There has been a lot of talk about informal and social learning vs. formal learning. There is so much about it on the internet, that we wonder sometimes if formal learning has any sort of place in the future of learning at all. The fact hasn’t change, formal learning will exist in the future. There are a variety of reasons for it; but let’s just quickly delve into it a bit.
With service industries ending up as major consumers of learning, the focus on knowledge is more pronounced, I sometimes feel it is the one key influence affecting the level of service a company can offer and profit from. The knowledge life-cycle is shortening, in some cases, products such as cars took five years or more to develop and roll-out.Today, most major car companies have a design cycle that rarely exceed 24 months for production models. This effectively means the knowledge acquired and implemented on a car platform is useful only during the production cycle for that car. What happens to the expertise after; I’m sure there are some principles that carry through to other projects, but a bulk of the learning around design must be discarded when working with the next platform. Regardless of whether you are creating virtual services and products or tangible ‘touch and feel’ products, you have to do more, faster and cheaper. In my mind, I directly equate this with needing more formal training.
Social, informal, networked learning takes time to evolve in the workplace. As a training department, there is little you can do but provide the tools. While there are experts out there helping corporates ‘strategize’ about creating a culture of learning and sharing, whether it’ll work depends on the culture in your workplace, how learning/sharing is rewarded and deemed relevant, and most importantly if the organization can provide the time it requires for humans to nurture the relationships required for ‘social or informal’ learning. The way I see it, lots of organizations have neither the culture nor the time to attempt implementing and hoping to succeed using such methods. Formal learning on the other hand is top down in its approach, and let’s you actually plan for knowledge obsolescence. One way that social/informal learning works is by co-opting SMEs into your personal learning network. In a age where knowledge quickly becomes obsolete, who can claim to be an ‘expert’? this holds especially true in the information technology and enabled services area. In a mature industry, such as automobile manufacture, there are truly individuals who have mastered certain areas of knowledge, these can truly claim to be SMEs. This leads me to partially believe that social/informal learning would work better in more mature industries.
Point is – as knowledge becomes obsolete rapidly, the need to disseminate large volumes of information that must be learned quickly only increases. While documenting this knowledge and making it available over the network helps, having a top-down mandated training program to impart that knowledge becomes more important. As we see more and more businesses migrate to models that obsolete information at a fair clip, the need for formal training programs, but web-based and instructor-led will only grow. Do you think so too?