I recently posted an article on this blog, Investing in Informal Learning. Seeing more
in it that what I originally posted, I used it as part of a
larger posting on trdev, State of the Learning Industry. Tony Karrer
urged me to post it to Learning Circuits as trdev is semi-public
in that you have to join the group to view any of the postings
(it is free however). For those of you who are not members of
trdev, I urge you to join as it is one of the more dynamic and
critical T&D discussion groups on the web. However, simply
cross-posting the same material holds no real interest to me, so
I delved into the subject and thought about it some more. .
I'm sure most readers of this blog have seen charts similar to this
posted throughout the web:
Which of course makes informal learning look like a better
investment than formal learning. However, in Training in America, the cost of formal and
informal that they give ($30 billion for formal learning and
$180 billion for informal learning) means that the true
investment for learning should look more like this:
The second chart suggests that "formalizing" the informal learning
would now be the better investment in order to make it more
efficient. However, in the trdev discussion, Tony suggested that
the second chart is not counting the payroll expenditures (soft
costs) of the students in the formal learning classes. Thus the
formal learning expenditures should be higher. We could argue back
and forth about what costs should be included in each one, but we
would only be second guessing what the authors actually counted
under each form of learning.
Then it dawned on me what the numbers really mean; we are using the
government's term of informal and formal learning -- if the money
invested in learning falls under a training department's budget, it
is counted as formal learning; if it falls only under payroll, then
it is being counted as informal learning.
We are using monetary terms to define informal and formal learning.
However, I think that most of us would define it more or less as
Stephen Downes views it -- if it is managed by the learner
it is informal, if it is managed by someone else it is
The government defines OJT and apprenticeship programs as
"informal" simply because they normally fall directly under
payroll's budget, rather than training's. Yet for the most part,
learners are not walking into the workplace and deciding what and
how they will learn their job. Rather they are being directed or
managed by supervisors and coworkers. The OJT programs are often
under the guidance of the training department.
Thus the numbers thrown at us that 80% of the learning in the
workplace is informal and 20% is formal is totally misleading,
unless of course you want to define formal and informal learning in
dollar terms. So what is the real percentage? I doubt if anyone
really knows. Besides, I think it would totally depend on the type
of workplace itself.