The Business of Informal Learning: A Survey of Instructional Design and Performance Improvement Practitioners
Moore, Alison L. (Alison Lindsey) (author)
Klein, James D. (professor directing dissertation)
McDowell, Stephen D., 1958- (university representative)
Dennen, Vanessa P., 1970- (committee member)
Reiser, Robert A. (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Education (degree granting college)
Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems (degree granting department)
Professionals engaged in work continuously confront situations and tasks that require the acquisition of new knowledge and skills. The workplace has been acknowledged as an environment rife with learning opportunities; employees continually construct and apply knowledge within an authentic context (Billet, 1995). Both formal and informal learning contribute to workplace learning (Brockman & Dirkx, 2006; Choi & Jacobs, 2011; Ellinger, 2005). Frequently required, devised, and implemented by organizations, formal training programs involve structured and intentional learning. Informal learning, however, entails individuals seeking and engaging in unstructured, learner-directed, and sometimes spontaneous activities to gain tacit or explicit knowledge and experience (Dennen & Wang, 2002; Jacobs & Park, 2009; Marsick & Volpe, 1999). Although workplace learning consists of both formal and informal learning, the majority of learning that occurs in the workplace is informal, rather than formal (Ellinger, 2005; Lohman, 2000; Marsick & Watkins, 2001). Informal learning is so prevalent in the workplace that the reported ratio of formal to informal learning highly favors informal, sometimes as steeply at 10 to 90 percent (Cross, 2013; Lohman, 2003; Marsick & Watkins, 1990). Within the workplace, the discipline of instructional design and performance improvement (ID/PI) focuses on supporting professionals’ learning and performance needs. As a result, the majority of organizational resources devoted to learning are allocated to more formal means, such as training and workshops (Ellinger, 2005; Lohman, 2000; Marsick & Watkins, 2001). Given that the majority of learning among employees is more informal than formal in nature, and also that the role of ID/PI practitioners is to ensure support of those employees, an interesting connection between ID/PI and informal workplace learning appears (Klein & Moore, 2016). However, despite the exciting potential of this intersection, the connection between ID/PI practitioners and informal learning has not received much attention from researchers. Only two empirical studies have intersected the fields of ID/PI and informal learning, and both have done so by addressing the informal workplace learning of ID/PI practitioners. Berg and Chyung (2008) focused on the informal workplace learning of performance improvement professionals, but did not explain why they chose this population or how this group of practitioners may utilize informal learning strategies to support their clients. More recently, Yanchar and Hawkley (2014) explored the informal learning that occurred during design work among an ID/PI team, but again did not explore if the team incorporated informal learning into the services provided to clients. The purpose of this study was to investigate the perception of informal learning strategies among ID/PI practitioners on two levels: the practitioner (professionals facilitating informal learning) and the organization (an entity supporting informal learning among employees). Four research questions, aligning with the two levels of inquiry, guided this study: A. The practitioner: Research Question 1: What types of informal learning activities do ID/PI practitioners facilitate in their organization? Research Question 2: How do ID/PI practitioners facilitate informal learning in their organization? B. The organization: Research Question 3: What environmental factors do organizations provide to facilitate informal learning? Research Question 4: How do organizations facilitate informal learning among their employees? The two-part study consisted of an online survey and follow-up interviews with current ID/PI practitioners. Respondents to the survey included 385 practitioners (37% men, n=143; 64% women, n=241), of which 20 volunteers participated in 1-on-1 interviews. The results indicated that ID/PI practitioners predominantly engage in informal learning activities in order to facilitate informal learning among others. More specifically, both survey and interview data revealed that practitioners often share knowledge to do so (e.g., read a useful article online and forward the link via email to others). Results also indicated that organizations facilitate informal learning among employees through the internal culture, physical workspace, and resources and tools. For example, regarding the physical workspace, a workplace with open architectural features that encourage employee interaction (shared desks, low cubicle partitions, or common lounge areas) is conducive to informal learning. As proponents of learning, ID/PI practitioners may leverage organizations’ environmental factors to facilitate informal learning among employees, thus increasing performance.
informal learning, instructional design, performance improvement, workplace learning
September 14, 2016.
A Dissertation submitted to the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
James D. Klein, Professor Directing Dissertation; Stephen D. McDowell, University Representative; Vanessa P. Dennen, Committee Member; Robert A. Reiser, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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