Learning and performance are often treated as separate entities. An organisation’s learning and development department will look after learning events, leadership courses and coaching programmes. The focus will be on learning objectives rather than directly on improved performance standards. I’ve always thought of learning and performance as two sides of the same coin. Improved performance comes from improved knowledge and skills. New knowledge and skills are impossible to attain without some form of learning. The exact mechanism for delivering that learning is the source of much debate in the world of employee development. The informal vs. formal learning battle In recent years, the learning and development community has turned its attention to the nebulous subject of informal learning. Proponents of informal learning use statistics showing just how much learning takes place informally, and hold it out as the missing piece of the training puzzle. Its detractors deride it as a fad, driven solely by new technology, and continue to focus on more formal learning interventions. The truth is both simpler and more complex, but the debate often misses the point: what matters isn’t which form of learning is best, but which is the most suitable in the situation, in order to improve performance. The difference between formal and informal learning can be summed up in the following way: [caption id="attachment_970" align="alignnone" width="479" caption="Formal Learning vs Informal Learning"][/caption] Informal learning is nothing new; it’s always taken place in organisations because when we don’t know how to do something, our first response is to ask a knowledgeable colleague. However, technology facilitates informal learning – it makes it happen more quickly. Before the telephone, informal learning took place face-to-face or via letters. After the phone, it was just a call away. Now, it can be facilitated over internal IT networks or even the internet. The key to deciding the right form of learning, is to start with what areas of performance are we seeking to improve and what needs to happen to make that possible. For instance, this may involve a change in behaviour from a senior executive, a systems change to a process and and an improvement in managerial skills. It will seldom just come down to a learning solution. A good way to capture this thinking is in a learning impact map. Once we understand the learning component to the overall solution, the next question is what will be the most effective way to deliver the learning and then the most efficient. So the debate on the type of learning needs to be about effectiveness given the situation and the desired performance objective. Otherwise it is totally missing the point.