#12 Informal & Social Learning

Take a moment and gather your thoughts about informal and social learning. Do you think they have a place in the L&D department or should they be left up to each individual?  Now, think about the changes that virtually everyone in L&D are seeing these days. With less time, fewer resources, staff reductions and a whole host of other factors the outlook for the same old approach doesn’t look very well.

Shifting our perspective from training to performance leads us to a more holistic approach. By taking a systemic view of all factors that impact performance (and by recognizing the benefits and limitations of training), we can become more efficient and more effective.

There are an endless number of factors that should make workplace learning and development professionals sit up and re-examine how our training programs function. Perhaps the biggest issue is our need to do more with less—while also doing everything faster. This means that to stay relevant, we must always seek out the most efficient ways to achieve improved performance.

Notice that I didn’t say we should be looking for more efficient ways to “do training.” Although training is an important piece of the puzzle, by itself, it is insufficient to improve every performance issue in our organizations. In fact, training may be one of the least efficient and least effective options for improving performance.

Bottom line: Training is a means to an end. We must fully consider the system or function within which training may be applied. More important, we must also consider other means of addressing performance issues—beyond the traditional packaging and delivery of content.

Fortunately, there is a way we can become both more efficient and more effective. Shifting our perspective from training to performance leads us to a more holistic approach. By taking a systemic view of all factors that impact performance (and by recognizing the benefits and limitations of training), we can become more efficient and more effective.

Focusing on performance, instead of training, leads us to look at all the variables we can use to affect performance. A good place to start is Thomas Gilbert’s book Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. In it, Gilbert describes his Behavior Engineering Model (BEM) for performance analysis, which illustrates the six essential components of behavior that can be manipulated to effect performance:

  • data
  • resources
  • incentives
  • knowledge
  • capacity
  • motives.

All six components of behavior are equally important and must be present for optimal performance to occur. (For an in-depth look at the six boxes in the BEM, go tohttp://performancexpress.org/0704/images/BEM.pdf.)

However, after diagnosing performance problems, we should look at the condition(s) that have the greatest leverage for improving performance. And efficiency comes from determining the strategies that will provide the greatest improvement with the least cost.

Doesn’t that sound like a better approach for you and your organization? If you think questioning a request for training is taboo, what do you think of implementing futile training programs? More importantly, what do you think your stakeholder will think when training doesn’t work?

We owe it to ourselves and our organizations to confirm whether or not training is the best solution for the problem. Asking a few good questions that get to the root of the problem gives you a much better chance of finding the best solution. Sometime that will be training. Sometimes it won’t.

To be sure, this approach is much more challenging than dutifully building courses as the requests roll in. But in the long run, if those training programs aren’t effective (and if we don’t start evolving), those requests will slow—if not stop altogether.

The role of the L&D function is changing.

“The L&D footprint continues to shrink. Although many training teams added staff during the year, these additions were outpaced by faster growth in learning populations. As a result, the overall “footprint,” or ratio of training staff relative to the learner population continued to decline in many companies. This trend is one sign of the changing role of the L&D function, which no longer is “the place” for learning. Instead, the role of the L&D team is to facilitate and enable learning. L&D teams should build skills in performance consulting, gain expertise in new technologies including social and mobile, and work to cultivate strong learning cultures within their organizations.”  Bersin by Deloitte Study

Jane Hart has summarized this very well in her post “Emerging new roles for learning and performance professionals”  Be sure to check out this diagram, and note how it includes elements of Performance Consulting, Performance Support,  Social Learning

 70:20:10 Model

70% of what people know about their jobs, they learn informally from the people they work with

The numbers and ratios are simply a short-hand to help explain that formal training and development plays only a part in the overall ecology of organisational learning and that experiential and social learning in the workplace provide the majority of learning opportunities and experiences.

a holistic solution to these challenges.



  • Are you already familiar with the 70:20:10 concept?
  • Do you agree with the 70:20:10 view of learning? Why or why not?
  • How have you changed your approach to account for the need to “do more with less”?
  • How can new informal and social tools such as ESNs contribute to this approach?

10 thoughts on “#12 Informal & Social Learning

  1. My twitter handle is @crosbti. I currently follow 143 people or companies. I just started to pare this number down as I’ve begun to unfollow people or companies that I haven’t found useful or that I’ve found obnoxious in the frequency of their posting. I think there is a balance with twitter. More is not better and filling up my page with all your tweets is not going to make me pay more attention to them. All that does is annoy me especially if they are primarily self-serving, manipulative sales-pitches. Give me useful information. Highlight things that I may not have been aware of or that are interesting. Ask questions of me that I’m not already asking. Get me to thinking. You do that and I’ll retweet your posts.


  2. Thanks for sharing! You raise a good point about periodically weeding out the things that aren’t providing value. I think that really helps. Especially the more things you are following. The other thing that I find helpful is to use the lists feature to separate who you follow by topic.


  3. Thank you for the resources. Similar to blogging, Twitter is another new world for me. It is overwhelming at first glance, but I see a great potential by following others who are focused on the creative process and learning. Now my brand spankin’ new Twitter home page is filled with comments and links to some very helpful ideas. I’m especially interested to discover the ways in which Twitter, and the basic idea behind microblogging can help our company and foster a richer culture of learning. One of my goals is to develop a fresh culture surrounding training. Ethics & Compliance training is not always an easy sell, but since coming on board, I can see the ship turning slowly. I believe social learning/reflection will help propel our learning to the next level. Thank you Tiffany and Mike for your thoughts. Nice to know that there are others who have gone before and are reaping the benefits.


  4. I was somewhat familiar with the 70:20;10 model, However I was never in a position to implement it. I am now the only training and development professional at my company and believe that given a little time I may be able to implement tis model. We (the organization) is experiencing a major push in training and I think that the model would work best in our situation.

    I believe that the model is accurate and when you think about it, so do most people without even realizing it. Think about ads for positions, almost any position, the ads are seeking experienced professionals, workers, etc. If formal education would suffice then the ads wouldn’t read blank years of experience desired.

    Regarding the “do more with less”, I’m doing most of the work myself and looking at hiring or contracting with people to complete the items (such as graphic arts) where I am not skilled, especially animations.I’m trying to stretch my budget out as far as possible and using or buying resources available that have already been developed or are open source.

    I think that having a network to search for resources among the employees and interact with the employees is a way that ESN can be helpful. I would also like to have the employees identify their expertise, no matter what the area their expertise is in, especially if they are willing to act as a resource for other staff members.

    I know I learn from other people all the time and I’m sure the other staff member here also learn the same way.

    Liked by 1 person

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