Informal, Formal – End 4 E-Learning

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Some folks generate a level of enthusiasm when talking about days gone by.  And show it, via retro gaming, whereas folks buying NES and SNES 32 bit.  Sega is launching their days gone by console with Sonic Hedgehog.  Folks attend Renaissance fairs. Go to an autograph store and folks buy autographs of their “favorite players” back in the day.

Perhaps you wish to travel back to another time, an easier time.  I would love to experience Victorian England, but only if I had money, because if I was poor, it was downright awful.

Just the other day, in my adopted country of Mexico, I waxed about the what it would have been like back in the early 90s in Cabo before all the hotels, etc.  Then I realized that without it, there would not be the infrastructure and all the perks we have today.

I mention all of this, because we are forgetting about why formal and informal training came into play. And we are ignoring the big elephant in the room.  That with change, and technology as a component, learntech to be exact, we must avoid wax of days gone by, with the keeping of informal and formal for online learning and immersive to boot.

Yesteryear  – Formal Learning

The classroom.  Who can forget it?  The blackboard (not the company). Chalk. Chalk dust. Film projectors where the teacher couldn’t figure out how to use – Volunteer anyone? VCR ditto.  Volunteer anyone? 

This is where informal and formal learning first made their arrivals present.  If you are unfamiliar with these terms, formal learning refers to structured learning. We see it today with synchronous based learning, which thrives in education, especially higher education. 

If you are a fan of Coursera or Open Classrooms (big in Europe) you are saying you are a fan of synchronous based i.e. formal learning. MOOCs reak of formal learning. Because each item is structured.  Yes you have an online course. But you also have a syallabus. And you cannot go past topic X to jump to Topic D.  You must go linear.  You have a forum or discussion board where you post your articles or writings, and others read and respond.  Whoever is running the show behind the scenes i.e the professor or instructor should read all of them (ha) and respond to all (ha).   

The latter piece is an add-on to SBL.  But the other items, initially discussed are the staples.  If your course includes a syllabus, you are in SBL – a structured learning approach, which is formal learning.

In other words, SBL is for all intent purposes, sticking the classroom online.  You cannot get more strucured then that. Actually, combining online with actually being in the classroom, still seen at some HE places, is even worse, but I digress. 

Formal is not fun. It is not intended to be that way.  It is the reason why folks do poorly in any level of instructional based learning in terms of retention and synthesis. If you attended any recent F2F seminars, how much are you able to state – i.e. what are the three takeways from what you learned – without looking at your notes?   What about in six months?  

This is where formal fails.  I’ve seen where some places say “formal” is part of e-learning. Unless they are referring to HE, it is not. Can you imagine an adult learner wanting to have you e-mail them a syllabus?  And assignments too?  Or even worse, tell them to go linear in a course where they cannot go to point B, until they complete point A?

Then, ugh, give them an assessment at the end, and when they pass, you perceive they know the information? Wait three months and count the number of times  they come back to that course?  I am going to guess either zero or super low. 

Ask yourself why?  Because you shoved formal learning into an online learning course and expected folks to be enthralled about taking it. You have embraced an ILT approach because it worked so well in the past, that it will do so in the present.

Yet you forget about the minuses.

  • Employees dragged into ILT sessions, who gripe
  • Attention seeking behavior with some attendees
  • Computers that didn’t work, OR the trainer forget to bring this or that
  • Speeding thru to get to point C or not spending enough time on Point B.
  • The pace is driven not by the learner, but by the instructor or at a university by the professor
  • Customer training is tied to the trainer themselves and the material presented.  Some customers have to have more training. Revenue wise for the company is great (if you charge).  But free is a cost, and so the $$$ has to be made up somewhere else.
  • The room can be too cold. Or too hot. People expect food during a full day.
  • You cannot expect to meet all types of learning for every one in the session
  • People forget about giving breaks to attendees or do so, after a long stretch, even though data shows people’s attention starts to waver around 45-50 minutes
  • Speaking of attention, many are not, because the information isn’t relevant to them. Plus they have other things to do, because work does not stop, just because you are attending a session.

Yet, for so many in our industry, training, L&D too, formal learning is the only one to learn. And therefore, it is so effective it should be applied to e-learning.  Was it effective for you?  The person running the show in training, L&D, etc.?  

Did you love getting assignments in college?  Couldn’t wait to get home and start working on it?  Never griped about it?  Bought an expensive textbook, only to never open it? Was this the ideal college life for you?  What about those exams? Weren’t they grand?  Who doesn’t love taking tests?  Nothing better than having three before you can bolt for summer vacation?

Yet, that was and still is a part of formal learning.  Why have that in your online learning experience?  Can you imagine following structured in immersive learning?

