I’ve been stressing the importance of informal learning for some years now. It’s not an original thought by any means but as an entrepreneur who does practically zero formal ‘training’ (as most organisations recognise it at least) it holds particular resonance.
I started a ‘serious games company’ before such a term existed (2002) and certainly before 99.99% of people in learning & development had come across the term. My colleagues and I had to invent ourselves. We had to identify that what we needed to know….and work out what we didn’t know we needed to know (Oops…a worryingly ‘Donald Rumsfeldesque statement that one!). There were no courses in ‘selling serious games’, ‘good instructional techniques using gaming’ or ‘creating a serious games design document’…we sought out answers from all manner of sources – both ‘real’ and virtual and assembled the knowledge ourselves in a very self-directed manner.
I guess I work, on average, 65+ hours a week. I’ve taken about 25 days off in three years. Performing as CEO, Chief Learning Architect, project manager, game designer, salesman and many other roles (it is all hands to the deck in a small firm guys!) I don’t have time for training. A somewhat dangerous statement from someone who heads up a learning technologies firm and who passionately believes in the power of gaming and simulation for learning? I don’t believe so.
I attend dozens of conferences and exhibitions. I very often come away with pages of notes. I read a lot of non-fiction books and industry publications. I spend a lot of time on directly and loosely relevant web sites. I network with a lot of people both in the real world and in web 2.0/virtual spaces. I work with/for a lot of very clever and impressive people. When I need information – be that a quick definition or conversely to immerse myself in a new complex concept – Google and Wikipedia are my first port of call and are usually followed by many web sites, forums, email/forum/IM conversations and PDF documents.
My point is this. If one has a certain media savvy – you are ‘webwise’ – and your have a genuine thirst for information and knowledge, then you, as a 21st century denizen, don’t just make use of informal learning…..you live it.
This was brought sharply to my awareness again this weekend. Like many owners of an XBOX 360 (35% of the 28million allegedly!) I suffered the incredibly frustrating ‘Red Ring of Death’. It happened on Boxing Day just as I inserted my fresh copy of Fallout 3. For those of you that are not aware of this issue, the ‘Red Ring of Death’ is the phenomenon that occurs when your shiny white XBOX 360 suffers a terminal fault (related to overheating of the CPU and/or GPU). Microsoft, to their credit, extended the standard one-year warranty to a full three years in recognition of this issue. My XBOX, however, decided to die 2 weeks after the expiry of the three year term.
Not to be thwarted I turned to the Interweb for ideas about what to do – instead of paying several hundred copies of the Queen’s head to some backstreet electronics butcher – and was glad that I did.
There were simply thousands of references to the problem in sources as prominent as major media company web sites down to miniscule forums. That wasn’t what impressed me however. With that many XBOX failures there was bound to be a lot of online activity. What blew me away were the many passionately authored ‘How to’ guides, graphical repair manuals and professionally assembled video tutorials.
Examples are listed at http://www.xbox3redlightservices.com/ a site that reviews some of the most prominent repair guides and rates each on several criteria. I reviewed this and several sites I found independently and then ended up paying £15 or so to subscribe to http://www.xbox360redlightfix.com.
This is a pretty slick site that, once you are signed up, provides you access to a 44-page PDF repair guide (including lots of clear photographs and concise instructions) and, more powerfully, a series of online tutorial videos. These literally walk users through the process of taking the console apart, carrying out the repair and then putting it all back together again.
A sample is viewable at http://www.xbox360redlightfix.com/example.php
Furthermore, the author provides email support (within 48 hours) and provides links for you to buy the odd parts and tools you will need. It is a very blended use of approaches to best help users (learners) master the totally alien skill needed to solve the problem at hand.
There are no centrally-organised, publisher-provided ‘courses’ to help people with this issue. Instead, hundreds of people from all over the globe have taken the initiative to provide learning resources of their own volition. Some are awful it has to be admitted. Some, like xbox360redlightfix.com are superb.
My seeking out a solution will (hopefully) provide my kids and I with many more hours of gaming enjoyment without spending hard-earned cash and I have learned something about the inner works of a current generation computer games console.
My point is this; there are an endless range of things that employees need to know and things that they need to be able to do well that can be satisfied though informal methods. This was probably always true to some extent but Web 2.0 has made this brilliantly accessible to practically anybody. Employers do not, however, have any inclination about how to enable and encourage this activity in the workplace, how to track it and accredit it?
Until they do, then the world of work will remain disconnected from the true way that most of their employees actually choose to learn.
What do you think?