Informal: The New Normal

I Attended a learning conference recently. The big buzz was informal learning. Yes, 70/20/10 bar graph slides were rampant. You know, 70% percent of learning happens informally through on-the-job training (OJT); 20% of learning comes from bosses and mentors; only 10% of learning is acquired through formal learning programs.

The really interesting statistic is that 90% of training budgets still go toward formal training.  If we were marketers and proposed investing 90% of the budget in an initiative that, year-on-year, delivers only 10% of sales revenue, would our marketing budget get approved? Would we be employed?

The other big point repeated about informal learning, as it enters its hype cycle, is that informal learning is not new.  It has always been there and has worked well enough to make up for what is not handled by formal learning.  What is new is that organizations are beginning to put research, budget, technology, and measurement against informal learning.  Although, as one CLO panelist put it, we just need to be careful not to formalize it to the point that we screw it up. The other "aha" is that the training organizations have never controlled informal learning and probably won't control the tools that are leveraged to facilitate informal learning going forward.

Another big idea from the conference is that learning professionals need to make a shift in how they operate to make informal learning successful in their organizations. Basically, it means letting go; facilitating great content and conversations, not just broadcasting small structured learning experiences.  Learning organizations do not have the subject matter expertise nor the bandwidth to keep up with the demand for knowledge in this long tail world.  Here's how training has to change according to Tamar Elkeles, CLO of Qualcomm, Inc.:

In several of the sessions, it was reinforced that technology tools can help foster informal learning but that many other factors were equally as critical to success:

  • Have thought leaders and management seed informal learning pathways with content to motivate others to contribute, show that management supports the effort, and give people "permission" to join the conversation.
  • Make seeking information and sharing information part of how employees are reviewed, recognized and compensated. Yum Brands actually branded the phrase "Building Know-How" to reinforce the need to seek and share information.
  • Informal learning adoption is much higher when it is implemented to support existing rubber-meets-the road business initiatives, particularly around sales.
 While a lot of the panel discussions at the conference reinforced that informal learning happens organically in small groups, has happened informally for centuries, and we can't control it, the reality is that in an increasingly distributed, global workforce, prairie-dogging over the cube only scales so far.  Like most things we do in business, technology is not a replacement for best practices but it can provide scale and automation.  For those looking to use technology to help facilitate informal learning, here are a few nuggets:
  • Tools must be easy to use.  If you need formal training on your informal learning solution, you are dead in the water.
  • Tools should not increase the friction of finding or contributing information. Ideally, they should make the process faster and easier. High friction equals low adoption.
  • Desktop real estate is crowded like store shelves.  Make sure your tool is available where your users already spend time (e.g., Outlook Toolbar, browser plug-in).  If they have to go to a completely separate place that is outside of their normal workflow, you have an uphill adoption battle even if the content is good.
  • Allow users to post in native file formats (e.g., Word, PPT, Excel, Visio) so they can author content with the tool that best fits the content.
  • Search is the key. How many friends' phone numbers have you memorized lately? If your platform does not have powerful search capability, then this massive amount of content you are hoping to stockpile will be useless to users.
  • Make sure there is metadata attached to content and that the tool provides for governance by automating periodic content reviews by authors/SMEs to ensure ongoing relevance and accuracy of the content.
  • Your tool should be able to mine existing repositories and deliver a relevant, consolidated set of results to searchers. There should also be pre-established hooks to popular knowledge repositories (CRM, SharePoint, Slack).
  • Make sure your tools are designed for the enterprise with robust security that keeps your private company information secure. It should also have granular permissioning and moderation features so you can finely control who can post and who gets access to what information.  This is particularly important when sharing information with partners, suppliers and other third parties.
Well, to sum it up, I went to a formal learning event and attended sessions on informal learning. I captured my initial thoughts informally on OneNote and then published on Linked In (with low friction) to share with you. Hopefully, you learned something or I will have to update my bar chart percentages which will require formal Excel training.

Hey IT, Get off of my Cloud

I attended a great session on cloud computing last week at the University Club's Cathedral Hall sponsored by the DePaul College of Computing and Digital Media. If you have never seen this room, you should attend an event there just to see this place.

The panel included vendor and corporate IT executives from Google, Microsoft,, Accenture, Transunion and other esteemed organizations. The surprising big idea I took away was that cloud computing is shifting the balance of power away from IT and toward business leaders.

In fact, the panel agreed that more CIOs are coming from the business side of the house as cloud computing makes deploying technology more of a switch-flipping business operations exercise and less of a black art.  What this means for corporate IT leaders is that they need to make sure they are managing this shift proactively and providing speed and flexibility to handle this new infrastructure; not being seen as the speed bump by the business stakeholders.

ROI for cloud computing is not about lowering IT spend.  It's really a wash. You are really just trading capital expenditure costs for more predictable recurring monthly costs.

Speed and agility is the real business benefit from cloud computing when a business opportunity arises, you can spin up servers or a whole platform and react instantly.  If it is a short term opportunity, you can spin up the servers, capitalize and then power them down when you are done -- without any capital expenditures or long term commitment. This allows companies to be more nimble and innovative.

Paying for just what you use is another big advantage of cloud computing. Annual performance reviews were cited as an example.  In the old world, IT would deploy two servers available 24x7x365 to handle typical load for the performance review application.  The real-world business issue is that the performance review application and servers sit idle for 50 weeks until the frantic two-week push by managers to get all review done so bonuses get paid. During this crunch, peak load would require the equivalent of 17 servers.  Oops, the COO just spent 30 minutes entering performance review data and the app timed out due to server overload.  If the performance review application was running in the cloud, the infrastructure could scale dynamically to meet the demand spike, avoiding the call from the COO.

Virtualization and outsourcing to managed service providers is pushing a shift in the corporate IT demographic away from server wranglers toward more business analysts and network engineers that have skill managing hybrid environments that include internal clouds, private clouds and public clouds.  Can you say, single sign-on and network security?

Decisions about where and how systems are deployed is becoming more of a business decision, not a technical one. It is no longer based on what is possible from a cost and internal IT capacity standpoint.  In essence, if Scotty can't give Captain Kirk more more warp power immediately, Captain Kirk will get it elsewhere.

At the end of the session, I talked to a tenured professor who told me he enjoyed molding young minds. I couldn't resist asking him if that was a manufacturing or chemical analogy. But that is a different story.