Friday, July 08, 2005

Substantiation of the 80%

The first time I heard the meme that 80% of corporate learning is informal was in a presentation by the late Peter Henschel, then Executive Director of the Institute for Research on Learning. IRL used an anthropological approach to research that enabled them to see things others were missing. I was inspired by the possibilities and met with Peter and his staff in Menlo Park two weeks later.

Other studies confirm IRL's basic finding. A word of caution is in order here. Some studies say 70%, others 80%, and some even 90%. Why? For one thing, informal learning has many definitions . Furthermore, the ratio of informal to formal learning varies with context. Learning to ride a bicycle involves more informal learning than learning to fly a plane. Most of us learned to use chopsticks informally but learned algebra formally.

In Informal Learning, Marcia Conner writes that "Most learning doesn't occur in formal training programs. It happens through processes not structured or sponsored by an employer or a school. Informal learning accounts for over 75% of the learning taking place in organizations today." Marcia also notes, "In 1996, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that people learn 70% of what they know about their jobs informally." See Conner, M.L. "Informal Learning." Ageless Learner, 1997-2003.

From The Manage Mentor. The Teaching Firm research project initiated in 1996 by the Education Development Centre Inc. (EDC) of Massachusetts, involving businesses in six states in the US including Boeing, Ford Electronics, Siemens and Motorola, revealed that almost 70% of what employees know about their jobs they learn informally from the people they work with. Formal training programmes account for 30% or less of the learning. The research also indicated that many critical learning skills are learned informally and that informal learning often takes precedence over formal learning.

And from Eric, Informal Workplace Learning by David A. Cofer. In 1997, the Education Development Center, Inc. (a Newton, Massachusetts-based research organization) released findings from a 2-year study of corporate cultures within the United States (Dobbs 2000). One of the most noteworthy findings of the study is support for estimates from previous studies that "attempted to quantify formal training's contribution to overall job knowledge: 70 percent of what people know about their jobs, they learn informally from the people they work with." (pp. 52, 54)

Informal Learning Most Effective by Rebecca Lloyd, Knowledge Management Magazine November 2000. Not only do employee learning programs based on informal methods and self-study increase employee knowledge and productivity far more than more formalized methods, they also cost less, according to preliminary research by CapitalWorks LLC, a human capital management service in Williamstown, Mass. Approximately 75 percent of the skills employees use on the job were learned informally, the study found, through discussions with coworkers, asynchronous self-study (such as e-mail-based coursework), mentoring by managers and supervisors and similar methods. Only 25 percent were gained from formal training methods such as workshops, seminars and synchronous classes.

Informal Learning By Wanetta Vader/ n 1998 The National Research Network on New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL) at OISE/UT conducted the first Canadian survey on informal learning of 1500 Canadian adults. The research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The purpose of NALL was to identify the extent of adult learning, the existence of social barriers to learning and more effective means of linking learning with work.

The survey showed that informal learning was immense. On average approximately 15 hours per week was spent on informal learning. What was interesting to note was the fact that lower schooling and income levels did not appear to reduce the hours of informal learning. Individuals with a diploma spent approximately 16 hours per week and those with university degrees spent 14 hours per week on informal learning. As the report states, "Contrast this with an average of 3 hours per week spent on formal learning activities and you get a good picture of how extensive informal learning can be!" Approximately 70% of Canadians say that their most important job-related knowledge comes from other workers or learning on their own rather than employment-related courses.

I usually wouldn't go on at this length but this is the fourth time I've had this question this week, and now I have a place to point to.

