Informal Learning - Here at Last?

Berlin (GER), December 2006 - (by Susanne Köhler) "Informal Learning" was one of the buzzwords around in the halls of ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN. A plenary session focussed on Informal Learning and the role it plays at all stages of life.

Informal Learning is everywhere or, as Kevin Wheeler of Global Learning Resources, Inc., put it: "How we went from Informal Learning to Formal Learning and Back Again". He stressed the connection between industrial development and education, pointing out that in this century, we are indeed returning to an informal, individual way of learning - admittedly on a high-technology level and with a clear trend toward mass individualization in learning programs that could come only with the appropriate technology.

But where do we go from here? There seems to be a wide field of open questions out in the plains of informal learning where the digital natives are putting their eLearning tents up. The demand "No talks around the water cooler" has become quite obsolete, as Jay Cross, Internet Time Group, and author of the book "Informal Learning" attested.

Learning just happens - sometimes particularly around the water cooler. So let there be more water coolers - and then add comfy chairs, sofas, and an espresso machine so that employees, who happen to be people, can chat and exchange ideas. That's how they will learn.

So is it Learning or Working? At IBM, it's both, said Dr. Yael Ravin, who heads the company's Center for Advanced Learning. While there are water coolers at IBM, the need to keep a community of 300,000 people well connected demands more than just watering holes. Within the IBM Intranet, each employee has access to his or her own personal platform that is equipped with a wide variety of e-tools such as wikis, blogs, bookmarks, and more.

And it was left to Dr. Ravin to say very clearly, that -yes, there is a generation of digital natives at our doorsteps, but we still need our people to be well trained and skilled in a formal way, and a passion for informal learning needs to be instilled during their traditional education.

Mike McKeown of Cisco Systems UK Education Business Development finally wrapped it all up, in the true sense of the term. His presentation on how technology is transforming informal learning was introduced by a stunning demonstration on folding a shirt in two seconds - via a video clip from a Web 2.0 application, discovered by a digital native in his own family who had learned to fold his shirts ... very informally.