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Informal Learning Becomes Formal

Josh Bersin declares Informal learning becomes formal: “I am now 100% convinced that “informal learning” has become “formal.” That is, if you want to build a high-impact, cost-effective, modern training organization you must “formally adopt” informal learning.” Jay Cross has been advocating for informal learning longer than most…his blog and book are great starting points. Paying attention to existing networks of information exchange and socialization (outside of formal training and classrooms) has the opportunity to yield valuable returns to organizations.


  1. jwatson wrote:

    I agree, right now I had an entire day to go through my feeds and do a little informal learning. I have gained 2 great ideas for my students second semester and some ammunition when dealing with people that want to stay with the way things were.

    Friday, January 23, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  2. mark oehlert wrote:

    why does it bother me that people/organizations think that somehow they need to “adopt” this mysterious thing called “informal learning.”? How about this…the principles of ID can’t handle it, IDs aren’t taught how to design with it, no one knows how to assess its impact and yet we feel compelled to somehow exert our control over something that largely grew up because we failed so miserably in other areas…

    Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  3. Guy Boulet wrote:

    The main characteristic of informal learning is that it is unstructured. So as soon as an organisation is putting in place a structure for informal learning, it becomes formal. That being said, since structures generally lack flexibility, people will work around them and continue to learn informally, outside those structures that were design to “institutionalize” that same informal learning.

    We can’t control the informal, that’s in the nature of things.

    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 7:44 am | Permalink
  4. Dan R wrote:

    Both of these responses trouble me – I think that it is the false premise that by ‘adopting’ informal learning an organisation is seeking to control it.

    Yes, that MAY be the result, but it’s false to equate one with the other. But then that’s a failure to read the headline.

    If an organisation acknowledges i) that informal learning takes place ii) that it is a significant channel for staff training and iii) that more can be done to facilitate learning beyond their control, then they could be said to be adopting, but not controlling, the informal learning that takes place. They may not be able to help all the channels by which it occurs, but if they can support and assist a part of it, then they will be doing well.

    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  5. Guy Boulet wrote:

    Dan, my point here is how can “informal learning” become “formal” other than by formalizing it, i.e. putting some sort of formalities arount how and when it should happen? How can it become formal other than by being regulated? In my mind, there is a clear difference between “fostering” informal learning and “formalizing” it. The first means that the organisation put in place the tools and the conditions that will help its members achieve better results with informal learning. The second implies implementing a structure and a set of rules on how informal learning should happen in the organization and this means controlling informal learning.

    I would rather say “informal learning” becomes “an official method” rather than “formal”.

    Monday, January 26, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  6. Jon Kruithof wrote:

    I tend to agree with Guy, informal learning is “informal” – once you formalize it, it ceases to be informal.

    I think that if an organization is concerned with learning it will recognize informal learning as something that happens. If an organization is concerned with training, well, it’s probable that any sense of informal learning will be sought to be controlled. Maybe I’m playing with semantics, but the language used is important.

    Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink