Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

29 August 2008

Informal budget ratio <> 80/20?

Clark @ 6:11 AM

Donald Clark raises an issue on his blog about confounding informal with Web 2.0, and the point I found interesting is his query about the 80/20 in/formal learning metrics.  He queries the statistics, and the issue of supporting informal.  I took it (and no blame to him if I misconstrue) to be an issue of should we match our budgets to that ration.  I commented:

Interesting point, and right in many respects. The point of the 80/20 (or 75/25) is to help people realize that they’re not supporting the 80, rather than to totally match the investment. The formal learning probably takes more resources, over time, as there’s more development required. However, how much have we invested in the informal? Typically, bugger all. My take, at least, is that there needs to be some up-front investment in the informal, but then it (should) become self-perpetuating (with the usual maintenance/upgrade/review costs).

The way I see it, as you broaden your responsibility from just training to support performance, eCommunity, mobile, etc (eCommunity being the social component of web 2.0, and a major component of informal), you need to systematically support informal.  Most of the time, it’s providing resources and an infrastructure for informal learning to flourish (the culture is the hardest part).  It’s not as resource-intensive as the process of getting learners from novice to practitioner (except the initial investment in infrastructure and boot-stratpping).

So, to me, it’s about considering informal, making a systematic plan for supporting, it, and launching it, while continuing to develop the necessary formal support for learning.  The latter will change as we develop capable learners (assuming you’re putting meta-learning in, and you should be), but there will be a role for each, but that doesn’t mean that the support requirements are a one-to-one match.  At least, that’s how I see it.  What say you?

1 Comment »

  1. Hi Clark,

    If the numbers are not really important, then why are they almost always used to “shock” us in order to get us to pay attention to informal learning in the first place? It almost seems to me that the use of the 80/20 number is somewhat of a reminisce of the “Wizard of Oz”:

    1. We are not spending enough resources on the 80% of informal learning, and as Brent Schlenker notes, this “should be shocking enough.”

    2. However, we should pay no attention to the numbers behind the curtain because the real point is that we need to invest in “Bright Shining Objects” (Jennifer questions the use of web 2.0 in education).

    3. And finally, the reason we need to invest in BSOs is to support the numbers behind the curtain.

    Sometime ago I noted that we were already making huge investsments in informal learning. Carnevale, Gainer, & Villet’s, “Training in America: The Organization and Strategic Role of Training” (1990) reported that the amount of employer investments in workplace training hovers around $210 billion annually. Of that, about $30 billion is spent on formal learning, while the remainder, $180 billion, is spent on informal learning.

    Proponents of informal learning found those numbers hard to believe because their notion was that informal learning had a greater efficiency than formal learning. However, informal learning is largely composed of an 1:1 instructor to learner ratio while formal learning is largely composed of much higher ratios, normally from 1:4 to 1:20. And while there is a higher investment in the front-end with formal training, it pays off in the long run.

    For example, when I first started at Starbucks Coffee, the training of the packaging machine operators was informal in that they were taught via OJT ( a 1:1 ratio of one experienced operator to one learner). However, when the plant went to a work schedule of 24 hours, 7 days a week and coupled with investments in more complex machines and processes, the training was turned to a more efficient and effective method of formal learning.

    And as I commented on your comment to my post, organizations invest even more in informal learning with the use of cellphones, telephones, two-way radios, internet and intranet access, email, instant messenger and face-to-face. Now while these tools may not be the BSOs that today’s learning 2.0 hype is calling for, they still work.

    Thus, rather than thinking that we need to invest in 2.0 tools for the sake of supporting informal learning; we should be asking exactly “how” and “if” these new tools will be more effective and efficient than the present tools and methods.

    Comment by Don Clark — 30 August 2008 @ 9:34 AM

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