80% Is Informal Learning – Because the Enterprise Didn’t Fund More!

From Wikipedia – on 4-4-07…because this could change….

At least eighty percent of how people learn their jobs is informal. (The Institute for Research on Learning, 2000, Menlo Park). Workers learn much more from watching others, trial and error, asking colleagues, calling the help desk, and happenstance than from formal training.


This stat is being kicked around quite a bit as the rational for spending more on Informal Learning. But doesn’t it make sense that over 80% had to be learned Informally because the Enterprise simply didn’t make more Instruction available?

And so, necessity being the mother of invention…

…learners/Performers would do whatever is necessary to learn as best they could…as a default. What else could they do? Complain that management hadn’t trained them and so they should be excused for not performing?


Not the smart ones. They figured it out by hook or crook or by the feedback of errors caught soon or later. These are how Master Performers develop themselves “sans” Formal Learning/Training/Etc. I deal with these folks all the time.

They are the members of my Analysis Teams and Design Teams and Implementation Planning Teams in Curriculum Architecture Design efforts that I conduct. I’ve done 74 CAD projects since 1982 and my staff and business partners have conducted many more.


But when management has deemed the Informal Learning approach inappropriate, I am brought in to conduct a performance-based Training Needs Analysis effort (a CAD project) that will rationalize any existing T&D prior to designing the new Curriculum.

It’s in my CAD project Phase 2 – Analysis activities that we uncover any and all T&D/Content/Information sources that meet the needs specified in the Performance Model and K/S Matrices. We do the same thing in Phase 2 of Modular Curriculum Development (my ADDIE-level of ISD in the PACT Processes). Avoid redundancy by design.

So I know the number is well below 80%…in my experience. But I also know that that is because no one paid to have the Instructional Content developed or acquired.

And worse. Much of the existing T&D was inadequate. The Master Performers knew about it first or second hand. And often existing content is tagged as “Use AM” (use after modification). Or- THEY INSIST WE PRETEND THAT IT DOESN’T EXIST AND JUST START CLEAN.

That happens a lot. Which reflects poorly on existing T&D. Which adds to that 80% number despite resources having been invested. For a poor return.

Equating Content, instructional or otherwise, with good content, is too much of an assumption, again, based on my experiences over the years. It’s just not true.

Sadly, in my experience, most Instructional Content produced over the years was poorly done. And many only started “blending” their instruction after the term took on an ISD meaning.

It didn’t teach the learners/Performers how to grow with the job and give them information and contacts. A typical feature of many of MY CAD T&D Paths…one of the key outputs of the Phase 3 – Design of a CAD effort.

And too often wasn’t performance-based…therefore wasn’t seen as relevant because it wasn’t.

Often it was on some deep, deep enabler topic, where the applicability wasn’t easily seen and/or was highly questioned. And the time was spent on explanations rather than drill-and-practice.

But that should not be the cause to abandon Formal Learning. To leave it to the learners to figure it out with the help of collaborators and data sources, over and over again. What if they are not learning Best Practices…just Average Practices?

I think Formal Learning is ideally the rule and Informal Learning the exception. But not always! As always, it depends.
What out for how this 80% statistic is being used…and who is using it. So what if that’s how most people are forced to learn? Perhaps it was a conscious business decision to leave their learning to chance…from a cost and risk/reward perspective.

Risks and Rewards of Performance Competence (or not) are the part of an ROI – Return on Investment calculation for RETURNS. Is there an adequate ROI for addressing Learning more formally than not?

And then, what about the clarity of Process and Practice? If it’s not ever been clear…because performance is made up as they go along…then Formal Learning should follow a process improvement effort, employing Lean and Six Sigma type efforts, prior to, or just-ahead-of-the ISD effort.
For a formal approach to performance-based ISD, addressing both Formal, directed Informal, and Informal Learning, see my book: lean-ISD.

It is available on my web site as a free, 404-page PDF.

Go to: http://www.eppic.biz/

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