Stickylearning got stuck!
If you've been reading my blog since it began early two years ago you will know that I like to read. I like to challenge how I think about things, books and blogs are a couple of ways I get new ideas to think about. Well this has been all well and good however (and I can't entirely blame the book here) I read a book in May/June that got me thinking so much I haven't blogged since. OK, that's not really fair, there have been other reasons, holidays, travel for work, pneumonia....But honestly The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (NNT for short) got so many ideas twirling around my head that I kept trying to write a blog post around it, but I couldn't get out what I wanted to say!
The answer (I think) is to not say too much!
So let's start with a (tiny) review of the book (try Wikipedia for a fuller outline). In The Black Swan, NNT's premise is that we only know what we know. This is OK until we 'kid' ourselves that what we know is all there is to know. For example, in the Northern Hemisphere all swans are naturally white. For thousands of years the only colour swan you could see was white. So, if someone asked you what colour swans were you would say, "white of course"! But down where I live in Australia, swans are black. When Europeans first arrived in Australia they were naturally shocked, "what, black swans! How extraordinary!" Only extraordinary, that is, if you'd assumed that all swans were white.
So, we extrapolate on imperfect information. A good example is cited by NNT. Imagine a chicken. Everyday it wakes up, is fed, does a small range of other chicken activities and goes to sleep. Life is predictable. The chicken can be sure that tomorrow it will be fed and at the end of the day it will sleep. Then one day it's head is chopped off. Whoops, the chicken didn't see that coming!
So here is the lesson in learning
Business learning today is designed to fill a skills or knowledge 'gap', to provide workers with skills and knowledge required in today's business world. In other words, 'predictable' learning needs lead to formal learning solutions - problem solved!
Not if you're the chicken it's not! The chicken could attend all the formal chicken courses it likes, such as, 'A Beginners Guide to Grain', 'Feather your Nest and Flourish' and the perennially popular leadership course, 'How to RULE your Roost' but NONE help when, chop, off goes your head!
Formal learning has it's place, definitely. It provides learners with skills and knowledge they're highly likely to need, today and tomorrow. The outcomes of formal learning are also generally predictable, learn X, be better at Y.
However, put all your eggs in the formal learning basket and you put yourself, your business, at risk. What if you're wrong? What if tomorrow isn't as you expected? What if there is a new competitor? What if there is a financial crisis? What if......?
This is where informal learning comes in. Let's try these descriptions of Informal Learning:
- Learning with no particular outcome in mind
- Learning for learning sake
- Learning that mightn't look like learning
- Learning directed by the individual, not the workplace
- Learning with no set time, no set place
Informal learning can help to develop skills and knowledge that may not seem important until they are. (if that makes sense?)
So, what should business do?
Simple answer: provide (more) opportunities for informal learning
If you have a 'L&D' budget of $X, allocate most of it (say 80%) to formal learning and the rest (20%) to encouraging informal learning.
- Formal learning provides practical and financial benefits for business, don't throw it away just because informal learning seems to be the new buzz word.
- Informal learning doesn't mean 'free' learning. Don't think that this 'new' idea means you can slash your learning budget.
- You might feel a need to control however if you try to 'formalise' the informal there's no informal left.
The Black Swan - a hell of a read! I recommend it, it might do your head in, but it will get you thinking.