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

5 June 2012

Getting Pragmatic About Informal

Clark @ 6:21 AM

In my post on reconciling informal and informal, I suggested that there are practical things L&D groups can do about informal learning.  I’ve detected a fair bit of concern amongst L&D folks that this threatens their jobs, and I think that’s misplaced.  Consequently, I want to get a wee bit more specific than what I said then:

  • they can make courses about how to use social media better (not everyone knows how to communicate and collaborate well)
  • share best practices
  • work social media into formal learning to make it easier to facilitate the segue into the workplace
  • provide performance support for social media
  • be facilitating the use of social media
  • unearth good practices in the organization and share them
  • foster discussion


I also noted “And, yes, L&D interventions there will be formal in the sense that they’re applying rigor, but they’re facilitating emergent  behaviors that they don’t own“. And that’s an important point. It’s wrapping support around activities that aren’t content generated by the L&D group. Two things:

  1. the expertise for  much doesn’t reside in the L&D group and it’s time to stop thinking that it all can pass through the L&D  group (there’s too much, too fast, and the L&D group has to find ways to get more efficient)
  2. there is expertise in the L&D group (or should be) that’s more about process than product and can and should be put into practice.

So, the L&D group has to start facilitating the sharing of information between folks. How can they represent and share their understandings in ways the L&D group can facilitate, not own?  How about ensuring the availability of tools like blogs, micro-blogs, wikis, discussion forums, media file creating/sharing, and profiles, and helping communities learn to use them?  Here’s a way that L&D groups can partner with IT and add real value via a synergy that benefits the company.

That latter bit, helping them learn to use them is also important.  Not everyone is naturally a good coach or mentor, yet these are valuable roles.  It’s not just producing a course about it, but facilitating a community around these roles.  There are a lot of myths about what makes brainstorming work, but just putting people in a room isn’t it.  If you don’t know, find out and disseminate it!  How about even just knowing how to work and play well with others, how to ask for help in ways that will actually get useful responses, supporting needs for blogging, etc.

There are a whole host of valuable activities that L&D groups can engage in besides developing content, and increasingly the resources are likely to be more valuable addressing the facilitation than the design and development.  It’s going to be just too much (by the time it’s codified, it’s irrelevant).  Yes, there’ll still be a role for fixed content (e.g. compliance), but hopefully more and more curricula and content will be crowd-sourced, which increases the likelihood of it’s relevance, timeliness, and accuracy.

Start supporting activity, not controlling it, and you will likely find it liberating, not threatening.



  1. Interesting points Clark, especially as you add in the dimension of emergence. I think learning is an emergent property of informal social processes. There is no learning in the formal part, which is education and is concerned with accreditation, quality assurance, class management, estate management. If we are lucky learning happens using the platform that education provides, but it might be rote-based memorisation. If written about Emergent Learning in many places; here’s one.

    Comment by fred garnett — 5 June 2012 @ 12:07 PM

  2. I do like your approach of emphasizing on the learning process. Unfortunately, Peer Learning is difficult to stimulate and to engage in an organisation. In my opinion, you go into the right direction with the role of a “mentor or coach” that is taken by the L&D group.

    We have just developed a methodology in which we highlight the importance of “learning partnerships” between peers within Communities of Practices, which you might find useful or inspiring: http://pro-learn.net/index.php/pln-methodology

    In addition, we have found out that “sharing” and “collaboration”, on what informal learning is based on, needs to be seen in connection to “identity” and “belonging”. These insights are based on years of practical experiences that we gathered ourselves in communities: http://community-space.net/index.php/en/community-building

    Comment by Rolf Reinhardt — 4 July 2012 @ 12:59 AM

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