Contectual Factors Informal Learning Workplace

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Contextual Factors Influencing Informal Learning in a Workplace Setting: The Case of “Reinventing Itself Company” Andrea D. Ellinger
Informal learning is one of the most prevalent forms of learning in the workplace. However, little is known about how such learning is best supported, encouraged, and developed within organizational settings. While organizational context is considered to be significant in facilitating or inhibiting informal learning, limited research has been conducted that explores such factors and how they influence informal learning. Therefore, a qualitative case study was conducted to explore the contextual factors that influence informal learning. Findings associated with the organizational contextual factors that positively and negatively influence informal learning are presented along with implications for practice and future research. Interest in workplace learning has intensified in recent years (Billett, 2002; Boud and Garrick, 1999; Collin, 2002; Ellstrom, 2001; Illeris, 2003; Stern and Sommerlad, 1999). Although the workplace has always been considered an Note: Funding for this study was provided by The Kellogg Foundation through the Cyril O. Houle Scholars in Adult and Continuing Education Fellowship Program administered by the University of Georgia Department of Adult Education. The author is grateful to have participated in the Houle Scholars Program and thankful for the expertise and support provided by staff members and other Houle scholars throughout this project. Sincere thanks are also extended to the president of the local chamber of commerce for providing referral to “Reinventing Itself Company”; to the senior executives at the company for approving the research project; to the nominator and participants in the company who shared critical informal learning incidents and supported this project; to the director and staff members of the Center for Business and Economic Research for providing office space and administrative support throughout this fellowship; and to Robert P Bostrom, Bradley C. Courtenay, Alexander . E. Ellinger, Daniele D. Flannery, and Karen E. Watkins for helpful guidance on various aspects of the project. The author also thanks the editors and four anonymous reviewers for their insightful and helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY, vol. 16, no. 3, Fall 2005 Copyright © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.




important setting in which adults learn (Boud and Middleton, 2003; Dirkx, 1999; J. H. Matthews and Candy, 1999), the need to integrate work and learning has become more manifest (Ellstrom, 2001; Torraco, 1999). As Collin (2002) notes, “Learning is seen as a natural aspect of everyday work, and work itself is seen as a rich source of learning” (p. 133). Workplace learning can take many forms, from formal, institutionally sponsored learning including training and human resource development initiatives to informal and incidental learning (P Matthews, 1999; Watkins, 1995). Research, however, has suggested . that informal learning takes precedence over formal learning and comprises the majority of learning that occurs in the workplace (Day, 1998; Enos, Kehrhahn, and Bell, 2003; Leslie, Aring, and Brand, 1998; Lohman, 2000; Marsick and Watkins, 1997; Skule, 2004). Informal learning is often conceived as learning that is “tacit and integrated with work activities” (Marsick, 2003, p. 389). Informal workplace learning has attracted considerable attention in the literature (Skule, 2004). The trend toward employees’ assuming a more significant role in their own learning process, the importance being placed on learning as a core competency and lifelong process, and the recognition of learning as a source of sustainable competitive advantage for individuals and organizations alike have also stimulated tremendous interest in informal learning (London and Smither, 1999; Westbrook and Veale, 2001). The growing focus on...
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