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Formal learning doesn’t have to be all that formal

There are various models which attempt to describe the various contexts in which learning can take place at work. There’s 70:20:10 of course, which places the greatest emphasis on experiential learning (the 70), then social learning (the 20), then formal learning (the 10). Naturally I prefer my own model, as described in my book The New Learning Architect (and written, before you ask, without any exposure to 70:20:10), which defines four contexts: formal (courses), non-formal (other proactive developmental approaches, including on-job instruction, coaching, communities of practice, webinars, conferences, reading, etc.), on-demand and experiential.

Anyway, the point of this post is not to argue about models and both will do for this purpose. What I’m finding is a great deal of confusion amongst learning professionals about the possibilities for including non-formal, on-demand and experiential elements (or the 70 and the 20) within the scope of a formal course (the 10).

As far as I’m concerned, a well-designed blended programme, although primarily a formal intervention, is very likely to cross boundaries into the other contexts. For example, a blend could easily include the following:

  • Coaching from a manager or specialist coach (non-formal/20)
  • Workshops in a physical or virtual classroom (formal/10)
  • E-learning tutorials / scenarios / simulations / serious games (formal/10)
  • Use of forums, wikis, blogs, etc. for reflection and discussion (non-formal/20)
  • Content contributed by learners (non-formal/20)
  • Work assignments (experiential/70)
  • Performance support materials (on-demand/70)
I’m sure you could think of more examples.
So, yes, I believe it is possible to cross the boundaries within the context of a formal, blended course.
The mistake, though, is to believe that, in doing this, you are satisfying in its entirety the need for non-formal, on-demand and experiential learning (the 70 and the 20). In practice the vast majority of learning will continue to take place, as it always has, outside the context of formal courses. There is much you can do to support and encourage this, but you cannot encompass it within your programme of courses.

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