The learning tradition of pre-modern society was for centuries defined by two enduring patterns. The first was informal learning in the form of on-the-job training. It was customary to apprentice young workers in the skilled trades by having them observe and work alongside competent craftsmen until they acquired enough knowledge and skill through experience to work independently. Here, learners learned in the workflow. The second pattern was that of formal learning in which a teacher pulled learners from the flow of their work and taught them through formal instruction. For centuries, society held to these two approaches: one experiential, the other didactic, and there seemed to be little impetus to change.
In the early 18th century, the arrival of the Industrial Revolution created major developments in agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing. Overtime organizations began to move away from the “apprentice” informal learning model to greater emphasis on formal training primarily using external resources and after-work hours. Gradually, formal training was brought into the organization and delivered during work time but completely removed from the workflow. Cognitive and behavioral psychology contributed to the formalization of training development and delivery. National associations emerged advancing training as a necessary part of organizational success.
- A workgroup completes self-tailored pre-work prior to attending a virtual class.
- They attend 4 virtual meetings each lasting 2.5 hours spread out over 8 weeks.
- Following each virtual meeting, learners independently complete “Expand” assignments requiring them to use their personal learning network to learn more about what they learned during each virtual session. They document what they learned in a course wiki.
- Also following each virtual meeting learners complete “Apply” activities tied directly to their personal work and submit the results to their trainer. They work on these activities using a digital performance support broker that provides learners finger-tip access to all the resources they need to apply what they have learned.
- Students work together in virtual groups to help each other.
- Trainer holds virtual feedback/coaching session for each set of “Apply” assignments for each learner.
A learning ecosystem comprises all the factors that support a vibrant learning community of interdependent people in gaining and maintaining the skills necessary to perform effectively together. It can exist at different scales in an organization (e.g., work group, division, company.)Informal Learning, as you can see by the graphic, can be divided into two areas: Informal Intentional and Informal Independent. Informal Independent is learning that individuals and teams may choose to do outside what is planned, implemented, and managed by the training arm of the organization. This has been the elephant in the room for a long time. Two-thirds of learning taking place within most organizations has been happening in the Informal Independent area. But, as learning teams begin to focus on a broader view of their role, learning solutions are beginning to include intentional informal learning activities. This new blend can look something like this:
- An Employee is in the middle of a pressing work project. She consults her digital performance support broker and identifies four areas where there are several unique twists that require additional knowledge and skills to complete the project.
- She immediately accesses directly from her broker, several microblogs where she shares her learning need out through several follower groups (internal and external to the company.)
- A representative from the learning group along with other microbloggers immediately provide recommendations. She sorts through those recommendations and does the following:
- Schedules and takes 3 recommended e-learning courses, 2 from within the companies LMS and 1 purchased independently from an independent eUniversity.
- Schedules and participates in 4 virtual coaching sessions –two internally sponsored and two from a colleague/friend from another company.
- Spot reads through 3 books (two digital.), one of which was purchased online
- As she moves forward to complete the project, she frequently accesses her electronic performance support broker to guide her as she and her team completes each critical task.
- After she completes the project, she takes 10 minutes and accesses a “Lessons Learned” template via the performance support broker and documents lessons she learned, enriches it with metadata, posts it and then pushes it out to the her direct manager as a project report.
- Although informal and formal learning practices have been around a long time they have most often been approached as separate paths for learning and skill development. Over time, formal learning has become the primary arena for investment by organizations. This is changing today.
- Historically, most learning and other siloed support groups have not blended their practices to provide unified performer support to those they are charged to serve. This needs to change.
- The current environment of unrelenting change coupled with the disposition of an increasing number of learners to learn informally, has opened the door for learning teams to lead out in blending formal and informal learning practices.
- This blending has created a healthy division within the informal learning arena: intentional informal learning and independent informal learning. Intentional informal learning is anything planned for and supported when people learn on their own or with others independently.