Friday, October 21, 2011

The informal learning plugin, on an LMS near you soon

I just read a tweet from Jay Cross that took me to a post from a representative of Blackboard, makers of the dreadful LMS, purporting to dispel "myths" about informal learning. Given that I take informal learning to be a conceptual notion of knowledge acquisition and sharing rather than a defined and fairly uncontroversial body of knowledge like, say, climate science or evolution, I was intrigued and felt I needed to know more about these "myths".

I had to respond but not sure that my contribution will be welcome, so thought, like Jay, worth reposting. I can't set quotes on the Android Blogger app, sorry...

"Hang on a moment, doesn't this post fundamentally miss the point about informal learning as it was originally presented, by you Jay, that it is happening anyway? That 70-80% of the learning in an organisation is NOT taking place in the allocated space but at the water cooler or cafe. This seems to suggest that informal learning is something newly invented and available now for you to rollout in your organisation or institution. 

Point 1 says "too unstructured", but too unstructured compared to what? To a planned taught course? Doesn't  informal happen alongside it anyway? It may not be on Twitter, it may be in the bar or students union  afterwards, but it is happening now irrespective of what learning professionals might think.

Point 2 includes the nonsequitor concept that ubiquitous computing somehow negates knowledge growth. I don't see the connection here.

When you consider the line "when informal learning comes with clear instructions and desired outcomes are explained ahead of time, learners will be more likely to stay on task and work towards the goals set out during training sessions" you have to wonder what it is that is informal about it. That to me is pretty formal, or perhaps "homework" might be another phrase to use.

Point 3 further suggests that the author believes that informal learning is a new phenomena by suggesting its impact can be measured. This can only be the case if informal learning is a new factor, but if it is something that is there to begin with, how do you measure the impact of an already present thing. How could you account for the impact unless by seeing what happens if you remove the structured, formal component altogether?

Points 4 & 5 reveal the authors underlying assumption that informal learning means using social media, but surely the concept is more sophisticated than that?

The final paragraph reveals the killer punch. You too can have informal learning on your LMS if you just buy a Blackboard product. "informal learning" on an LMS!? Isn't that paradoxical? Jay, you do your worthy concept a disservice by even dignifying this ludicrous post with your comment."


Mark Berthelemy said...

"informal learning" on an LMS!? Isn't that paradoxical?"

Not entirely... perhaps there is a role for the LMS to incorporate informal learning functions (eg. microblogging), if it helps to get the LMS better used?

Industry News Blog said...

Dan, a nice rebuttal of the Blackboard post. I think this is a case of vendors misunderstanding the definition of informal learning - or rather "adapting" it to their own purposes. Accessing informational/informal resources through an LMS is NOT informal learning - it's still formal learning. Here is an article I produced for those who need help in understanding informal and social learning in the workplace here - Jane Hart (sorry Google seems to want to sign me in as Industry News)

criticallearner said...

If you have to go to the LMS to go do the learning (formal or informal), it is a bit unnatural, manufactured, and trending more on the formal/structured side. The same can be said to some degree of manufactured SoMe environments to "go do" informal learning. The more it gets embedded into the natural workflow of the employee/org, the more you keep it natural/informal.

It's a spectrum, each org's view of where the cutline between formal and informal differs vastly, but I think at the core, if you think of "how manufactured" to "go do the"...'s more or less formal (Okay everyone, stop the work you are doing to go do the informal learning stuff over here..._).

If it happened naturally as a part of moving the org forward, it is probably more informal.

My 2 cents, I am sure as the tools and methodologies mature, so will my perspective ;)

Dan said...


Point taken. When you say "microblogging" I presume that you mean very short posts in the open areas to encourage engagement. But that is to co-opt existing behaviours and bring them in from elsewhere. I get the feeling that the Bb post wants to paint informal learning as something new and something that cannot take place without a tool to manage it.

Thank you. Vendors have a tendency to stretch the truth, but this stretched it to breaking! Your intro on the page you provide a link to reiterates my understanding of Cross's original argument - that in a "non-informal learning aware" situation 80% of the learning was informal. This is at odds with the implicit assertions on the Bb post that it is something that can be "introduced" - not if it is already there! But Jay doesn't challenge this, and that's really what I find puzzling.

@criticallearner - I think I agree with your points. In my understanding, informal learning emerges from context and what Bb seem to be implying is that you can make it emerge by structuring it with a tool. Seems a bit odd.

Guy W. Wallace said...

Bingo Dan! You nailed it. A formal advertisement pretending to be an informal learning moment - uncovered. Will we see this (your) learning moment on an LMS?

jay said...

Dan, you missed my point. You and I are on the same page.

I counter the propositions in the Blackboard post; I don't support them.

For example, I think unstructured is an advantage, not a problem. And learning at the time of need makes lessons memorable, not forgetable. And informal outcomes are as easy to measure as formal outcomes. I don't bring up social media; this has to do with all aspects of business. An organization that does not trust its employees is dysfunctional; monitoring them will fail.

Guy has it right.