Formal learning is endangered?

During the CSTD conference, a few tweets led to a quick exchange on the demise, or not, of formal learning. Ger Driesen asked via tweet if formal was, in fact, dead?

So as promised, Ger, I wanted to add my thoughts and some clarification on what I think the current state of things are.

Jay Cross and Charles Jennings (and the rest of the Internet Time Alliance) speak of the 70-20-10 percentage ratio when it comes to learning in the workplace

However, when it comes to budgeting, comparatively little resources are made available – if at all – to support the informal and social learning efforts that constitute the bulk of these activities. Most of the available budget goes to formal learning efforts, and little thought is given to continuation activities or application of the learning, etc.

So, Ger, I know formal learning isn’t dead, even though we have all of this wonderful activities and resources like Social Media, Wikis, ePortfolios, etc. I do believe, however, that formal learning needs to have a bit of a re-think in the workplace. It needs to become more integrated into a continuous learning process so we can stop looking at these sorts of things as stand-alone “events”. By doing so we can (ideally) make select use of formal interventions only when needed for net-new material and harness the collective strengths of the organization’s knowledge base and SMEs to support ongoing and informal learning.

I look forward to continuing the dialogue with you.


About Mark L. Sheppard

learning geek, lifelong learner, terminally curious, recovering blogger and Ed Tech explorer.

Posted on November 20, 2011, in blog, commentary, CSTD. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hello Mark, great post, good to see you deliver so quickly! It’s gonna be dull because I totally agree with you. My point is that the informal learning crew is sometimes over enthusiastic in putting emphasis on the importance of informal learning. In fact they tend to make the same ‘mistake’ as those putting over emphasis on formal learning. Although they preach about 70-20-10 they almost never discuss the 10% formal any more or if, then in a negative way. I know (had a discussion with Charles Jennings via his blog) that they don’t intent to be negative about the formal part. Despite that, I experience a lot of L&D colleagues only seem to focus on informal learning because some thought leaders promote it over and over again. Informal is hot, it’s a new fad. I also work as a visiting lecturer at HAN University in The Netherlands and I see students being ‘infected’ with the informal learning flu. Don’t get me wrong: I like informal learning like all learning. But for me a good L&D pro makes a good analysis of the situation where learning needs to be facilitated. It’s about needs, target group, circumstances, culture, spontaneous initiatives and so on. So I would to realy take the 70-20-10 concept into account: not as a recipe but as a model (also quote of Jennings). I think L&D pro’s should be THINKING about the best approach wether it is 70-20-10, 90-5-5, 30-30-40 or whatever. And that is exactly what I read in your post so I really appreciate that and even more that you share your thoughts. I posted a blog in Dutch about this some time ago (link: how is your Dutch? 🙂 ). I’m reworking it for my newly started blog in English but didn’t find time yet to complete it. Keep you posted. Please let me know if my ideas make sense to you or where to refine. Bye, Ger

  2. “Think campaign, not course”

  3. Could it be that we aren’t talking about the death of formal learning but a revolution in the institutions of formal learning. Migh it be that the days of a physical campus are numbered? That libraries full of paper books will be the things of museum tours? That in fact the doctors and experts of learning will in fact be active participants in the process as opposed to curators of past trends?

    • Ari: From what I can see we may well need some kind of “educational awakening” if we are ever to get past our current rut. With respect to a demise of brick & mortar institutions, I don’t see that happening in my lifetime. What I do envision are leaner and more agile small institutions that can offermore virtual presence offerings and manage a large number of learners without sacrificing social learning, feedback, or research & innovation.

  4. Yes, let’s please not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Let’s also not get too attached on ratios of formal vs informal etc. Let’s do the ‘right’ thing by people and organisations. Formal and informal, transactional and transformational, they all have their place and their applications. The thing is to deploy the right content and process. Right tools for the right job. I am an advocate for all and any kinds of learning as long as it’s purposeful, the learners can make meaning of what they are learning and it’s relevant to the needs of the learner and the organisation. A good, ongoing analysis of the system can be an effective guide as the learning creates change and new things emerge.

    • John: Thanks for taking time to comment. You’re right that all forms of learning have their place (and I hope I wasn’t implying otherwise). My concern is that organizations often perceive alternate methods as something akin to witchcraft, so I admit I do tend to lean more towards the non-traditional. Thanks also for the timely reminder of the importance of regular reviews and continuous improvement.

      • I wasn’t at all implying that you were implying…. 🙂

        I’m totally with you on this point, I blog about similar things and I like your ‘witchcraft’ metaphor. I come across those kind of folks all the time in the L&D area, which causes my heart to sink a little.

        I look forward to reading more of this good stuff from you.

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