Saturday, November 5

Corporate informal learning culture

Dave Grebow sees a danger in meddling with the processes of informal learning, and I have to agree. But I contend that it’s also possible to be pro-active without meddling. The aim in all cases is to respect informality but because the efficacy of the means employed doesn’t depend on elaborate control systems, those means should be theoretically less difficult to implement. The real and very formal challenge is to “teach” decision-makers what to do because everything revolves around a gradual but radical transformation of corporate culture.

If we're going to "teach" (whether through training or publishing), we need some ideas. I have a few of my own and have borrowed others from various places. To kick off the brainstorming, here are a some suggestions (remembering that no one idea will get us very far; to succeed you need to commit to the full monty):

  • Begin modifying the physical (and virtual) working environment with the idea of moving away from a functional individual productivity model to a social model (this is sometimes done for other reasons and the two objectives can be made to merge).
  • Encourage collaboration through the widest variety of means.
  • Don’t conduct any formal training without envisaging some form of mentoring, including peer mentoring.
  • For the mentoring provide a permanent collaborative learning environment that can be used for purely personal purposes as well as official or unofficial collaboration (storage of documents, data, links with other communication tools such as audio or video conferencing).
  • Do some formal training, especially at the managerial level, on the complementarity of formal and informal goals.
  • Define what I would call “evolutionary learning themes” that can be informally monitored over time by line managers, but without fixing pre-determined objectives (and devise ways of accounting for their evolution). No reporting… other than collaborative!
  • Start talking about long-term learning projects without any specific constraints attached to them.
  • Refer all formal training events or activities to long-term projects (a variation of the e-portfolio concept).
  • Appoint not a “CLO” (as intimidating as a CEO or CFO), but rather a Learning Culture Coordinator (and Communicator).
  • Start thinking about performance support systems.

Finally, don’t go looking for vendors of the latest ILMS (Informal Learning Management Systems)! You can bet they'll be lining up for sales appointments as soon as they see decision-makers committed to the concept. They'll be far worse than the "formal learning developers" Dave has warned us about.


David Grebow said...

Peter: These are the lessons I took from your post. In a way, it was a blueprint for change, and I want to restate it in my own words, to see if I got the gist of it:

o The employee network must be perceived ( and see itself ) as an invaluable corporate asset, instead a disposable corporate liability.
o The tools for collaboration need to become ubiquitous across the enterprise, and their daily use encouraged for various interactions between employees,not just for formal training. Virtual classrooms become spontaneous virtual meetings, formal webinars become open web-based meetings, collaboration becomes the norm inside and outside of formal training.
o Formal training needs to extend itself beyond the classroom, and the box, and support the informal process that is part of a continuum from formal to informal, novice through expert.
o The value and role of informal training needs to be articulated, championed and supported (i.e. given funding) at the mid and senior-levels of management.
o Performance support tools and systems, old and new, need to be identified and instantiated within the company. Not learning is as acceptable as learning if performance is up tp par. Using a performance support tool, and just doing it and moving on, is okay.
o The old culture that supports
"Knowledge is Power" needs to evolve into a culture that believes that "Sharing Knowledge is Power".
o Formal learning needs to be viewed as a process, as opposed to an event. It can then be monitored and measured over time to see how well the adoption and adaption of what was formally learned is proceeding.
o I should ask my CEO to change my title from CLO to LCC.
o If all else fails, I need to start an ILMS company called TotalSaba or WebBoard or something like that, stand at the head of the line, and wear a lapel pin that say "ILMS Now!" whenever I attend a learning conference.

Did I more or less understand your ideas? I agree that the two can meet if they can play nice in the sandbox.

My concern is summed up by you at the end of your post. It is not an unlikely scenario that the formal (which now has all the money, power and influence) will try and co-opt and overtake the informal, instead of meeting near the 20% mark along a continuum.

Peter Isackson said...

I give you an A for understanding and summing up and an A+ for broadening and deepening the discussion with the right dose of humor. But of course grades aren't everything, so let's call it recess and move on, maybe to the sandbox!

I'm not sure I've covered any ground Peter Senge hasn't already covered, but I do believe that opportunities now exist to push things forward. After all, at bottom it really is a question of ROI, if we only knew what we were investing in. The challenge lies in making any of this fit with the current financial priorities and reflexes of executive management. The predictable problem of a new generation of aggressive ILMS vendors will follow only if we get to the stage of clearly recognizing the potential savings informal learning represents -- savings that will, I suppose, conveniently define the pricing of the new ILMS vendors ("now that you've saved it, spend it on us")!

The opportunities I mentioned above are related to a new culture of technology-enhanced (and integrated) communication both inside and outside the organization. This nascent culture may move in various directions, towards purely personal interests (entertainment, hobbies, games, sport, pornography), towards formally structured systems controlled by an imposed hierarchy (official curricula… or simply the party line), or towards informal but highly usable and useful environments that provide support in a way that has never existed before.

Most of us are hoping for the third orientation, but there are a lot of commercial interests that would profit from the two others. I fear that one of the conditions of their success is the marginalizing of the third.

Anonymous said...

This is a good discussion. Let me simply add something that has so far not been stated clearly enough, namely that from the perspective of a learning professional (and I say that as a former CLO), a key requirement for getting it right is communicating with your clients (there is never too much of it!). I still observe the prevalence of too much of a push thinking rather than creating a pull environment, where learners take informed action in a self-directed fashion. I call this strengthening intentionality, especially regarding informal learning.

Also, I have always thought very highly of the idea of a decentralized, loosely managed network of learning champions through whom a central learning function can do its work. Anybody with an interest in fostering a better learning culture should be allowed to become part of this network. The culture changes to the extent that those learning champions manage to create a tipping point.

All the best...Gunnar Brückner

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