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e-Learning For What’s Below the Waterline January 17, 2007

Posted by Ben Craigo in Blended Learning, Informal Learning, Trends.

Kineo put out a report last year stating that 80% of learning that happens on the job is informal.  e-Learning guru Jay Cross has sited this number often through papers he’s crafted as well as through dialogues he’s had with others.  Keep on researching this and you’ll find that, while some numbers might vary, the vast majority of people learn most of what they what they need to know on the job outside of a classroom, e-Learning course or other formalized trainings.

Formal learning is really just the tip of the iceburg.

This figure does not diminish the need for formal training.  Quite the contrary – formal training should be the launching point for informal learning.  Elliott Masie said it best at his Learning 2006 conference, and I’m paraphrasing here, when he said “The big question is ‘What’s the least amount of training that I need to provide in order to motivate the learner to seak out the rest of the learning on their own.'”

Plus, informal learning, done well, is a competitive advantage for organizations.  That Knowledge @Wharton article discusses the crucial role of performative ties in being able to pull together knowledge that is largely undiscovered from complete strangers in an organization.  Sheen S. Levine, whose study is sited, explains how performative ties works this way:

Although these people are likely to be complete strangers, when they share knowledge, it’s done in an intimate transfer as though the parties involved were actually close friends. There’s no negotiation, no explicit reciprocity, no quid pro quo on an individual basis. It’s more the idea that ‘I’ll help you today because I expect that if I needed help someday, someone else would help me.’

And he later states that:

There are certain structural conditions that increase the probability of performative ties occurring. If people are embedded in multiple networks in the office, that makes them more likely to engage in performative ties.


Because the success of informal learning is critical to the success of the individual and the organization, it is an organization’s best interest to do what it can to make it work.  And work well.  It can do this by providing tools to facilitate it.  Shape it.  Encourage it. 

On the informal side of e-Learning there are tools like blogs, wikipedias, forums and pod casting to leverage to promote the discussions and give more tools to the explorers looking for that just-in-time knowledge transfers.  The goal is to create social networks where there wouldn’t normally be any.

Formal learning should provide the anchors and milestone knowledge.  The ideal would be for pathways to formal knowledge to be embedded into the informal learning process as well so that learners can be directed to something more structured when there’s a hurdle that they cannot clear in the informal space.




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