Proponents of formal learning

Anytime I ponder the value of informal learning like I did on Saturday, professional training departments appear to be in big trouble. When I explored the possibility of collaborative training departments last month, I'm under the same impression. As I read Learning in 3D, the authors shared this view of training departments in big trouble. They see training departments excluding themselves from the space of generative learning, teachable moments and self exploration.

I've taught Employee Training & Development many times at the undergraduate level. I noticed the students who enrolled in those classes were unlike those in my classes on leadership, entrepreneurial creativity or managerial effectiveness. I've also consulted the training departments in large organizations that we're plagued with a lack of skill transfer from their "indoctrination programs". The employees of those training departments exhibited similar characteristics to the college students learning to conduct TNA's, work with SME's and design instruction according to the ADDIE protocol.

With these experiences in mind, I've developed a theory about the differences in mindsets, personalities and emotional baggage between those who favor formal vs. informal learning. Both "types" are creating experiences of being right, making the other type wrong, and justifying their experiences in ways that avoid cognitive dissonance. Here's a brief outline of the theory I'm developing:

People with lots of experiences with learning being difficult for themselves inadvertently make learning difficult for others. Formal instruction fits their world view nicely. Those who find learning comes easily to them naturally expect learning to be easy for others also. They favor informal modes of learning.
  • People who lose focus, curiosity and motivation to learn often expect others to suffer the same impairments. They will commiserate with their misfortune by avoiding any depth to exploration, personal reflection or collaborative interpretation. Those who experience themselves being naturally determined, inquisitive and inspired will set up others to delve deeply into alternative theories, viewpoints and models for framing the superficial level of data.
  • People who have trouble shopping for things they need, finding what they want or discovering better ways to search will spoon feed others every morsel of information. Those who succeed at finding what they're looking for set up others to go on adventures to discover for themselves also.
  • People who have written things that got ignored or received bad grades for -- expect information provided in archives, wiki and libraries to get ignored. They favor required reading, handouts and slide presentations to make sure the content does not get ignored. Those who have received lots of attention and recognition for what they have written expect that to continue. They are eager to generate digital archives of searchable tagged content that others may find useful at a later time using their own keyword searches.
All this suggests that we cannot talk others into "informal learning" or expect them to change their approach to learning. They have been convinced that formal learning is necessary by their persuasive prior experiences. They live in worlds which manufacture further evidence of their being unquestionably right. When they get assaulted by advice to switch to informal learning, they simply experience more difficulty learning that, a recurring loss of motivation, a repeated failure to find what they're looking for and further evidence of their viewpoint getting ignored. In others, they are seeing "all the more reason" to stick with formal learning.

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