JSB on the roots of informal learning

Informal Learning begins with these words:

“THIS IS A BOOK about knowledge workers, twenty-first-century business, and informal learning. I first heard the term informal Learning from the late Peter Henschel, then director of the Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), who told me:

    People are learning all the time, in varied settings and often most effectively in the context of work itself. “Training” ─ formal learning of all kinds ─ channels some important learning but doesn’t carry the heaviest load. The workhorse of the knowledge economy has been, and continues to be, informal learning.

For thirty years, I’d been designing, cost-justifying, and marketing formal training programs. Now this distinguished-sounding fellow was telling me that people learned more by accident. Back in California, Peter and I met at IRL to talk further about informal learning, communities of practice, anthropological research, and learning as engagement. I reflected on how I had acquired my professional skills: watching master performers, trial and error, bull sessions with friends, faking it, reading magazines, and, above all, just talking with others. Conversation was a more effective teacher than school.

Peter was right. Most teaming about how to do a job is informal. If your organization is not addressing informal learning, it’s leaving a tremendous amount of learning to chance. Is that okay? Not any longer. This is a knowledge economy.”


John Seely Brown was present at the beginning. In fact, JSB was the beginning. Last Friday I asked him to fill me in on IRL’s early history.

My own learning used to be incremental. It looked like this:
Learning activity

Nowadays, my learning often arrived in giant “ah-ha” packages:
Learning activity

Friday’s encounter with JSB was one of those peak learning experiences.

Of all people, I’d lost sight of the fact that you can’t teach people abstractions. Give them the specifics; with the help of their friends, they will create memorable abstractions for themselves. And remember them.

Prepping my thoughts on what Ivan Illich’s theories could do for corporate learning, my presentation was turning into a dense maze of abstractions. I was headed toward disaster. So I threw away the presentation and am preparing a new one to present in Sao Paolo.


JSBBefore retiring to JSB’s studio, we consumed a tasty lunch at Calafia Cafe, a five-minute walk from JSB’s home in Palo Alto. “It’s almost like a Berkeley restaurant,” said John. But this is Palo Alto; it’s a Google restaurant. Says the chef:

    Calafia is the manifestation of my long-term vision to ‘go public’ with the concept I created at Google. It will appeal to a wide range of audiences, from students to busy professionals and parents looking for wholesome, affordable fare for their families.

    We look forward to serving you the best food California has to offer.

Related:
Peter Henschel, RIP
Where did the 80% come from?

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