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Informal Learning, Chapter 2: A Natural Way of Learning

Informal Learning, Chapter 2: A Natural Way of Learning

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Published by jaycross
Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider.

Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. People new to the territory often ride the bus before hopping on the bike.
Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider.

Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. People new to the territory often ride the bus before hopping on the bike.

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Categories:Types, Business/Law
Published by: jaycross on Mar 02, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/24/2012

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Chapter 2 of
Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance 
, by Jay Cross
 Creative Commons. Copy freely.
A Natural Way of Learning
LEARNING IS THAT WHICH enables you to participate success-fully in life, at work, and in the groups that matter to you. Informallearning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way people learnto do their jobs.When faced with massive, inevitable change, and the hyperinflationof time certainly qualifies, living things adapt or die. Darwinian evo-lution is one form of adaptation, but natural selection is glaciallyslow; we don't have eons to wait. Living things also adapt by learn-ing. Learning is any non-genetic adaptation one makes to interactmore effectively with the ecosystems in which one participates.Corporations would bypass learning altogether were it not politicallyincorrect to do so. Executives don't want learning; they want execu-tion. They want the job done. They want performance.
All learning is self-directed. DAN TOBIN 
To a business manager, learning is a means to an end. If someonewere to invent a smart pill that enabled workers to excel at their jobs without training, that person would make a fortune marketingsmart pharmaceuticals, and most trainers would be out of work.Let me reiterate: learning is adaptation. Taking advantage of thedouble meaning of the word network, "to learn" is to optimize thequality of one's networks.
INFORMAL LEARNING OR FORMAL?
Some people see the world in terms of dichotomies: yes or no, onor off. To them, everything is black or white and only rarely gray.Real issues contain gradations, maybes, what-ifs, emotions, miti-
 
gating factors, and other entanglements. Figure 2.2 illustrates acontinuum of yes to no.FIGURE 2.2. A Continuum of Yes to NoFormal learning and informal learning are both-and, not either-or.This book is focused on informal learning, but when you assesswhat will work for your organization, consider how informal learningmight supplement what you are doing now rather than replace it.
THE SPECTRUM OF LEARNING
Formal and informal learning are ranges along a continuum oflearning. Formal learning is accomplished in school, courses, class-rooms, and workshops. It's official, it's usually scheduled, and itteaches a curriculum. Most of the time, it's top-down: learners areevaluated and graded on mastering material someone else deemsimportant. Those who have good memories or test well receive goldstars and privileged placement. Graduates receive diplomas, de-grees, and certificates.Informal learning often flies under the official radar. It can happenintentionally or inadvertently. No one takes attendance, for there areno classes. No one assigns grades, for success in life and work isthe measure of its effectiveness. No one graduates, because learn-ing never ends. Examples are learning through observing, trial-and-error, calling the help line, asking a neighbor, traveling to a newplace, reading a magazine, conversing with others, takingpart in a group, composing a story, reflecting on the day's events,burning your finger on a hot stove, awakening with an inspiration,raising a child, visiting a museum, or pursuing a hobby.Formal and informal learning both have important roles to play. In-formal learning is not a cure-all, and were it not for formal learning, Iwould not be writing this book.Most learning experiences blend both formal and informal aspects.Sometimes public transit is the best way to get somewhere; othertimes it's better to take one's own path.
 
SAP's Etay Gafni helped me conceptualize the split between formaland informal learning by describing the styles of his one-year-oldson and four-yearold daughter. When his son is hungry, he wantsfood. Any food that Etay brings will suffice. He trusts Dad to deliver.His daughter is more discriminating. She wants rice, not potatoes,and the ketchup on her plate should never touch the rice. His son isanalogous to a formal learner: he accepts what comes. His daugh-ter takes control, as does an informal learner. In an ideal world,everyone will progress from passive, formal learner to creative, in-formal storyteller.
THE SPENDING~OUTCOMES PARADOX
People learn informally most of what they need to do their jobs. Al-though every situation is different, a common assertion is that 80percent of learning in organizations is informal. The number isbacked up by the Institute for Research on Learning, the Bureau ofLabor and Statistics, the Education Development Center of Massa-chusetts, Capitalworks, the eLearning Guild, and Canada's NationalResearch Network on New Approaches to Lifelong Learning. (SeeAppendix B for details.)Ironically, 80 percent of corporate spending goes to formal learningand only 20 percent to informal. To tell you the truth, I pulled thisfigure out of thin air; it feels right. I'm aware of how much corpora-tions spend on learning management systems, instructional design,tuition reimbursement, instructor salaries, classrooms, and course-ware. I don't know the tab for meetings, conference attendance,professional dues, pool tables, beer busts, expertise locator soft-ware, watercooler meetings, and other informal learning invest-ments.
DELUSIONS OF CONTROL
Informal learning is effective because it is personal, just-in-time, customized, and the learner is motivated and open to receiving it. It also has greater credibility and relevance.DICK SETHI Knowledge itself is moving from the individual to the net.JAY CROSS When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.JOHN MUIR 

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