Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Tidal Flow of Technology

Just like the tide, the effects of technology also ebb and flow. What was yesterday’s hot topic can become tomorrow’s has-been. However, is this always the case?

The tidal flow of social media

When the concept of social media first burst on the L&D scene, I bet I was not alone in thinking that it might become another one-minute technology wonder. Last November, I was asked by the British Institute for Learning and Development (the BILD) to give a presentation at one of their Connect meetings on ‘Web 2.0’. I entitled my presentation ‘The New Face of Learning?’ – here’s the link to the slideshow for you so you can see what I talked about. Note, the ‘?’ mark in the title as that is particularly significant.

or click here

Recently I have been thinking some nine months on whether what I said on that occasion was still current or not. I must admit that my approach then was one of caution, not in terms of actually using Web 2.0 applications but more about the impact their use is likely to have on organisations, instructional designers and end users.

The impact issues which I raised then are still very current, if any thing they are becoming even more important. For example only the other day I read about an organisation which had banned its employees from using Twitter in the workplace – a trend which I think is likely to grow rather than to recede! Even in one’s private life the use of things like Twitter and Facebook needs to be done with due care and consideration if one’s professional life is not to be compromised. I know that every time I twitter I am extremely careful about what I say, unlike some people whom I couldn’t possibly name!

So, how do things stack up now? Has the social media tide flowed and ebbed or is it still flowing? My considered view is that it is still very much flowing and that there is a lot more flowing yet to come. I think that in the next few years the use of social media is going to result in a mixture of pleasure and pain; probably in roughly equal measure.

… and in case you are not convinced, then just remember this: “The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you're in control of your life. If you don't, life controls you.” Anthony Robbins.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Trendy Terms Alert (3)

Here is my third L&D ‘Trendy Term’ alert. Each Trendy Term Alert (TTA) will consider whether the term has any mileage or whether it should be consigned to the trash can.

TTA: Informal Learning

Jay Cross has largely been accredited with coining the term ‘Informal Learning’. However, at the moment there doesn’t appear to be any agreement about what activities actually constitute informal learning and in what circumstances it takes place. The only agreement seems to be that informal learning is everything that isn’t formal learning! So, at the moment people appear to be defining it in terms of what it is not. Interesting?

Different things to different folks

It would seem that informal learning means different things to different people, for example, whilst to most it means learning which is not structured or organised, some people see it as learning which takes place outside of a dedicated learning environment, and others as learning which is not formally organised into a programme, course, event, or curriculum.

Absurd claims?

“20% of learning is formal and 80% is informal”! Now, where on earth did this myth come from? Certainly not from empirical research I can assure you. I also very much doubt whether such a claim could ever be quantified so accurately and so consistently, simply because there is not, as yet, a clear, standard, and working definition of ‘informal learning’.

“Informal learning is only possible through the use of Social Media”! Complete rubbish, as long before educational and training institutions were established most people learned informally. Indeed, ask any enlightened teacher or trainer and they will tell you that there has always been informal learning and that for time immemorial it has contributed to how all us learn each and every day of our lives.

Much ado about nothing?

No, not really, because in many ways I believe that technological advances in recent years have been a catalyst for this apparently new found interest in informal learning. In most of its guises, informal learning requires a considerable degree of self-direction on behalf of the learner. In addition to this, the informal learner also needs access to appropriate resources. Technology in the form of networks and computers have opened up access to a vast range of learning resources including knowledge, materials, and people.

Technology, in the form of television, computers, mobile ‘phones, PDAs, iPods, and so on, now lets millions of us to communicate (eg via e-mail), to exchange information and knowledge (eg via Blogs and Wikis), to access learning materials (eg e-Learning modules). If any of these activities result in unplanned, unstructured, and unorganised learning then in my book they can be described as informal learning.


The first implication for organisations, and in particular their learning and development functions, to realise is that informal learning exists and that probably a lot more could be done to encourage and support this type of learning. One way of doing this is to provide access to informal learning resources, such as technology, materials, and people. Another way is to encourage the use of informal learning activities as part of formal learning programmes and to foster and to support environments which are conducive to informal learning.

The second implication is for organisations to realise that there is a very fine dividing line between formal and informal learning. Informal learning, by its very nature of what it isn’t, is something of an untamed beast. Like Aslan, in the Chronicles of Narnia, informal learning will come and go as and when it chooses, it will be there when it is needed, it will always result in a positive experience for the person concerned (as negative learning is not a meaningful concept), and above all it cannot, by its very nature, be controlled, managed, or quantified.


with a dose of caution though!

N.B. This blog is based on an article I wrote for Croner’s Training Briefing, January 2007.