June 27, 2016

Challenge: Make Informal Learning Visible & Valuable

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A Research Report from the 2016 ATD ICE

At the 2016 Association for Talent Development (ATD) International Conference and Expo (ICE) in Denver, Kathy Granger and I presented a session titled, Learning Anytime, Anywhere: How to Activate Informal Learning at Work. The focus of the session was to build the case that:

1. Informal and social learning are valuable and the source of most innovation and performance improvement in organizations.

2. There is a long history of research on informal learning that is largely unknown but full of many striking examples of real impact and creativity.

3. There are recent advances in how informal and social learning can be activated and made visible and intentional.

Informal and social learning (the “70” and the “20” in the 70:20:10 reference model) have an inherent challenge. The challenge is that like gravity, this learning is always turned on but largely invisible. If the power of 70-20 learning is to be harnessed in support of organizational goals so L&D can extend its reach beyond the delivery of formal programs (the “10s”), a first step is to make informal and social learning visible and recognizable.

To make informal and social learning visible, we challenged those who attended our session to use Twitter to capture and share examples they experienced during ATD 2016 in Denver and as they returned to their work. We asked them to post examples of their 70-20 learning in action using #7020learningatd.

The results of our challenge are captured in the following summary report.

What We Discovered

In reviewing all the Twitter posts, we observed five things:

1. Informal and social learning were indeed happening Anytime, Anywhere and the participants in our session were able to recognize when it was happening.

Participants posted 56 examples of 70-20 learning in action on Twitter. They posted examples during our session, after our session while still at ATD 2016, and on their way home. Some of the shared examples were beyond what we ever expected we might find. One such surprise was a photo of a guide describing art during the Tuesday night Celebration which took place at the Denver Museum of Art.

2. Using a framework that makes it easier to see the learning that is happening around us every day, we observed a great deal of individual impromptu learning at ATD.

During our session we shared a 70-20 Learning Activation Matrix™ we designed to help people be more aware of the different types of informal and social learning they engage in at work. The matrix on the vertical axis has Impromptu learning at the bottom and Deliberate Effort at the top.  On the horizontal axis, Individual learning is on the left and Social learning is on the right. The 56 examples posted on Twitter can now be classified based on where they fall on the four-box matrix to illustrate patterns in informal and social learning.
70-20 Learning Activation Matrix

Our hypothesis on the reason for the high percentage of impromptu informal learning taking place, is that conferences like ATD 2016 provide the opportunity for many quick impromptu experiences compared to more formal programs that trigger longer-term deliberate effort. Participants at conferences are presented with many rapid learning moments (in sessions and in conversations with others) that can sometimes feel like a sensory overload. Time to reflect and integrate new information is needed to set goals for learning transfer back on the job (which would require deliberate effort over time).

3. We found patterns in the informal and social learning that was shared on Twitter at #7020learningatd. One way we did this was to identify the many “sources of learning” that participants used. We took our cue from the seminal book, Lessons of Experience research from the Center for Creative Leadership in the 1980s when CCL sought to identify the sources of learning used by executives.

From the tweets using #7020learningatd, we were able to observe the following sources of learning at play:
ATD 2016 Sources of Learning ChartOur guess is that there were many more types of learning that couldn’t be captured in the space constraints of a 140 character tweet.

4. The experiment of challenging participants in the session to post examples of informal learning (the “70”) and social learning (the “20”) on Twitter demonstrates the power of a formal learning session (the “10”) to act as a catalyst to cause 70-20 learning.

To turn the “10” into a catalyst for post-program action, participants need two things: 1) to be cued with the expectation to apply what they learned in their formal session and 2) to be provided with guidelines, frameworks, and technology to make it easy to use and capture their applied learnings in action.

5. We were struck that a handful of individuals in this sample group were the most productive in documenting their informal and social learning. It appears that the self-awareness and openness of these individuals to share their learning made a real difference. While their challenge was to identify and share 70-20 learning examples they encountered, they took the process a step further and used it to turn their learning into performance enhancements and innovation in their work.

This is somewhat consistent with the 1% rule in Internet communities where the general rule of thumb is that about 1% of people on community sites (like wikis or forums) create content, 9% edit the content, and 90% view the content.  We suspect a similar version of this rule may have happened in our challenge since the community was largely a group of strangers.

