The set up up was perfect! I was at one of the seminars at Learning Technologies last week and the speaker opened with the question: “How many of you are planning to implement informal learning this year?” About a third of the room raised their hands, 30 people, that’s a lot of implementation this year. I waited for the punchline, but it never materialised.

We did have a very good presentation about the value and impact of informal learning or “learning at the point of need” all of which led to the one logical concluding argument that if you bought the speakers product you would have solved your implementation issue. To be fair, insert GoodPractice toolkits at the end of the presentation and it wasn’t too far away from a lot of pitches I’ve made in the past.

Apart from the missed opportunity at the begiining something in this presentation and others I saw last week bothered me.

A very large part of the Learning Technologies was about informal learning, it was very much the buzz and for that I’m delighted, we’ve been preaching the value of it for years. Everyone was talking about 70, 20, 10 and this has led the big traditional LMS and learning product suppliers to jump on the bandwagon. What I saw last week was a lot of suppliers, with minimum tweaks to their products trying to pitch them as informal learning solutions. “Lets us help you manage and control your informal learning.”

I don’t blame them and anything that can help grow the market is a good thing, but not if it over hypes and devalues the idea of informal learning. Think back to the early days of e-learning when it was the panacea for all learning problems, well there were touches of this at the exhibition last week. If you are looking at informal learning, great, but make sure you understand the way it works and the best way to support it.

Back to my perfect set up question, the follow up from the speaker should have been: “You can’t implement informal learning it’s happening anyway and always has been.” You only have to look at our recent survey on ‘How Managers Learn’ to see that by far the most frequent and effective learning is talking to colleagues.

What you can do is support informal learning. For instance, help people to have better conversations or as our customers do make web resources easily available to people so that they can find answers when they need it. Giving people the skills to search effectively, think and analyse data and ideas and make decisions are all enabling skills which support informal learning. A much better question might have been: “How are you planning to improve the quality of the informal learning in your organisation?”