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Informal learning and social learning

I’ve been watching an interesting recording from ASTD 2009 – a conference aimed at Learning and Development people in large corporates. The subject matter was informal learning, but the focus of the address was social learning (meaning use of Web 2.0 technologies) and the NetGens (otherwise known as digital natives or Generation Y and in this case referring to those born between 1977 and 1997).

As with most stuff on digital natives, there was a tendency to assume all of that ‘group’ are tech savvy, use Web 2.0, etc.  They were described as looking for freedom, fun and collaboration and having no clear differential between work and personal life. Some of this may be true – and some applies to those born pre 1977 too, especially with changing work patterns and demands of workplace leading to more use of home offices etc.

What interested me most was how informal learning was being equated to social learning, with a momentary allusion to other forms of informal learning like information gathering through internet searches. The focus seemed to be very much on how to manage social learning within companies by the creation of social networking possibilities, both physical and virtual. Delegates were being encouraged to divert formal learning budgets into the creation of social learning environments and were being given advice on how to use them.  For example, the appointment of wiki gardeners to read the blogs and wikis and find the tacit knowledge elements contained within them for incorporation in easily accessible databases.

I wasn’t at all sure whether the proposal had much to do with learning, except perhaps for the employing organisations.  It seemed to have more to do with knowledge management and formalisation of informal processes. The commercial aspects of social leaning were heavily endorsed in terms of serving the customer better, which actually means selling additional products.

The tie up between informal (serendipitous) learning and social learning is an interesting one, but the incorporation of this in knowledge management appears to me to be another attempt to formalise those interactions.

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