I am an avid reader, both in my personal and professional life. Occasionally I will come across a book, article or blog post which makes me wants to jump up and shout, ‘Yes!’, such does the content resonate with my thinking, work or experience. Informal Learning by Jay Cross is one such book. I have been exploring the complementary relationship between formal and informal learning from my perspective as a professional learning advisor.
So many interesting points have already presented themselves from the first few chapters of Informal Learning. Referred to by Cross as ‘the other 80%‘, informal learning is that which we naturally learn from other people, either on the job, in the coffee room, or in our everyday lives. However, formal training programs and receive the lion’s share of corporate budgeting for professional learning. He depicts the spending vs outcomes paradox as follows:
Cross is quick to point out that informal learning supports, complements and enables formal learning to be successful. It’s not an either/or option and an extremist approach is not recommended. However, ‘informal does not mean lackadaisical’ (Cross, 2007, p. 21); far from it. He suggests that people like change; they just don’t like to be changed by others. This is especially important to remember with adults and professional learning in the workplace. I am going to reproduce a list from chapter 2 of Informal learning.
People learn best when they:
- know what’s in it for them and deem it relevant
- understand what’s expected of them
- connect with other people
- are challenged to make choices
- feel safe about showing what they do and do not know
- receive information in small packets
- get frequent progress reports
- learn things close to the time they need them [‘just in time’ learning]
- are encouraged by coaches or mentors
- learn from a variety of modalities (for example, discussion followed by a simulation)
- confront maybes instead of certainties
- teach others
- get positive reinforcement for small victories
- make and correct mistakes
- try, try and try again
- reflect on their learning and apply its lessons. (Cross, 2007, p. 21)
It makes so much sense when you think about it. So how do we go about enabling the above conditions and ensuring an effective balance between formal and informal learning programs? For me, it comes down to starting with the basics: build a workplace culture in which professional learning is both valued and expected. It takes time but reaps ultimate rewards.
Cross, J. (2007). Informal learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
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