Friday, October 08, 2010

Debate on Informal Learning at the Oxford Union

I posted the following comments to a blog by Barry Sampson. Thought it might be of interest here too.

Although I found the debate interesting as a main participant, I also found it disappointing because in reality we didn't really have a debate about the core motion. Last year I had to improvise as much more of the content had covered what I had planned to say. This year I had a totally clear run as those for the event (maybe with the slight exception of Nancy) were arguing for formal learning not against informal learning. I crudely defined informal learning as "learning informally within work or the social processes of work" and this seems to me to be valid, whether you are a knowledge worker, a transactional worker, a student or a researcher.

In prepping for the session, I realised how strongly I felt that the issue was L&D's labelling of something that was outside their scope of visiblity or control, and then claiming it doesn't happen, or in the words of the motion has no substance. This is clearly ridiculous.

That doesn't mean that I completely believe L&D couldn't have a role to play in helping enhancing informal learning. Most work processes and tools are not good containers for learning informally. It often happens despite them, and therefore there is an opportunity to improve informal learning by enhancing work processes and tools to more explicitly focus and magnify the learning outcomes. This is therefore embedding mechanisms to enhance learning within work.

The idea that informal learning can be an incremental layer of learning activity divorced from work seems to me to be contradictory, but this seems to be the strategy being adopted by many organisations, especially when experimenting with social tools. IMHO, the more "informal learning" is separated from work processes and the social processes of work, the weaker and more artificial it gets! That's why many of these solutions end up getting limited usage and becoming redundant, especially when they duplicate functional systems that already exist are delivering value for their members.

ps. Will also post this to our blog with a link back ...

pps. I have posted the link to my mindmapped prep notes here:, in case anyone is interested. Used this with iThoughtsHD on my iPad instead of the printed copy and it worked a dream!

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