Thursday, April 22, 2010

Formality, just go away and die won't you?

How informal a learning experience is seems to matter a great deal to many people. Whether someone has been set a "course" of learning or whether they navigate their own path seems to have taken on a life of its own, akin to whether or not you accept the views of climate scientists or Sarah Palin.

What confuses me is the vehemence that seems to be part of the debate.The tone from the informal side has always been fairly militant, set by Jay Cross's calls to get ride of training departments. It gives me visions of a baying pack of line managers and consultants marching on HR brandishing pitchforks and flaming torches.

It's always struck me that informal learning is any learning that happens outside the classroom - the idea that informal learning doesn't get a fair share of the attention of those who should be encouraging it is a fair one. But in an environment where commentators ruthlessly hunt down and expose the various neat model myths (like Dale's Cone for example) the off-stated "80 percent of learning is informal" seems to go unchallenged (okay, perhaps it was intended as a rule of thumb, but it seemed to take on a life of it's own).

The latest development seems to be tool-sellers stepping in and trying to offer ways to formalise informal training, and once again you get virulent protests that this is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

I absolutely disagree.

Perhaps I'm missing something here, but "tools" that help create an environment where staff are empowered to collect information and share it to the common good is part of the cultural shift to a "very different workplace".

Okay, perhaps it is a different point of view, but time and time again I have worked in or with organisations where some staff are simply not that engaged with the tools at their disposal to be able to self-educate - these are not necessarily people who don't want to improve, but simply aren't that motivated to spend their lunchtime playing with apps, or who know enough about computing (and it's usually computing where I see this) to sense they could improve the way they work. I'm thinking about people who use PowerPoint on a daily basis but aren't able to use master slides properly (wasting huge amounts of time on basic formatting) or who can't sort or filter data on a spreadsheet when half their time is spent collating information for which a spreadsheet would be ideal.

Such people need help and encouragement to get to the first rung, and most likely will need help and reassurance even after then. And what's more will need stimulating later on to move on again, because there is always improvement to be had.

Sure, we could leave it to chance, and hope that somehow they will get the support they need, but it's true that without a map it can be very difficult to know where you are going. It's all the more difficult if you don't even know what the available destinations might be.

For me, this is the role of the future learning department - as tour guides to improvement who can set people off on their own journeys, or create appealing advertisements for why someone might want to improve and either provide them their own itinerary or if necessary the whole package deal to take the effort out.

For me and pretty much most people I read and communicate with online, learning is the pleasure, it "rocks" in and of itself, in just the same way that the journey for me is as much a part of the holiday. But there are plenty of people for whom learning is a chore and who just want to get to their destination as quickly as possible.

Entirely free learning will never suit all portion of a community, so tools that help provide access to quality, relevant information that their peers produce.