Your powerful informal learning engine: Part 2

Share this page

Written by Paul Matthews on 25 March 2015

In part one I talked about the huge and powerful informal learning engine that is running largely unnoticed in the background. The success of every organisation is dependent on this engine, indeed, without informal learning, any organisation would very quickly fail.

The 70:20:10 model is a simple way to help us focus our attention on the engine, to see it for what it is, and to help us realise that it is responsible for around 90 per cent of the learning that takes place in an organisation. Given this massive contribution to organisational effectiveness, it is obvious we should be paying far more attention to our informal learning engine than we currently do.

Think about the informal learning engine running in your organisation. Is it running smoothly, or does it stutter and misfire? Is it running at full power, or is it idling along lazily?

In order to answer those questions you need to start investigating how people are actually learning in the workplace. Here are some questions to ask...

  • What resources do they turn to when they need to find out something?
  • How easy are those resources to access?
  • Who do they ask when they are stuck?
  • What is the default pattern for dealing with a lack of knowledge or skill?
  • What types of information do people seek?
  • What role models do they have?
  • Do people have someone they would consider a mentor?
  • What opportunities do they have to discuss their activities and challenges?
  • What access do they have to a wider community to pose questions?
  • What opportunities do they have for testing and practice?
  • What safeguards are in place to correct inappropriate learning?
  • What are the cultural drivers around learning?
  • How does learning figure in people’s psychological contracts?
  • What is the prevailing management attitude towards learning?
  • What is the culture around errors and mistakes?
  • Is there a lessons learned process or do people rush on to the next task?
  • Do people have opportunities to shadow and observe?
  • Do people share their successes and failures?
  • Are people aware of the fact they are continuously learning informally?
  • What performance support tools are available?
  • Are people well-informed about the support available?
  • Have people created their own ad hoc performance support tools?
  • How do people respond when they can’t find what they need to do the job?
  • How does the induction process set people up for learning?
  • Do the answers to these questions vary across departments?

As you delve into the informal learning that is going on in your organisation, more questions than these will occur to you. It will also become apparent where the engine is running smoothly, and where it is not. It will become apparent where the engine is lined up and pulling in the direction of the organisational vision, and where it is not.

Just being aware of the fact that this informal learning engine exists, and thinking through the above questions will trigger ideas on what you can do to get the engine running better. To continue the metaphor, what sort of fuel and other inputs does the engine need? What about the engine mountings? In other words, what holds the engine in place and pointing in the right direction?

Then you might get adventurous and consider how you can pimp your informal learning engine. Can you add a turbocharger? Can you start using race grade fuel? But here is a word of caution. Adding chrome plated or fancy carbon fibre bits to your engine won’t make it run any better, even though it might look better in the short term.

Getting your informal learning engine running powerfully and smoothly, and pulling in the right direction is certainly critical to the success of your organisation. And there is even more that you can do.

In part 3 of this blog, I will talk about a way that you can directly harness the power of your informal learning engine for specific learning outcomes.


About the author
Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy. He can be contacted via

Related Articles

19 May 2022

Ana Casic explores the latest research on Generation Z and how organisations can cultivate their young talent

17 May 2022

Gigification is changing training needs says Nicole Alvino and it’s all about digital employee experience


11 May 2022

Jo Cook talks to L&D innovator Jeff Kortenbosch about his work on skills at Dutch bank de Volksbank