Puppies and practice - the positive impact of informal learning

Two months ago a Golden Retriever puppy called Leto became part of our family life. Using the benefit of hindsight, I've reflected on how, as a family, we've learnt and developed new skills as first-time dog owners. Unsurprisingly, there are interesting parallels with how we build skills effectively in the workplace - but what has surprised me is the importance of aligning on a motivating purpose and the positive impact of "informal" learning.

Starting with a Purpose

So, we'd agreed we were getting a puppy – the easy bit! Next we talked as a family about what we wanted from this new experience. Conversations such as "I don't want a dog that jumps up and chases my football…" from my football mad son and "How can we get our cat and the new dog to co-exist in the same house?" from my cat-loving wife, helped us get to a clear, motivating purpose:

"We want a happy, friendly, well-behaved dog that fits with and enriches our family life."

Looking back, it was important that we agreed this as a family and that it matters to us in an emotionally significant way. This gave us all a personal need - the why – for our learning and development.

Developing a 70/20/10 Plan

Armed with our purpose, we worked out how we would deliver against this and what specifically we needed to do to develop the required skills and experience… given we've never owned a dog, live in a terraced house with 2 children, and have a cat!

The support and learning experiences we put in place fitted 'Lombardo and Eichinger's' 70:20:10 concept. This has proven that skill development and learning happens as follows: 70% 'on the job' through activity and experience, 20% through contact and interaction with others (feedback, coaching, mentors and expert advice) and 10% through formal training. So, for us:

  • 10% formal - Puppy classes, "Perfect Puppy" book, accompanied walk, and internet resources
  • 20% through others - Vet, breeder, internet resources, dog owning friends, pet shop, dog walkers, observing others, and talking about our experience with each other
  • 70% experience - Every day (and night…), putting the theory into practice (or trying to!)

Key learning About How We Learn

This experience has re-enforced the importance of a blended approach for learning; mixing formal and informal learning in a fluid way. There are three things that have surprised me, though:

  1. The importance of the purpose - effective development starts with a clear, motivating purpose. You need to work out why you’re doing this and make it matter.
  2. The impact of informal elements of learning and development – the 90%. Learning through others and the importance of experience is often under estimated; it is incredibly powerful in combination with the formal element.
  3. The sheer range of resources available for the critical "learning through others" element of our development and the positive effect on skill development when applied in response to "a just in time" need.

Finally, what's been enjoyable for me is how this change in our circumstances has opened up a richly rewarding experience of learning and developing as a family in a completely new area for us. It's re-enforced the importance of learning and developing. And it goes without saying that we're thoroughly thrilled to have Leto as a new part of our family life!

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