Top 9 Competencies of an Informal-Social Learning Designer

Summary: Informal/Social learning is one of the major revolutions happening around us that demands a shift in the mere thinking of ‘learning’. It requires us to unlearn and relearn some of the traditional notions related to the learning style/preference, and the dimensions and the elements of learning design. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the top 9 essential competencies that a learning designer is required to possess for designing effective informal/social learning interventions for today’s workplaces.

It is exciting to be part of the learning revolution happening around us, with new learning paradigms and technologies emerging on a daily basis. Thanks to the inherent quality of learning designers, we find it easy to adapt to most of these changes. However, some of the shifts may require us to move beyond the traditional definitions of ‘learning’. A few may also necessitate ‘unlearning’ and ‘relearning’ the conventional beliefs that we have been carrying with us all these years.Informal/Social learning is one such major revolution (other than mobile learning and gamified learning) that demands a shift in the mere thinking of ‘learning’. It requires us to unlearn and relearn the traditional notions of:

  • Learning style (workplace learning - first, peer learning - next, formal learning - last)
  • Course design (formal learning blended with the right mix of informal and social learning)

In this article, we’ll take a quick look at the top 9 essential competencies that a learning designer is required to possess for designing effective informal/social learning solutions for today’s workplaces.

Informal/Social Learning Design Competencies

There is a major disruption in the mere thinking (itself) of organizational learning. Gone are the days of formal learning, and, here is the age of informal/social learning. There is a wider acceptance of the idea of informal/social learning today with an increased adoption at the organizational level. Where do today’s learning designers stand with respect to their skills in designing informal/social learning experiences? What are the new competencies required to help detach from the traditional mindset and relearn new strategies for this informal/social learning age? Though most learning designers possess high levels of skills around the traditional training (formal learning) area, their skill levels fall short around the informal or social learning areas. This is mainly because designing informal and social learning experiences for workplaces demands a diverse and unique set of qualities. So, what are the new competencies required to help detach from the traditional mindset and relearn new strategies for designing informal/social learning?Here are the top 9 competencies that we think are the most significantKnowledge

  1. Knowledge of the instructional approaches, tools, systems, and processes required for designing and developing effective informal/social learning content
  2. Knowledge of the different models that advocate informal and social learning in workplaces (such as the ‘70:20:10 Model’ and the ‘3-33 Pervasive Learning Model’)
  3. Knowledge of the approaches to strategically integrate all forms (formal, informal, and social) of learning in the right way
  4. Knowledge of successful informal/social learning implementations around the world
  5. Knowledge of today’s trends, research initiatives and experiments happening in the field of informal/social learning


  1. Ability to analyze a business situation and the learning context, and recommend appropriate informal/social learning solutions to address them
  2. Skills to design, develop, and deliver effective informal/social learning applications that can meet business objectives


  1. Passion for learning and improvement in the areas of instructional design and informal/social learning, and all related fields
  2. Appreciation of the power and effectiveness of informal/social learning over the traditional mode (formal) of learning

The Top 10 Informal-Social Learning Designer Resources

It is easy to find numerous resources on informal learning for learning practitioners on the web. Here are the links to a few interesting resources that will guide you towards mastering the competencies discussed above:

  1. Meet Charlotte - Acme PharmaceuticalsThis is an interesting presentation (from Scott Gavin) that gives a glimpse of how people actually learn at work in an enlightened organization. You may find the scenario depicted in this presentation familiar due to the commonality of the subject.
  2. Informal Learning – the other 80%This brilliantly articulated post by Jay Cross, CEO of eLearning Forum, and the founder of the Internet Time Group, is one of the most valuable resources for learning designers on the subject of informal learning design. It discusses what informal learning is, and the strategies to leverage it, in great detail. The post includes the seven skills identified by Ted Kahn that knowledge designers must possess in this new world where learners have taken responsibility for their own learning. It concludes with some valuable suggestions for organizations aspiring to embrace informal learning.
  3. 8 Reasons Why You Should Focus on Informal and Social LearningThis is a brilliant presentation from Charles Jennings (Founder of the 70:20:10 Forum) that presents some serious thoughts on the significance of rethinking the present organizational approach to learning. The presentation also includes ideas to keep away from the risk of ‘formalising informal learning’.
  4. Jay Cross: Informal Learning Guru In this blog post, Donard Clark discusses some of the brilliant insights by Jay Cross, who is considered as the ‘Informal Learning Guru’. This article will help rethink our traditional idea of workplace learning.
  5. Pulling Informal LearningThis article from Harold Jarche looks at the differences between Push and Pull learning. It establishes how Pull is aligned to the informal way of learning and the various tools and options available today that let people take control of their learning. The most interesting part would be the one where the author talks about the revised role of an instructional designer in this age of informal learning.
  6. Successful Examples of Informal LearningIn this brilliant interview, Charles Jennings (Founder of the 70:20:10 Forum) talks about some of the interesting examples of informal learning. His insights on the revised role of learning designers for designing learning interventions for today’s workplaces are thought provoking.
  7. Power to the LearnersAn interesting read! The experiences of people who attended EDUC 689 – an informal course on ‘Designing for Informal Learning’ - before, during, and after the class in the form of 140-character tweets that they shared with the readers of eLearn Magazine.
  8. How We Use Social Media for Informal LearningThis blog post, by Steven Boller of Bottom-Line Performance, discusses about #TalkTech - a 30 minute chat they hold once a week on Twitter – an interesting activity that helps his company successfully practice informal learning with the effective use of social media.
  9. The 70:20:10 L&D Model for Developing a High-Performing WorkforceThis is our article on the 70:20:10 model or framework for learning and development in which we present our views on the strategies to prepare your organization for the 70:20:10 L&D Model, with links to some of the most interesting and brilliant resources on the web that we’ve curated for the community on the subject.
  10. Charles Jennings Crystal Balling with LearnnovatorsIn this exclusive interview with Learnnovators, Charles Jennings shares his insights on the significance of the 70:20:10 Model for organizational development in today’s world. He also shares his advice to learning designers on the techniques to scale up to meet the challenges of designing learning interventions for this informal and social learning age.

Bottom LineSo, that’s our take on the top 10 essential competencies that a learning designer is required to possess, in order to be able to design effective informal/social learning solutions. As per many reports (including the Informal Learning: The Social Evolution survey, conducted by ASTD and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), informal learning is playing a role in the learning initiatives within most organizations today. This, undoubtedly, is one of the most exciting and eventful times in the e-learning industry. This also means that it is a highly challenging time for learning designers – to keep up with the trends, constantly upgrade themselves, and develop the ability to design instructions for all forms of new learning styles/preferences – including informal/ social learning. We hope this article helps you along in that journey.Finally, before signing off, we have these questions for you:

  • What are some of the competencies that you would like to add to this list?
  • What are other resources that you would suggest to master these competencies?

Please share your thoughts.