Do You Have Time to Care About Learning?

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) published an article in their magazine recently by Tony Bingham about informal learning. These are training and development folks, so obviously their career focus has been on delivering training events–formal learning. But social media has been putting the spotlight on informal learning. As I mentioned not too long ago, part of my own passion for Twitter has been the learning I have gleaned quite unexpectedly from the people that I now follow. 

The article states that between 70% and 90% of all learning in organizations is informal, yet about 80% of the organizations they surveyed devoted less than 10% of their training budget to informal learning.


Budgets aside, how much do you in your organization support informal learning? Think about it. You may have an organizational budget to send people to conferences where they will hear speakers and learn things. You may even organize some brown bag seminars in the office or pay for a few webinars that people can watch in the conference room (if they have time). But what about the rest of the year? When you and your staff are actually getting the work done in your organization, ARE YOU LEARNING?

I feel like we make a rigid distinction between getting things done and learning. When we are in the office, our priority is to get things done. We are rewarded for getting things done. We get mad when others don't get done what we need in order to get our things done. We have team meetings and talk about what was done and what still needs to get done. But do we think about what we learned? Better yet, do we talk about what we are learning? Do we care?

I know if I asked everyone, they'd say they care. Who would say they don't care about learning? But our actions don't match our words, particularly in organizations. 

If you want to change this, you'll likely be venturing into the realm of culture change. But don't let that scare you. In fact, don't look at it or talk about it as a culture change project. Just keep your focus on learning. Start gathering important people in your system together and give them (and yourself) time to talk about learning, how it happens in your organization, and how you can support it. This will challenge you to look fairly deeply at what you do in your organization and why you do it. Of course you will still be able to maintain your commitment to getting things done, but hopefully in doing this you will also gain some insight about what to do differently that will support learning. As you start doing those things (and talking about them), you will be on the road to culture change.

But this will take courage, honesty, and time.


  1. 07.08.2009 at 9:20 am

    Jamie, this is another great post and highlights a number of important paradigm shifts, not least of which is what learning really is. I love the focus on informal learning and think that it is the most powerful and until recently, the least talked about, tools in a professional development toolbox. I think we need to really consider what learning really is and I have always defined it as any activity that contributes to a cognitive or affective behavioral change. To that end, every day is a learning opportunity and the how – as you pointed out (Twitter, discussion and chat groups, blog comments, etc.) – is really immaterial. It’s the what that that really matters. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts – it was another opportunity for me to learn informally and strengthen my own thoughts and ideas on the topic.