|Informal Learning And The ‘Social’ Web|
|Written by Neil Ballantyne and Keith Quinn|
|Wednesday, 17 May 2006|
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In the first of two articles, Neil Ballantyne and Keith Quinn (writing in a personal capacity), reflect on the case for informal learning in the workplace; and the role that newly emerging, participatory, web-based services might play in supporting it.
More than ever before, staff in social services are being urged to maintain the currency of their knowledge and skills. Government policy, enquiry reports and the requirements of workforce regulation all emphasise the importance of continuing professional development.
For the first time, via the Scottish Social Services Council’s (SSSC) Post Registration Training & Learning (PRTL) requirements, there are clear, measurable expectations regarding ongoing learning & development for social services staff . In addition to general requirements for all registered staff the PRTL requirements published by the SSSC also set additional expectations for newly qualified social workers. The Code of Practice for Employers of Social Service Workers further emphasises the importance of ongoing learning and development, stating that employers must “Provide training and development opportunities to enable social service workers to strengthen and develop their skills and knowledge”.
Further drivers from government policy support this. The National Strategy for the Development of the Social Services Workforce in Scotland states “It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that employee development happens” and specifies expected action from employers to “…identify and develop … systems and structures … to support employee development for all staff”.
However, alongside these drivers to support ongoing learning and development, we also have pressures inhibiting the process: difficulties associated with recruitment and retention; staff release for training etc. These difficulties are recognised and the National Strategy highlights, as one of its key messages, the need to “…create opportunities for learning and development that allow people to learn in more flexible ways”.
One approach to learning in more flexible ways would be to take the learning to the learner. Addressing what they need to know at the point at which they need to know it. Jay Cross highlights that, of all the learning we acquire as individuals, only 20% is formal learning (i.e. seminars, classes or courses) and the other 80% is informal (e.g. learning through observing, trial-and-error, asking a colleague, reading a magazine/book, conversing with others, taking part in a community, reflecting on the day’s events, raising a child, pursuing a hobby etc.).
If employers wanted to support the informal learning of the workforce it would require a shift from the current emphasis on formal structured, scheduled calendars of courses, to a more personalised, focussed means of addressing specific needs at the time the individual needs it. Rather than attending traditional tutor-lead classroom training, a “just-in-time” approach delivers learning to workers when and where they need it. In part this approach can be encouraged by providing access to well organized, bite sized chunks of information available from the organisation’s intranet. The Learning Exchange service managed by the Scottish Instititute for Excellence in Social Work Education is designed to contribute to this personalised approach to learning. The content of the Learning Exchange (a web based library of learning resources) is – for the most part- offered in small discrete chunks (or learning objects) and Learning Exchange users can use a powerful search engine to locate exactly what they are looking for.