Samples of Twitter Research Data

Below are some examples of what participants posted on Twitter about the informal and social learning they saw 1) During our ATD 2016 session, 2) After our session while still at ATD ICE in Denver, and 3) After leaving the conference. The full data set can be found on Twitter under:  #7020learningatd.

1. During the Learning Anytime, Anywhere Session
Some Tweeted about content:

Tweet: Thanks to @FortHillCompany for great ideas & real life #informal #learning — love the ‘pull’ mindset! #7020learningatd #ATD2016

Tweet: #7020LearningATD 70% learning on the job; 20%social; 10%formal. Will take pictures through #ATD2016

Tweet: #ATD2016 Learning Speed is the ultimate competitive advantage love your work @FortHillCompany #7020learningatd

2. During the 2016 ATD ICE in Denver
Some recognized their personal informal and social learning in action:

Both 70 and 20 learning is taking place here as Emma Weber and Michelle Ockers, both from Australia, are preparing for their ATD presentation.
#7020learningatd-1Tweet: Practicing for #ATD2016 presentation with Emma Weber – feedback & improvement #7020learningatd

Tweet: Had a gr8 occasion of Informal learning yest’day w/ @Mijjacko who shared ideas abt multithreading twitter.com/brunowinck/sta… #7020Learningatd

Following are 6 great examples of Impromptu informal learning in action:

#7020learningatd-2Tweet: Paula from Canada attended our session. Conversation led to informal learning application at her company. #7020learningatd

Tweet: Waiting for a session to begin with two Internet feeds working. #7020learningatd

#7020learningatd-4Tweet: Gathering at Global Village #7020learningatd

#7020learningatd-5Tweet: Bridget Dunn head of conference education seeing ATD TV 70-20 session #7020learningatd #atd2016

#7020learningatd-6Tweet: Learning over dinner.  Colombia, US and UK represented. #7020learningatd (L – R, Debra McKinney, Director, Ecopetrol University; Kathy Granger, President, Fort Hill Company; Charles Jennings, Founder, 70:20:10 Institute)

#7020learningatd-7Tweet: Learning about samurai culture from guide at Denver Art Museum #7020learningatd

3. After leaving the 2016 ATD ICE

#7020learningatd-8Tweet: Learn how long TSA line Lv DEN? 7 minutes in PreCheck #7020learningatd #ATD2016

#7020learningatd-9Tweet: Standing in security queue at Denver airport DM exchange on growth mindset with @srjf Simon in UK #7020Learningatd

#7020learningatd-10Tweet: #7020learningatd lots this evening – final conference debrief with @MichelleOckers and new twitter learning

#7020learningatd-11Tweet: Listened to Dan Pink How to Sell audiobook on inflight system. Took notes on Evernote on iPad #7020Learningatd

Tweet: Join short campaign to gather examples of informal learning via – post a photo, write what’s happening Use #7020Learningatd

Tweet: Sitting in LAX 5 hr stopover – consolidating, synthesizing notes, identifying actions from #ATD2016 #7020Learningatd

Important Implications

1. The ability of participants to recognize informal and social learning in action has a significant implication. It means that L&D can point individuals to discover particular 70-20 learning opportunities in their work. When such learning is activated, work can become the new classroom.

2. In our formal “10” session at ATD 2016, we taught participants how to look for informal and social learning and challenged them to take 70-20 learning actions after our session was over. Their Twitter posts show they were able to recognize, capture, and share the informal and social learning they saw. This means that formal “10” learning can be used to activate 70-20 learning that happens every day. It also means that L&D can extend its reach beyond just what can be delivered in classrooms and eLearning modules.

3. We found several participants in this study used informal and social learning to improve their capabilities. This was actually beyond the scope of what we expected as we thought they would focus primarily on recognition of 70-20 learning around them.

In closing, we’d like to thank all of those who participated in this exciting Challenge!

A PDF version of this report is available to download here.

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Written by:
Cal Wick Founder, Fort Hill Company

Cal is the Founder of Fort Hill, the industry leader in web-based learning activation solutions. Cal is a nationally-recognized researcher named “Thought Leader of the Year” by his peer group at ISA and an author of three highly-acclaimed books. He continues to direct his creative energies into 70-20, the latest innovation from Fort Hill.

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