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5 Myths About Informal Learning MENU


Posted: Oct 21, 2011.

As I recently wrote in a post (

informal-learning) on the benefits of informal learning, companies today have the opportunity to leverage popular
technological trends, such as the use of social media, for professional, workplace learning purposes. Despite this
incredible potential for engagement in professional environments, however, misconceptions about the
effectiveness of informal learning sometimes prevent it from being adopted by corporate trainers.

Here are some of the most common myths about informal learning, followed by discussions that demystify the
concerns they reflect:

Myth #1: Its too unstructured Some may argue that informal learning may be a distraction from the goals of a
training session, or may go off-topic due to the organic nature of the conversation it generates.

However, 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.

Myth #2: Learners will not retain the information they need Due to the fast-paced and ubiquitous nature of many
informal learning tools, it may be difficult to see them as a legitimate means for building a broad base of knowledge.

This concern is overcome through the continuous learning and knowledge sharing that comes from informal
learning. Tools like wikis allow users to create a database of highly relevant content, while discussion boards and
blogs can allow employees to store and exchange lessons learned from on-the-job experiences. And, since all of
this information is stored online, your employees can re-read relevant materials when they need it most.

Myth #3: Results cant be measured There may be a tendency to believe that, because informal learning is so
dynamic, it is difficult to quantify the impact it has on an organization.

Just because informal learning might occur outside of a traditional learning environment, however, doesnt mean
that impact on business (
corporate-learning-metric) cant be quantified. By measuring individual employee performance against what
training has been received, it is possible to see what learning techniques have driven results for your organization.
Customizable learning plans can then be created for each employee to fill in gaps and build on strengths found in
the learning process.

Myth #4: Its always a liability Since informal learning encourages organic and honest discussion, employers may be
concerned about reputation damage or leakage of confidential information online.
Though these concerns are legitimate, managing online learning through both policy and active monitoring is the
best way to ensure that your employees understand the consequences of what they say online. And furthermore, I
also hear that some trainers would RATHER conversations be out in the open so that they can personally address
them and set the record straight.

Myth #5: Only my younger employees will like it Many informal learning tools, such as social media networks, are
mistakenly thought of as trends that are only used by young adults.

However, statistics show that nearly 60% of Twitter users are over 30, nearly three quarters
( of Baby Boomershave a Facebook profile, and
LinkedIn is dominated by people over the age of 35. Though there may be a learning curve for some who did not
grow up in the age of the Internet, you may be surprised by how many of them are already taking advantage of
online learning tools.

At Blackboard, we have the tools you need to leverage informal learning for the benefit of your organization.
Collaborative learning systems like Blackboard Learn (
help/Social-Learning---Collaboration.aspx) provide an intuitive and efficient platform for tapping into the potential
informal learning to engage your professional learners and help them reach their goals during training and beyond.

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Harry Canfield 6 years ago

You make some great rebuttals to these myths. I think despite some of these commonly held myths,
informal learning will catch on... sooner rather than later. Dare I say it may become one in an arsenal of
many e-learning tools.
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Dan Roddy 6 years ago


I tried posting on here from my phone yesterday but it didn't seem to work. I saved my reply and it's on my
blog if you'd care to read it.

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Dan Roddy 6 years ago
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
see more

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jaycross > Dan Roddy 5 years ago

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

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

For example, I think unstructured is an advantage. And learning at the time of need makes lessons
memorable. 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.
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Jay Cross 6 years ago

Right on. I've found that optimists view these five things as benefits where pessimists see only red flags. I'm
in the optimist camp. Here's my take:

"It's too unstructured" = it's open-ended, has room for growth, changes with the times, and let's people be
all they can be

"won't retain" = people who learn at the point of need apply their learning immediately. this reinforcement
makes lessons stick

"can't be measured" = the measure of any form of learning is outcomes. hence, there's no difference in the
measurability of formal and informal learning

"a liability" = no risk, no reward. being in business creates potential liabilities. without them, you don't get
any up-side gain

"only the young..." = everyone loves to talk and be heard. that's why most learning is informal. it's ageless
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