Before I start I want to note that in a very few instances I've been accused of not helping the cause when I question some of the research on informal/formal learning. My position is that I'm neither fer er or agin it, but rather discovering the truth so that we can make logical decisions in our performance efforts. For example, late last year I blogged a post defending informal learning. With that being said...
I'm sure most of you are familiar with this chart in which we are told that 20% of the learning is formal and 70% is informal, yet paradoxical we spend 80% of our training budget on the formal and only 30% on the informal:
The trouble with this chart is that while the percentage of learning is basically correct, the amount we spend on each is based on weak research. Even if all the numbers are correct, it does not matter what the Learning department spends, but rather what the organization spends. In addition, if informal learning was really all that efficient, why does it need it need our support?
One ASTD research project supported by the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the amount of employer investments in workplace training hovers around $210 billion annually and of that, $30 billion is spent on formal training, while the remainder, $180 billion, is spent on informal and on-the-job training (Carnevale, Gainer & Villet, 1990). Thus, informal learning gets 86% of all learning investments, while formal learning programs get 14% of the total investment.
Now if we chart those numbers out, it would look like chart 2 below; however, note that it is NOT correct either:
The reason it is wrong is that expenditure for training/learning departments do not count the learners time (hourly wage) spent in formal training, while informal learning expenditure count the workers hourly wages. To get a more accurate cost we need to add the learner' wages to formal learning's cost. Thus we need to add about 36 billion to the formal learning side, which would give us a chart similar to this:
As we start to get the truer cost of informal learning, we discover that rather than being this highly efficient learning machine, it is probably just about as efficient as formal learning. And if you really think about, it makes sense — just because I'm informally learning does not mean my brain starts working 3 or 4 times faster than when I'm in a formal environment. In addition, formal learning would get the edge if you have a lot of people learning a particular task because because rather than each one of them "building" their own learning package, you have one designer doing the initial legwork for everyone.
Thus rather than being this highly efficient learning machine that we can ignore, it may require just as much of our attention as the formal side of learning.
Carnevale, A., Gainer, L., & Villet, J. (1990). Training in America: The Organization and Strategic Role of Training. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.