Thursday, May 7, 2009

Informal Learning And the Empowerment of Curiosity

ASTD, in a study on informal learning conducted in conjunction with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), published a short synopsis of the results of their study yesterday. As the post on ASTD's blog states:

...e-mail emerged as the top-ranked informal learning tool at 68%. Accessing information from a company Intranet came in at a close second, with 65% of respondents citing its use to a high or very high degree...
Without having seen the report in full yet, I think these numbers are pretty spot on. Most recently, the work environment in which I worked had a significant number of informal learning tools. In congruence with ASTD/i4cp's results, email and intranet were the most available forms, though I would place this particular company's intranet above email in my wholly experiential rankings. The company went to great lengths to provide a rich intranet site with access to company and world news, separate portals for each global site, blogs, benefits information, more than I can even recall here. The intranet site was a vital function of the business for employees, and itself provided several informal learning tools like a company wiki for groups to collaborate on and other infovorous groups to consume.

But ASTD/i4cp's study had me reflecting on my own informal learning activities within the workplace, and without. Informal learning is the kind of mode one does not always realize they switch into. Yet, I use informal learning rather extensively on a daily basis. Reading a news story can reveal a topic or concept I may never have heard of previously, or have had limited exposure too. The Internet allows me to change my level of performance on the topic on the spot. In the workplace, the quality of the intranet site allowed me to fill my self-identified information gaps quickly, or at the very least put me on the right path.

And my appetite for informal learning has only grown with the purchase of an iPhone, and now any topic no matter the level of its mundanity or marvel gets a quick Wikipedia perusal or Google search. In fact, as my wife and I were deciding what to eat while dining out the other evening, I looked up a type of fish neither of us were familiar with. I think informal learning will continue to grow as more and more people of all ages become empowered to make learning more of their own responsibility than ever before. Informal learning is the antidote for what I would call "catalyzed curiosity", and can satiate both formal and informal queues to initiate learning. This study points the way for WLP professionals as we continue applying technology to learning, and I look forward to future developments for this method .

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