Posted by Jay Cross at May 9, 2003 07:18 PM

January 05 research from eLearning Guild The Learning and Professional Development Report © 2005 The eLearning Guild. All rights reserved. When the Research Committee first began considering a survey on the professional development of The eLearning Guild community, we spent significant time simply defining what we mean by learning and professional development. We quickly saw that for a meaningful survey we would need to narrow down the topic. As a result our discussion focused on two key distinctions: learning as the acquisition of new knowledge or skills as related specifically to a job role, and learning as both a formal and informal activity. Why? First of all, we wanted to look deeper into the relationship between learning and working. Several of our earlier surveys hinted that not many organizations measure the impact of their learning programs on job proficiency. We wanted to see if, in the experience of The eLearning Guild, there was a degree of transference of learning. In a recent issue of CLO magazine, Bob Mosher expressed a ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY BY JOE PULICHINO

Summary of Results When we reviewed the results of this survey, we found that a few key trends were very apparent among our sample. In particular, the findings showed generally that among the survey respondents: • Learning is driven by a desire to increase proficiency on the job. • Learning is very much a self-directed activity. • Learning is an ongoing process comprising many modalities. • Learning is primarily an informal activity, yet comprises significant formal events and programs. • Learning, in most cases, transfers to the respondents’ jobs.

Perhaps we were testing the premise suggested by the Manage Mentor Web site: “The 21st century requires employees to exhibit new skills and capabilities that may not be most effectively learned through traditional education or training. Learning should be a continuous process for employees to enhance their performance. Infor-mal learning, for which the process is neither determined nor specified, and which may take place inside or outside of the classroom, offers a new possibility for enhanced productivity. HR experts at Motorola, a company widely recognised for setting standards in employee training, revealed that the ability to learn informally was a critical determinant of employee success. The ‘Teaching Firm’ research project initiated in 1996 by the Education Development Centre Inc. (EDC) of Massachusetts, involving businesses in six states in the US including Boeing, Ford Electronics, Siemens and Motorola, revealed that almost 70% of what employees know about their jobs they learn informally from the people they work with. Formal training programmes account for 30% or less of the learning. The research also indicated that many critical learning skills are learned informally, and that informal learning often takes precedence over formal learning.” As you will read in this report, the experience of our survey respondents confirms the validity of this premise loudly and clearly.

11. Research shows that people acquire new knowledge and/or skills through both formal education and training programs and informal learning situations. When you think back on the past twelve months what was the primary way in which you acquired the new knowledge and/or skills? 48.4% 29.1% 22.5% Informal learning situations (either intentional or accidental) comprising interactions with peers or management or subject matter experts or observations and/or personal investigation into the subject such as reading or free webinars or attending conferences. Learning by performing the knowledge or skills or attitudes and/or behaviors in on-the-job situations with real performance consequences where the output of the activity is measurable and is conducted in business environments. Formal education programs and/or systems where learning objectives have been established and published and in which knowledge or skill is acquired in activities or exercises.

If we can include on-the-job situations as a type of informal learning, the conventional wisdom that 80% of learning is informal and 20% is formal holds true. Even if we do not, formal learning nonetheless comes in at near 20%. These data are yet another validation that the vast majority of learning in organizations takes place outside of formal programs and venues.

12. Which of the following did you find most effective in the acquisition of the new knowledge and/or skills? In this question, we asked the same audience to evaluate the same three modalities in terms of which one was most effective. The number changed only slightly with informal learning falling from 48% to 41%, and on-the-job situations rising from 29% to 38%. Therefore, a near equal number of survey respondents reported that informal learning and on-the-job situations were most effective in their acquisition of new knowledge and/or skills. Formal learning was found to be most effective by only 21%. The results of this question provide a further indication of the significance of informal learning. Not only is it the primary way that the survey respondents learn, it is also the most effective. When coupled with on-the-job situations, the 80% / 20% rule seems to apply to the sample in this survey.

13. What formal and/or informal methods of learning did you use to acquire the knowledge and/or skill? (Select all that apply) • Over 70% of respondents found or sought information on their own initiative. This result complements the finding in question 8 about motivation for learning. • The top method is essentially a form of selfdirected web-enabled e-Learning. • The top five methods are informal and only the first could be defined as e-Learning. • The number one formal method is traditional class-room based instruction (47%). These results truly put more shape and depth to the 80% / 20% rule. Not only does it confirm the significant frequency of informal learning, it demonstrates that informal learning shows up in many ways: e-Learning, traditional book study, social learning, and experience. Also interesting is that formal e-Learning in the form of asynchronous (42%), synchronous (25%), CD-ROM (14%), and video-conferencing (9%) place lower in frequency.

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