Informal Learning in Workplace LO16731

RBischoff (
Mon, 26 Jan 1998 14:34:19 -0500

Informal Learning in the Workplace - Announcement --

The first major study on how informal learning occurs in the workplace
and its impact on productivity and competitiveness has been released
by the Center for Workforce Development at Education Development
Center, in Newton, Massachusetts

Researchers found that informal learning occurs in more than a dozen
ways, including teaming, observation, and meetings, and plays a
significant role in how individuals learn how to do their jobs.

The study has "profound implications on corporate culture, worker
satisfaction, productivity, and improving the rate of innovation,"
according to Monika Aring, co-director of the research project.

The research will provide employers, educators, and trainers with new
tools for integrating high quality learning into the daily work
process, she said.

The implications of the research for industry, especially companies
coping with rapidly changing technology, are significant, because
recognizing the role of informal learning can help them make the best
use of their training dollars.

According to federal estimates, U.S. companies now spend $30 billion
to $50 billion a year on formal training programs. Another $70 billion
is spent on the indirect wage and salary costs of training.

The study was based on in-depth research involving more than 1,000
employees at seven companies in seven states, including Motorola,
Boeing, Ford Electronics, and Siemens.

The two-year study was conducted by the Center for Workforce
Development, a nonprofit research and development organization
affiliated with the Education Development Center in Newton, Mass.

The $1.6 million study was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, The
Pew Charitable Trusts, and state economic or workforce development
agencies from Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina,
Pennsylvania, and Washington.

"At the companies studied," Aring said, " researchers found that
"informal learning was widespread and served to fulfill most learning
needs, perhaps as much as 70 percent.

"In general, we noted that informal learning was highly relevant to
employee needs and involved knowledge and skills that were attainable
and immediately applicable," she said.

Researchers found that informal learning at work is ongoing, although
often unrecognized. But companies can harness it to help themselves
and their employees.

While formal on-the-job training and informal learning augment each
other, they are distinct.

With formal training, the process of learning is determined by the
company. The researchers found that with informal learning, it is not.

They also found that informal learning generally emerges from specific
worker needs, which makes it highly relevant to their jobs. Most
formal training sessions, in order to be financially viable, must
include many employees and cannot be tailored to individual needs.

The researchers identified 13 work-related activities during which
most informal learning occurs. Among them:
7 Teaming, which brings together employees with different skills and
responsibilities within the organization to address problems or goals.
7 Meetings, especially those at which employees at many levels are
encouraged to express opinions.
7 Customer interactions, especially in companies where customer
feedback is encouraged.
7 Mentoring, which was most commonly observed as a voluntary and
loosely structured association between a novice and more experienced
7 Peer-to-peer communication, which is characterized by interactions
among employees at all levels.
Other findings of the research:
7 The primary drive for informal workplace learning is twofold: The
need for employees to meet company goals, such as competence on the
job or increased productivity, and the need to meet individual goals,
including job security and personal growth.
7 The content of informal learning includes information that is both
task-specific and broad.

Most of the broader skills, which include critical thinking and the
abilities to provide constructive feedback, work as a team member and
understand company goals, are, in fact, learned informally. The
pragmatics of the job often come from a combination of formal and
informal training.

"The richest opportunities for employee development are in companies
where formal and informal learning occur," Aring said.

The researchers found at the seven companies studied that workers
"constantly learn and develop while executing their day-to-day job
responsibilities, acquiring a broad range of knowledge and skills,"
she said.

"Through our research, we observed a vast continuum of informal
learning that extended from the most basic mechanical procedures to
more highly developed problem-solving, stress management,
communication and career-development skills.

"From the responses of managers and employees included in the study
and confirmed by research observations and participation, we found the
majority of what individuals learn about their jobs and the
environment and relationships through which they work is learned

The study also found that factors related specifically to the nature
of the industry, the company and the individual play a large role in
the quality of informal workplace learning. As a result, according to
Aring, "organizations seeking to introduce or increase informal
learning need to understand the context that will make their informal
learning activities most productive."

The companies and states participating in the research study:
Motorola (Illinois); Boeing Commercial Airplane Group (Washington);
Siemens Power Transmission and Distribution LLC (North Carolina); Ford
Electronics (Pennsylvania); Merry Mechanization Inc. (Florida);
Reflexite North America (Connecticut); and Data Instruments

All are manufacturers except Merry Mechanization Inc., which produces
software for manufacturers.

For further information, please e-mail Rebecca Bischoff at
-- (RBischoff)

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