Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Informal Learning - Search for a Pattern
Rachel Burnham writes: I had the pleasure of reading through Paul Matthew’s ‘Informal Learning at Work’ earlier in the autumn as part of the preparation for an earlier post about informal learning.
Informal learning refers to learning that is outside of formal training or education and is a type of learning that has always been around, but is of growing interest & importance to organisations and L&Ders currently.
I was particularly struck by the wide range of different methods of informal learning which Paul Matthews sets out in the fourth chapter. These are illustrated by a set of excellent practical examples. There were so many different types of informal learning contained within the chapter that I found myself overwhelmed and unable to get an overall sense of them. What I needed was a visual!
So, I decided to have a go at grouping these learning methods and creating a diagram to illustrate them. Paul Matthews warns in the chapter that the methods ‘don’t fit nicely under simple headings’ (Matthews, P 2013 76) and I know now that this is true. But I have still given it a go – see what you think?
I have begun at the centre of the diagram and a group which I have titled ‘Starting with the Individual’ – these are all methods which an individual can initiate for themselves, no matter what else is going on in your organisation.
The second grouping and much the most numerous, focuses on informal learning methods that are essentially ‘Person to Person’ and primarily one person to one person, such as coaching, shadowing, asking colleagues – they all seem to have conversations at their heart.
There is an undeniable blurring across to the next grouping, which I have called ‘Learning in Groups’. I have put social learning here – but this could also apply to ‘Person to Person’ and some of the other categories. Here you find learning methods that are all about learning with many other people – of course not necessarily face to face.
In the bottom right hand of the diagram, I have placed a couple of approaches to learning that relate to ‘Management Style’ and I am sure that others could be added here. For example, it seems to me that delegation could be usefully included here.
In the centre of the bottom of the page, I have collected together a number of ‘Resource-based Approaches’ which include help-desks, on-line help and various kinds of content provision.
The divide between ‘Resource-based Approaches’ to the final grouping of ‘Social Resources’ is so weak, that I have shown this as a broken line. The distinction for me is that for the Social Resources, the format may be provided & supported by the organisation, but the content comes from learners themselves. Whereas with ‘Resource-based Approaches’ the organisation is in control of the content. These ‘Social Resources’ may be integrated in with content provision sourced from elsewhere, but they do have distinctive features because of their home-made ‘socially generated’ content and therefore they also link with the ‘Learning in Groups’ category.
I took the decision to exclude ‘appprenticeships’ from the diagram, although it does appear in Paul Matthew’s list – I felt that in their current format in the UK these are more formal than informal and so decided not to include them.
I have found this a useful exercise to help me get my head around some of the range of possible methods within the area of informal learning. I would be most interested in your views on this.
And do read ‘Informal Learning at Work’ if you haven’t already done so!
Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals become even more effective. I am particularly interested in blended learning, the uses of social media for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance.
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