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Informal Learning at Work
U.K. Skills Minister Asks Employers to Increase Education

By Bob Little / September 2010

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Informal Learning at Work

U.K. Skills Minister Asks Employers to Increase Education

September 16, 2010

The U.K. Skills Minister John Hayes has called on all U.K. businesses to promote informal learning at work, following pledges from 64 companies to increase informal workplace training for their staff.

These companies, including 11 from the FTSE 350, represent nearly 2 million employees. They formed part of a recent "Café' Culture" campaign run by Business in the Community on behalf of the U.K.'s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to improve workers' skills, and they include Barclays Bank, BT, Channel 4, FirstGroup, Ginsters, Google, McDonald's Restaurants, and Microsoft.

The central aim of Café Culture is to promote good practice among employers. As a result, BIS and Business in the Community have now published a document called, "Learning to Connect: Building the Cafe Culture Movement" to help other organizations see the benefits of informal adult learning at work.

"Businesses have a pivotal role in promoting adult learning, and so have a unique opportunity to change and, indeed improve, people's lives," Hayes said. "In turn, they can reap the harvest of a productive and engaged workforce."

The Café' Culture campaign, which has been running since 2009, has involved a wide range of sectors, including manufacturing, finance, construction, utilities, and food and drink companies. It took its inspiration from the idea of a wider cafe culture, where people meet informally to share ideas in a fun and relaxed environment. By translating this to an office environment, the intention has been to encourage people to work together as teams to support creativity and improve skills.

This all sounds a bit too good to be true and, when you think about it, it is. Someone has (rightly) identified that some 80 percent of learning at work is informal, with the rest being delivered formally, via classrooms or e-learning programs.

Formal learning can be seen and measured, at least in terms of input (e.g., "X number of people spent Y days on this particular course and achieved a passing grade in the post-course test"). By definition, informal learning isn't always visible and can't be measured.

So BIS and the Skills Minister are asking firms to agree to do something which we all think is a good idea but there is no way of assessing whether they've done it or how effective it is. That sounds like a win-win situation to me! Every firm in the country could sign up for this initiative with complete confidence, do nothing and then sit back and accept the praise. Where do I sign?

About the Author
For more than 20 years, Bob Little has specialized in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning—especially e-learning—and technology-related subjects. His work has been published in the U.K., Europe, the U.S., and Australia. Contact Bob at [email protected].


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