eLearning 2.0 -> Informal Learning -> learning 2.0 -> web 2.0


Brent Schlenker writes, "... that 80% to 90% of learning occurs informally outside of the classroom. This should be shocking enough to force some sort of change in e-Learning design, but it hasn't ... at least not yet in any significant way."

Schlenker goes on to tie elearning 2.0 to informal learning to learning 2.0 to web 2.0, which is based on consuming content, creating content, and collaborating with others. This leads to the catchy phase of "rip, mix, and feed" (consume, create, and share).

So now we are left with the impression that we are spending all of our resources on the puny 10% to 20% percent of formal learning while we should be spending it on the 80% to 90% of elearning 2.0/informal learning/learning 2.0.

Yet as in the case of most hypes and fads, the proponents play fast and loose with the numbers. First, the proponents pick the numbers that best fit the hype. More conservative estimates put the ratio at 30% formal to 70% informal (I have even seen 40% formal to 60% informal). So lets meet in the middle and put formal learning at 25% and informal learning at 75%.

So now we have 75% of the learning in organizations being accomplished by learners walking around the building or getting on the internet choosing what they want to learn by ripping, mixing, and sharing. Right? Wrong! Because the proponents also fail to mention that the 75% informal learning ratio also includes a large percentage of what I like to call "nonformal" learning -- they are being directed by their managers, supervisors, and more experienced peers, rather than the training department, as to what they need to learn through the use of such techniques as OJT.

Thus we now have the learning being accomplished in organizations as: 25% formal, 35% informal, and 40% nonformal. Of course this will vary greatly among not only organizations but also the individual learners. Indeed, these percentages are also infused with each other because almost no type of learning situation will rely solely on one or the other, but rather various combinations of the three.

Now can the use of "learning 2.0" benefit all three forms of learning (formal, informal, and nonformal)? Yes. But as Will Thalheimer warns us, "Because e-Learning 2.0 is already on the fad upswing, we ought to be especially careful about assuming its benefits. In other words, we ought to measure it early and often, at least at first until our implementations prove to be beneficial investments."

web 2.0

From McKinsey Global Survey Results:

"Companies are coming to understand the difficulty of realizing some of Web 2.0's benefits. Only 21 percent of the respondents say they are satisfied overall with Web 2.0 tools, while 22 percent voice clear dissatisfaction. Further, some disappointed companies have stopped using certain technologies altogether"

"A higher level of usage is found at companies that encourage it by using tactics such as integrating the tools into existing workflows, launching Web 2.0 in conjunction with other strategic initiatives, and getting senior managers to act as role models for adoption."

Web 2.0 is now dropping from Gartner's "Peak of Inflated Expectations" to the "Trough of Disillusionment." However, it is supposed to "reach mainstream status within two years, with an impact rated "transformational."

So what does this mean to the training/learning/knowledge profession? First, we cannot mix one hype (informal learning) with another hype (web 2.0/learning 2.0), and expect to achieve a positive impact on the organization. This is particularly true when one of the hypes is built on bad research (mostly bad numbers in this case).

If informal learning was really all that dominant, then the adaptation and satisfaction rates of web 2.0 would be much higher as the learners would have been absolutely primed for this type of technology, no matter what flaws were in the implementation. It is quite interesting on why companies cited three reasons as the primary reasons for their satisfaction:

  • Integrating the Tools into Existing Workflows: Rather than seeing this tool as only an informal method where users are the primary content fillers, use it more as a nonformal/formal performance support method. Also see Tony Karrer's response and Clark Quinn's response.
  • Launching in Conjunction with Other Strategic Initiatives: Now this could be seen more as an informal learning method that would compliment other initiatives. Think "crowdsourcing."
  • Getting Senior Managers to Act as Role Models for Adoption: More of a nonformal learning method where managers, supervisors, and experienced performers set the stage for the tool's usage. "Is the institution an enabler or is the institution an obstacle?"


Clark said...

Interesting point, and right in many respects. The point of the 80/20 (or 75/25) is to help people realize that they're not supporting the 80, rather than to totally match the investment. The formal learning probably takes more resources, over time, as there's more development required. However, how much have we invested in the informal? Typically, bugger all. My take, at least, is that there needs to be some up-front investment in the informal, but then it (should) become self-perpetuating (with the usual maintenance/upgrade/review costs). Thanks for the issue!

Donald Clark said...

Hi Clark,

But how does one invest in the informal, without making it formal, in addition to making it a positive investment? From what I have seen, a lot of formal training is brought about by transforming it from the informal to the formal.

I think organizations do invest in informal learning, without even realizing that they are doing so. For example, when I worked at Starbucks we had cellphones, telephones, two-way radios, internet and intranet access, email, instant messenger (internal), and of course face-to-face. Managers pretty much kept their doors open and were quite accessible to everyone. When we had questions and needed to find something, there were always others quite willing to help and we had a number of ways to get in touch with them. And I have noticed this also occurs for the most part in other organizations.

Now what happens when you try to introduce a new channel, such as a wiki, into an organization like this? First, you have to get it populated with information by having the users rip, mix, and feed. Yet, even the largest wiki, Wikipedia, has been reported to have a very small percentage of users who actually do this. For example see Slate's, "The Wisdom of the Chaperones."

This is almost reminiscent of the early attempts of knowledge management where the technology is introduced with the expectations that it will soon be filled to the brim with information, yet nobody shows up. Sometimes such implementations do work, but they almost always seem to work better by chance, sort of like CoPs -- they mainly work best when they naturally formed; when forced, they rarely work as well.

Loretta Donovan said...

I have been watching the misuse of the term "informal learning" for some time. It was coined by Victoria Marsick about 30 years ago to describe learning that was fostered by attentive and reflective work processes. What many people are labeling as informal learning is more what she called "incidental learning" - the stuff you just kind of pick up along the way.

For informal learning to take root, there are some types of formal learning (question skills, group process, etc.) that often help plus a supportive organizational culture that expects people to be accountable for learning on the job. That's where I see the interface with Web2.0. If you are capturing nuances on the job (with Twitter, vodcasting, emailed notes, etc.) that you are pointing at a project wiki, then you've got "grist for the mill". In team meetings (or virtual collaboration) that are purposefully inserted in the work process, the people involved can tap that information in action research on the current project.

And that's how I see the convergence!

Donald Clark said...

Hi Loretta,

Interesting comment as I have never really been that good at forecasting or future-casting convergences.

Also note that this conversation continues on Clark Quinn's blog, Informal budget ratio - 80/20?