This white paper addresses how organizations, particularly business organizations, can get more done. Workers who know more get more accomplished. People who are well connected make greater contributions. Employees and partners with more capacity to learn are more versatile in adapting to future conditions. The people who create the most value are those who know the right people, the right stuff, and the right things to do.

It’s all a matter of learning, but it’s not the sort of learning that is the province of training departments, workshops, and classrooms. Most people in training programs learn only a little of the right stuff, are fuzzy about how to apply what they’ve learned, and never address who are the right people to know.

People learn to build the right network of associates and the right level of expertise through informal, sometimes even accidental, learning that flies beneath the corporate radar. Because organizations are oblivious to informal learning, they fail to invest in it. As a result, their execution is less than it might be.

Informal Learning - The Other 80% looks at what informal learning is and how to leverage it. It accompanies the May 16 meeting of the eLearning Forum at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Campus.

Posted by Jay Cross at May 8, 2003 03:28 PM | TrackBack

In Learning Circuits, a reader asked the source of the 80/20 statistic for informal/formal learning. My reply:

The first time I heard the meme that 80% of corporate learning is informal was in a presentation by the late Peter Henschel, then Executive Director of the Institute for Research on Learning. IRL used an anthropological approach to research that enabled them to see things others were missing. I was inspired by the possibilities and met with Peter and his staff in Menlo Park two weeks later.

Other studies confirm IRL's basic finding. A word of caution is in order here. Some studies say 70%, others 80%, and some even 90%. Why? For one thing, informal learning has many definitions . Furthermore, the ratio of informal to formal learning varies with context. Learning to ride a bicycle involves more informal learning than learning to fly a plane. Most of us learned to use chopsticks informally but learned algebra formally.

In Informal Learning, Marcia Conner writes that "Most learning doesn't occur in formal training programs. It happens through processes not structured or sponsored by an employer or a school. Informal learning accounts for over 75% of the learning taking place in organizations today." Marcia also notes, "In 1996, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that people learn 70% of what they know about their jobs informally." See Conner, M.L. "Informal Learning." Ageless Learner, 1997-2003.

>From The Manage Mentor. The Teaching Firm research project initiated in 1996 by the Education Development Centre Inc. (EDC) of Massachusetts, involving businesses in six states in the US including Boeing, Ford Electronics, Siemens and Motorola, revealed that almost 70% of what employees know about their jobs they learn informally from the people they work with. Formal training programmes account for 30% or less of the learning.  The research also indicated that many critical learning skills are learned informally and that informal learning often takes precedence over formal learning.

And from Eric, Informal Workplace Learning by David A. Cofer. In 1997, the Education Development Center, Inc. (a Newton, Massachusetts-based research organization) released findings from a 2-year study of corporate cultures within the United States (Dobbs 2000). One of the most noteworthy findings of the study is support for estimates from previous studies that "attempted to quantify formal training's contribution to overall job knowledge: 70 percent of what people know about their jobs, they learn informally from the people they work with." (pp. 52, 54)

Informal Learning Most Effective by Rebecca Lloyd, Knowledge Management Magazine November 2000. Not only do employee learning programs based on informal methods and self-study increase employee knowledge and productivity far more than more formalized methods, they also cost less, according to preliminary research by CapitalWorks LLC, a human capital management service in Williamstown, Mass. Approximately 75 percent of the skills employees use on the job were learned informally, the study found, through discussions with coworkers, asynchronous self-study (such as e-mail-based coursework), mentoring by managers and supervisors and similar methods. Only 25 percent were gained from formal training methods such as workshops, seminars and synchronous classes.

Informal Learning By Wanetta Vader/ n 1998 The National Research Network on New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL) at OISE/UT conducted the first Canadian survey on informal learning of 1500 Canadian adults. The research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The purpose of NALL was to identify the extent of adult learning, the existence of social barriers to learning and more effective means of linking learning with work.

The survey showed that informal learning was immense. On average approximately 15 hours per week was spent on informal learning. What was interesting to note was the fact that lower schooling and income levels did not appear to reduce the hours of informal learning. Individuals with a diploma spent approximately 16 hours per week and those with university degrees spent 14 hours per week on informal learning. As the report states, "Contrast this with an average of 3 hours per week spent on formal learning activities and you get a good picture of how extensive informal learning can be!" Approximately 70% of Canadians say that their most important job-related knowledge comes from other workers or learning on their own rather than employment-related courses.

I usually wouldn't go on at this length but this is the third time I've had this question this week, and now I have a place to point to.

Posted by: Jay Cross at May 9, 2003 09:31 PM

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