A well-known fact is that 80% or more of the learning that takes place in the workplace is informal. But what exactly is informal learning? A lot more than I had ever thought, I realized after reading The Really Useful eLearning Manual (edited by Rob Hubbard).
The book is a collection of articles written by world-leading experts from all aspects of eLearning. For me, the book gave inspiration and new ideas to for instance how to win over business leaders, what the key elements of gamified elearning are and – as already mentioned – what the term informal learning means in the modern workplace.
Jane Hart, the author of the article Informal and Social Learning, cites Jay Cross who uses the bus and bicycle metaphor to explain the difference between formal and informal learning:
“Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. Informal learning is like riding a bike: the rider chooses the destination, the speed, and the route.”
Informal learning content can be anything from different types of written resources (blogs, use instructions , etc) to short videos and mini-courses. Often the content is technically relatively unsophisticated and without a predefined structure.
Informal learning is definitely what I do myself, every day – pulling the information I need about e.g. new software in the natural flow of work. My learning results are measured by improved performance, satisfied clients, more profitable projects – not by tests, course completions and so on.
Realising this made me think how could I create more informal learning opportunities with my client organizations. What does it require for an organization to start basing its learning strategy on informal, not formal learning? I guess the current trend for videos and bite-size courses are a step towards a more informal type of learning, but I am hungry for more – and I’m sure more is on the way.
Back to being a student again!
Having worked as a project manager in dozens of training projects – and even writing training materials on project management – I dare to say I have never studied project management.
Until a few months back when I enrolled in ”Planning and Initiating Projects” which was offered by the University of California at coursera.org.
The course was extensive – I studied when commuting and during evening after my kids went to bed. To a person who designs online courses for a living, being a student in one is a revelation!
Mostly the experience was positive – there were plenty of interactions and lively videos with a professor explaining key concepts and even giving guidelines on how to study the “Bible” of project management, the PMBOK Guide by the Project Management Institute, the world’s leading not-for-profit organisation for project management.
From a learning professional’s point of view it was hard to understand the lack of practical examples and interesting, challenging interactions. It is of course true that this was a basic level course where the point was pretty much to introduce the theoretical framework of project management, but nonetheless I missed having real-life examples. The course had quizzes at the end of each section – these too lacked real-life content and I have to honestly say that occasionally I felt like a monkey pressing buttons and answering silly questions that only tested whether I had been awake for the past ten minutes and learned some key terms by heart.
There were a few questions in the quizzes that started with “Imagine that… “ and ended with “what would you do?”. These were simple multiple-choice questions, but nonetheless answering to them gave me the lovely feeling that I am an adult who is trusted to use her brain to apply information. Ah!
Another set of items in the course that have me a lot to think job-wise was the set of videos where a professor of University of California explained some of the key concepts of the course. Some of the videos had been shot against green screen, whereas others were taken in a room that looked like the professor’s study. I enjoyed the latter ones so much more – the professor seemed at ease when sitting next to her own desk, and the messy book shelf and the coffee cup on the table only have a human touch to the video. Then again, in the videos shot against green screen the professor – albeit an excellent speaker – seemed a bit tense and nervous. Something to bear in mind when I next need to film an anxious CEO for a corporate video!
Finally, an excellent part of the course was at the very end and so little advertised that I almost skipped it. This was a panel discussion video with four experienced project managers sharing their experiences and ideas on how one can develop as a project manager. The discussion was absolutely fascinating and in my opinion should have been broken down to smaller clips and added to different parts of the course – this would have made the general, theoretical content so much more interesting.
Women’s Bank (Naisten Pankki) is a Finnish organisation that collects donations to improve the future of women in developing countries. A lion’s share of the donations is given as small loans and other help in entrepreneurial activities. This organisation, along several other development aid organisations, has suffered severe cuts in state subsidies this autumn, but luckily most projects can continue despite the cuts.
Having worked as Women’s Bank volunteer for a while now, it was time for me to learn more about the organisation. I attended two virtual training sessions organised by Jaana Hirsikangas, the volunteer coordinator of Women’s Bank. The sessions were organised using Adobe Connect. Jaana was extremely enthusiastic and kept the team – or so it seemed by looking at the active chat window – engaged for both one-and-a half sessions. Having not much earlier experience on live virtual training sessions, I quickly noticed that an energetic instructor is indeed a lifeline to keep the virtual training going, since especially as I used my work laptop to participate the trainings, the temptation to browse through work emails was almost too large to resist.
As said, the instructor really kept the sessions going, and the supporting PowerPoint material was well-made in that it consisted mostly of images and charts instead of plain text.
Technically the training was organised so that all participants were able to use the chat window to ask questions, or discuss a topic.
Most of the sessions was spent so that the instructor spoke about the planned topics. Although at the beginning I mentioned that I was engaged throughout the sessions, maintaining my attention on the Adobe Connect window was challenging at times as my email program kept blinking with new emails and I had the daily news open in another browser window. To make the temptation to wander off to other activities on screen, it would be good to include more questions in the training – for instance an introductory question related to people’s own experiences of a certain topic, and again a question or two in the middle and end of a topic.
A typical situation in planning eLearning: So much that needs to be said, so little space. Why not create an infograph?
Whereas inventing the graphics may seem as the obvious laborious stage, picking the key facts is also often quite a challenging task. Indeed, infographs are not all about graphics – you do need to spend time on deciding on the most suitable viepoint: Which facts to choose and how to best express them?
When the facts have been decided, we can dig deep into the visuals. This is where David McCandless’ Information is beautiful helps. Not only is it an astonishingly beautiful book, but it is a fabulous resource for anyone who needs ideas for creating infographs. I was especially delighted to find an abundance of extremely simple, yet powerful graphics, such as different sized dots on an xy axis, and plain text with different coloured fonts and font sizes.
All in all, Information is beautiful is great when you need new ideas for crystallizing your key information on one screen – or when you just want to have something extremely beautiful on your coffee table.