Steve, put on your VR headset. Susan, take out your mobile device and use our AR app that mimics a schoolhouse from 1910.  Assignments are virtual.  The instructor is via Mixed Reality, a hologram.    Okay everyone, read over our digital syllabus and let’s start class.   Your virtual assigment is due in two weeks.  Duncan? The excuse your robot dog ate it will not work this time.

Technology has changed, informal learning needs too

Informal learning is in essence non-structured learning.  Vendors love to use the term when referring to creating and sharing content.

When using the ask an expert or coaching components.  Surfing the net finding articles of interest. Using a learning-centric approach, whereas learning is driven by the learner and not the company (i.e. the client).

Self-paced learning, which is why asynchronous based learning was developed, is another key component of informal learning.  Asynchronous puts the learner in charge of their own learning, going at their own pace, and jumping around the course without having to complete it.  It is about focusing on what they need and want to learn.

It should be the only way folks learn online because it works. If you are providing customer training, sometimes referred to as customer education, asych. is the only format you should be using.

And yet, people are taking informal learning and sticking bits of formal into it, via a slight of hand, err course.

  • Yeah it is self-paced but you must go Point A to Point B, it is locked down until you do so
  • Self-paced but you have three weeks to complete it
  • Go where you want, but there is an assessment at the end of it
  • It is boring, static even – enjoy!
  • Curate content – you must upload and share three pieces of content
  • The more content you curate, the better your machine learning/AI will be accurate
  • You must complete the course in order for the AI/machine learning to identify your recommended courses (and this happens a lot).   Which you know, defeats the purpose of asynch. based learning and uh, why WBT was created in the first place.
  • There are duration times for each course, even micro, even though people learn and different length – time wise, etc.
  • Videos are required – you have to watch it all – complete it – I have seen enough of these, to remember the days of being a new employee and they stick you in a room, turn on the video tape and walk out.  I never had so much fun.  And sleep.

How is this effective?  If this is informal learning, then I want a refund of you providing it to me. In today’s world of online learning it is picking and choosing what interests me.

If you are telling me that the course(s) have to complete, are assigned to me and I do not have any personal or professional development courses, where is the informal learning experience?

Because compliance learning is not informal learning unless you perceive that everyone wants to take (on their own) a course on harassment.  Now, they should, and I am not saying they shouldn’t, but look at your LMS data and see when folks come in to take the course.  How long do they wait?  Is it near the due date?   As noted earlier, compliance is about protection for the company, not prevention as it should be.

And before you say, you cannot do compliance without linear, I say you can.  You can do micro.  And frankly, scenario-based learning is not only doable, but achieves better results in any form on “Self-paced learning”, because you are placing someone into a real life situation, with interaction an important component.

But to say that informal learning is self-paced and non conforming for online learning is saying that spitballs firing away in Math class is a non-conforming and self-paced.  It is. And fun, until you get in trouble.

Just because you offer your learners – customers/employees options to do things and learn themselves in your LMS or Learning Engagement Platform or Sales Enablement Platform or other types of learning systems is “informal learning”, is just outright shameful.

If that is what you honestly believe, then every day you wake up and do your “own” noncomforing thing (which who decides what is conforming and not these days?), then you are experiencing informal learning. 

Informal Learning worked when you where in elementary school and had free time to play with your own toys.  It worked in post-high school when you had projects or had a professor who thought that “Trivial Pursuit” was an effective way to teach (and yes, that happened at a university I taught at, and no, it wasn’t me).

Informal learning thou is not applicable in online learning nor immersive learning.

The moment you require someone to complete or do something, informal ceases to exist. The moment an algorithm requires X or Y to weigh higher, and the admin does not have the option to change that, informal ceases to exist.

The moment you say to yourself that self-paced is informal, you are providing a disservice to anyone who bought into WBT early on, and still sees it for what it is – an effective way to learn via engagement and interactive learning.

I read the other day on a site, that said informal learning highly motivates people.  I politely disagree.  It depends 100% on the topic and the quality of that topic.  Reading a course, with lots of text and static pics will not motivate someone.

So, with all due respect, informal makes people highly motivated doesn’t hold water. Unless, again, you were promised you could leave two hours earlier in the day, if you watched four videos.  Yeah, I suspect that would motivate some folks.

Bottom Line

Formal learning and informal learning, remind people of the days gone by. Days which were fun only because you had a lunch break to play on the swings or in the dirt, or kick a soccer ball.

Fun, because when you got home, you did whatever you wanted, without having to worry about “adult things”, like bills.

It was fun, that made school better.

Not an assignment. Not a test.  Not sitting in a classroom on a nice Spring day. 

Formal learning therefore wasn’t as ideal as you remember.

And anyone who ever had independent study or worked on a thesis or dissetation, the only fun was knowing it was done, approved (thesis and dissertation). 

But other than that, it wasn’t fun.

And it wasn’t informal

Learning, that I want to

go back to.

E-Learning 24/7

Off next week due to holiday.







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