Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are You an Informal Learner?

(Excerpted from my book, Informal Learning Basics (ASTD Press, 2012.)

Before Training and Development professionals can effectively provide and promote informal learning for others in their workplaces, they need an awareness of their own interests in, and preferences for, informal learning.

This activity, which is excerpted from the new ASTD Press book, Informal Learning Basics, is intended to help sensitize you to your informal learning preferences.

Instructions:  Answer these questions.  For responses, see the answer key below.

1.   One morning when you start your e-mail program, everything looks unfamiliar.  You quickly notice a special notice at the top of the screen, “We’ve unveiled a new look. Click here to learn more.”  What do you do first?
a.     Click where indicated to learn more about the changes to the program.
b.    Ask the person in the office next to yours to explain what’s going on. 
c.     Ignore the invitation to click here and fumble your way through the interface. 
d.    Sign up for a class to learn about the new e-mail interface.

2.   You’re the new coordinator of vendors for your department, which has never used vendors before but plans to start using them in the future.  To prepare for this new role, what do you do first?
  1. Ask your friend in the Purchasing Department what to do.
  2. Find the company policies and procedures on managing vendor relationships on the Intranet.
  3. Sign up for a class on managing vendor relationships.
  4. Start the job and figure things out as you experience them.
3.   Your partner was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes and the doctor has urged your partner to start eating a healthy diet.  Although you thought you knew what healthy eating was, apparently your daily diet of bran muffin breakfasts and meat-potato-and-salad dinners isn’t producing healthy results.  To learn about healthy diets, what do you do first?
  1. Continue cooking but remove fat and sugars from the diet. 
  2. Join a local diabetes support group and ask for help with questions related to diet.
  3. Register for the “Diabetes Diet” class offered at the hospital. 
  4. Visit a website or buy a book with dietary recommendations for pre-diabetes patients.

4.   In a meeting this morning, the executive makes several comments related to the company’s most recent annual financial report.  You’re embarrassed to admit this: you don’t know how to read a financial report.  To correct this problem, what do you do first?
  1. Ask your friend in the Finance Department to give you a crash course in reading financial reports.
  2. Buy Financial Reports for Dummies at your nearest bookstore—and read it cover to cover.
  3. Read the report line-for-line and try to figure out what it’s saying.
  4. Take the e-learning course, How to Read a Financial Report, available through the library of e-learning courses in your company.

5.   You have accepted the invitation to serve as webmaster for your neighborhood association for the next year.  OK, so you have no experience with webmastering.  To prepare for this new role, what do you do first?
  1. Ask the outgoing webmaster to provide step-by-step instructions.
  2. Start your job and figure things out as they arise.
  3. Take an introductory course for webmasters through your local continuing education department.
  4. Watch a series of videos on YouTube about how to be a webmaster.

Compute your score using Table 1-B.
Table 1-B: Scoring the Exercise

Determine what your score by checking Table 1-C. 

Table 1-C: Interpreting Your Score
5 or below
A formal learner
You generally prefer formal situations for your learning. 
6 to 9
A social learner
Although you're able to learn on your own, you often prefer to learn in groups or from other people
11 to 14
A go-with-the-flow learner
You use a variety of means to learn new skills, sometimes just trying things out to see how well you can perform.
A self-directed informal learner
You develop new skills on your own, but to make sure that you correctly understand them, you frequently refer to outside sources to do so.
With this awareness of your own preferences, you can begin to appreciate the different preferences of other informal learners.  You can use that awareness to better identify which activities might work with which learners—and which ones won’t—so you can use informal learning to achieve given goals.

To more about informal learning, check out the book Informal Learning Basics. For ordering information, visit

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