My colleagues at the Internet Time Alliance have been thinking a lot about what "learning" and being a "learner" means. This has been part of the ongoing discussion we have been having about the hijacking of terms like informal and social learning by "snake oil sellers".
Jay Cross has become well known for helping organisations understand that learning is either formal or informal.
In my Social Learning Handbook I identified 5 categories of learning: Formal Structured Learning, Personal Directed Learning, Group Directed Learning, Intra-Organisational Learning and Accidental & Serendiptous Learning.
Harold Jarche looked at these 5 categories and grouped learning into 3 types: directed, self-directed and undirected learning.
In his posting yesterday he now refers to learners as being Dependent, Independent and Interdependent
So how do these different terms map together? I've drawn up this table to make it a little clearer
Recently I have come across a lot of instances of the use of phrases like "managing informal learning" or "formalising informal learning", which might sound as if they make sense, but when you look more closely at what they mean, it's the same thing as saying "directing the learning of self-directed learners" which makes no sense at all!
In my opinion it is just not possible to manage or formalise informal learning – if you do, it just becomes formal learning. All you can do to do is SUPPORT and ENABLE self-directed (independent and interdependent) learners and their learning, which is quite a different thing altogether.
So what about those people who say that you can’t let employees be responsible for their own learning, they might not learn the right things(!), let me point you to the article in December 2009's CLO Magazine written by Timothy R Clark and Conrad A Gottfredson, Agile Learning, Thriving in the New Economy, which explains why supporting and enabling self-directed/independent learners should be encouraged:
"As competitive environments increase in speed, complexity and volatility, organizations and individuals are compelled toward a dynamic learning mindset. Dynamic learning is defined as rapid, adaptive, collaborative and self-directed learning at the moment of need."
So as organisational learning departments simply can't respond quickly enough to the ongoing learning needs of the organisation (it takes weeks if not months to put together and deliver a course) , they will need to consider new approaches, so as I put it in my article ..
"The consequence of this for Learning & Development is that they now need to concern themselves more with helping employees become dynamic, agile, self-directed, independent and interdependent – what we might also term "smart" – learners and less with creating and managing learning solutions for dependent learners. Helping employees become smart learners includes supporting them acquire a set of trusted resources and networks, using the most appropriate tools; and having the right mix of skills to make effective use of the tools and (re)sources."