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Learning Happens!

June 10, 2010

Yesterday I walked by our Marketing Coordinator’s (Ashley’s) cubicle and saw pieces and parts of a small shelving system spread around her. She also had the paper instructions (which I am certain came in 6 different languages) spread out on the floor. Yet she was watching a You Tube video on how to put the shelving system together. She chose the mode best suited to her learning style.. This was a perfect example of learning in the moment.

Many of us learn in the moment. When an attorney needs to learn how to do something with technology, what choices does he or she have? This informal learning makes up about 80% of all learning according to Jay Cross…who wrote the book on informal learning.

My path to learning is much like the TV trivia game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire.  Let’s say I am trying to edit the Slide Master in my PowerPoint presentation and I don’t remember where the feature is, but I think it is either on the Home tab or the View tab. PowerPoint provides me the “50:50” option. It is in one of these two places. But let’s say that what I really needed to do is hide the background graphics (which I often forget how to do). I’ve poked around and can’t find it. So, I “Phone a Friend” and call Brie. She’ll know how to do it! Or, if Carolyn is walking by, then I may ask her or any of the folks that have a work space outside my office door. This is similar to “Ask the Audience”, but perhaps closer to a technique from the TV game show Cash Cab – “Shout Outs”. Sometimes, I  literally shout out of my office for one of our experts to answer a question for me.

Informal learning works well largely because it is personal. The learner gets to call the shots and determine what and how they want to learn. It’s real! People discover how do to things by observing others, asking people who work near them, calling on experts, trial and error, or talking with people that may have similar learning situations. For example, I see Brie and Gina share what they’ve learned on their iPhones whenever they get together – on a plane, at a conference or in a meeting.

This doesn’t mean that formal learning (classroom, e-learning, distance learning session) will go away. It just means that we need to recognize how learning happens and work harder at getting learners to commit to learning the right things and connecting learners to each other to start building that all important learning community. We also need to make sure that our experts are available and visible to our learners.

 “The best learning happens in real life with real problems and real people and not in classrooms.” — Charles Handy

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