The key to informal learning is autonomy

Jay Cross, the author of the 2007 seminal book, Informal Learning, Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance,  recently wrote a blog post in which he explained that although there has been a lot of talk about “informal learning” in the last five years, there has been very little action. He writes:

“I thought I had made a sound business case for investing more in informal learning, but few organizations changed their ways. They continued to put almost all of the training budget into schooling novices. They acted as if the natural way of informal learning didn’t exist. Or was someone else’s responsibility. They squandered the opportunity to increase their effectiveness by becoming networked learning organizations.”

Jay asks for help in identifying examples and stories of organizations that are taking advantage of informal learning.

I have to say, I have seen very few organisations that have actually done so! Most have simply tried to manage informal learning – in an LMS or other learning platform – usually as part of a blended learning solution – believing it is simply about providing training in the form of informational rather than instructional resources.

For me, however, the key to informal learning is where the locus of control lies; so if someone plans, organises and manages what you learn, then this is not informal learning. With informal learning, it is you, the individual, who are in control.  Jay puts it like this:

“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.”

It is clear that smart knowledge workers are primarily autonomous, informal learners, so, as I see it, if organisations want to take advantage of informal learning, they first need to stop trying to plan and organize everything people learn, and start to support and encourage individuals developing their own personal learning strategies – perhaps by adopting a BYOL (Bring Your Own Learning) Strategy. In other words, instead of focusing on designing, delivering and managing one-size-fits-all training solutions, they need to direct their attentions to helping individuals build their PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) techniques so they become efficient and effective informal learners in a networked organisation.