Isn’t this how organizational learning cultures progress?

Jane Hart’s post yesterday on The differences between learning in an e-business and learning in a social business got me thinking about the evolution of learning culture in organizations.

It’s all to0 easy to mistakenly think of formal learning as the antiquated, primitive way of doing things, something an organization shucks off as it becomes enlightened and gives its people the autonomy to work on their own. The notion of stages suggests that a corporation hops from one stage to the next, abandoning past approaches as it advances.

What really happens is that one innovation is built on top of what’s gone before. Just as bicycles did not eliminate walking and cars did not do away with automobiles, informal learning doesn’t snuff out formal learning. That’s why models like 80/20 and 70:20:10 retain the 20 and the 10.

Think of it this way. Most organizations begin life with classroom learning and experiential learning:

As organizations mature, they take advantage of other methods of formal delivery, for example eLearning. Often this gives the worker more say-so about when to attend and sometimes whether to take part at all. They also improve the effectiveness of experiential learning by enlisting managers as coaches who give stretch assignments to develop their people and by developing practices that nurture self-directed learning.

Take a core sample of overall learning and you still find classroom training for newbies, compliance, and technical subjects. As the organization progresses, it adds more layers to the mix of learning going on. The newer approaches often diminish the importance of the lower layers but does not eliminate them.

Bear in mind that all learning is part informal/part formal and part social/part solo. These diagrams are conceptual, not derived from actual measurements.

The ultimate stage is the convergence of work and learning. As Jane points out, you don’t get this far just unless the organization has become a social business. Check her list of learning practices (the right column). Jane describes both the way people learn and the way the business functions; the two are inseparable.

Be careful not to confuse the progression of learning for the organization with the progression of learning for the individual:

Typically, the individual does phase out of most formal learning over time. Been there, done that, moving on.

Bonus question: Where would you place your organization in the progression to the convergence of work and learning?