, sharing, communicating and more.
  2. The modern workforce has changed, remote working and home working is growing and will continue to grow for many more years. Estimates on the numbers of self- employed consultants and professionals make for dramatic reading. It is estimated that 20% of white collar Americans will be self -employed in 2020 (Learn Capital at edtech 2014). 
  3. The modern workplace is becoming virtual not just in its location, but in its composition. Teams are assembled and disassembled to deliver projects and programs. These teams come from in-company, from specialist support providers and from individual contractors.


Water cooler moments are digitising!

So is Social Media the correct platform to address the challenges of informal learning in 2014 and beyond?  Evidence gathered and recently articulated by Elliot Masie indicates that learners in collaboration mode, sharing mode, seeking mode and social model (all in some way facets of informal learning at its broadest) want a simple single point of destination for this interaction, and offering Twitter, Yammer, Jive plus LinkedIn is not going to work well next to the LMS.

Unfashionable as it may seem, Microsoft’s SharePoint platform is proving a popular option for L&D in corporate America as it leverages much of the functions of Social Media in one environment.

A note of caution, making the environment available for learning is not enough, it is the engagement and interaction provided that will bring the learner into the new informal learning environments to share.

Learning and Development has a lot to learn from marketing. The buzz around gamification in L&D is as a result of a spill over from the world of marketing. Learning and Development with the challenges it faces (some of which we have noted above) really does have a lot to learn from marketing and in particular digital marketing.  

The opportunity to learn from marketing and marketing orientated platforms such as Kentico CMS to market to learners by engaging with learners using digital marketing techniques is probably the most exciting development yet to be fully appreciated.

An LMS with a CMS pedigree (i.e. a platform developed for digital marketing and performance orientated marketing but let’s call that learner engagement) is far more likely to succeed than an LMS designed for the management of learners with a selection of  disaggregated tool set of replica social media environments crudely bolted on. Learners must be seen increasingly as customers and given a context aware learning experience that is integrated and personalised for formal and informal learning, and that is the role technology can play.              


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