Salvador Dali, Chess Set, 1971 (Andrew Russeth/

Accidents happen

Reda SadkiLearning strategy

Question: Why were you looking at their data? Answer: Just out of interest to see.

We recognize that some of our most significant learning may occur by accident, as a byproduct of some other activity such as task accomplishment, interpersonal interactions, or trial-and-error experimentation. Where informal learning may be sometimes intentional and more possibly planned, incidental learning is semi-conscious. Call it learning by accident. Call it serendipity.

Surprise comes with a new realization, when we are not looking explicitly for answers: The element of surprise may actually be conducive to making the learning “stick”.

Outside of “aha” moments which remain exceptional, incidental learning grows slowly through a process of accretion. New insights come when you do not expect them, whether in formal or informal spaces.

Incidental learning is embedded into work. Incidental learning depends on context and purpose for its significance. Discovering a new way to do something new has immediate meaning  only if the learner had been personally frustrated with existing practice or had met failure with existing means.

Why does incidental learning matter? Growing evidence has shown that informal and incidental learning drive performance in the workplace. However, we struggle with how to “capture” or strengthen informal learning – by definition fluid, relaxed, friendly or unofficial in style, manner or nature – and even more so with learning by accident.

Recognizing the value of incidental learning does not mean that we discount or diminish the importance and relevance of other forms of learning, including traditional education and training, especially with respect to the acquisition of foundational technical knowledge and skills.

Photo: Salvador Dali, “Chess Set,” 1971 (Andrew Russeth/