In the midst of the furore that has resulted from Saul Carliner's article on the longevity of instructor-led learning (which, incidentally, I think is best addressed by Stephen Downes), I find myself being corrected by Donald Clark in respect of my understanding of informal learning. I was a little puzzled because the comment didn't read like Donald Clark's usual stuff - far too polite ;o). Turns out that this is an altogether different Donald Clark!
What I said, in a comment on Tony Karrer's post, was:
The assumption seems to be made that informal learning = social media.Clark responded with:
This is not the case. Let me say emphatically that informal learning has constituted the bulk of workplace learning for years. According to which research you read, something between 70%-85% of what people learn, they learn by asking the bloke at the next desk. Okay, he might not really be at the next desk. He might in fact be on the other end of the phone, working for the helpdesk. He might be your husband (who is often my first port of call when I have a software question). He might be an ex-colleague. He might work two floors down. He might be the author of a helpful article you read in a magazine.
And yes, he might be a she. I used 'he' in the generic sense for ease of expression.
This all qualifies as informal learning.
In fact, reading someone's doctoral thesis also constitutes informal learning if it isn't a prescribed part of an accredited programme you are following.
Informal simply means that the learner is in charge of what, when, how, how fast, how often, how much, by which route, etc. Formal means that someone else has made those decisions and the learner has to comply.
Karyn's comment that informal learning is "something between 70%-85% of what people learn" and "Informal simply means that the learner is in charge of what, when, how, how fast, how often, how much, by which route, etc." is not really true.I confess, I had never even heard of 'non-formal' learning. Nor do I see a reason to draw a line between it and informal learning. In fact, I contend that the whole notion of informal learning defies the drawing of firm lines at all.
The studies generally make only two distinctions when discussing learning in the workplace: 1) formal learning is directed by learning professionals and 2) informal learning is basically everything else.
Informal learning (at least in the studies) is composed of what the learner themselves choose to learn and the learning that is directed by their managers or an experienced coworker. Thus we basically have three types of learning:
1. Formal is structured by trainers, instructors, etc. and accounts for 15-30% of what people learn.
2. Non-Formal is structured by managers or coworkers and accounts for the part of the remaining 70%-85%.
3. Informal is structured by the learners themselves and is also included in the remaining 70%-85%.
I would say that my definition lines up rather more closely with what Jay Cross has to say on the subject. However, if I am wrong, I am happy to be corrected. What do you think?
Since my readership is not particularly wide, please consider directing your own readers here to contribute to the discussion. I would like to capture as wide a range of perspectives as possible, since this is an area I am writing about in my dissertation.