The discussion of formal and informal learning has lead to the question of what type of learning should be prioritised for employees in organisations today. The objective of this study is to examine the different ways and situations in which learning takes place. The focus has been on investigating two specific courses offered in a particular company and how these contribute to learning in the workplace. Interviews conducted on course participants have been used to examine the role of formal versus informal learning in daily work operations in a knowledge intensive organisation.
It is well known that in today’s society, knowledge-based organisations have to be up to date on the newest techniques in learning and competence development. This can create difficulties in some organisations by finding the right way to adjust the learning and competence development. If the organisation is to be able to grow and develop it is important that the employees in the organisation have the possibility to learn. The discussion of formal and informal learning has lead to the question of what type of learning should be prioritised in organisations today. By using Filstad and Senge’s theory on organisational learning, and in addition, previous research on the area combining formal and informal learning in the organisation, the proposed research question is the following: how does the interplay between formal and informal learning take place in the organisation?
To be able to investigate this main question I have used the following subordinate research questions:1. How do people learn in daily work operations?2. How do they learn through courses?3. How do they use learning from courses in the daily work operations?
This thesis has used qualitative methodology in order to collect the data. Within qualitative data, interviews as a method were chosen. The interview guide chosen was semi structural. In addition, I have observed a course in order to get a better understanding of how to make the interview guide, and to see how the employees work at the courses. The survey is a comparative study in which representatives from two different courses have participated. In addition, the results have been compared to results from previous research and theory. The study is conducted from two different courses. The first course that has been used represented a more practical course. The second course that was used was more theoretical. In total there were twelve informants. Eight of the informants represent the practical course, while the remaining four represent the more theoretical course.
The first research question shows that the employees experience learning on an everyday basis in the workplace, it just varies on how much. None of the informants mentioned that they did not experience learning during their daily work situation. However, some differences were experienced in terms of how they gain access to this knowledge. Several informants would like the possibility to attend different courses outside the field of their daily work. They explained that it was not that common to attend such courses outside their direct field of work. This resulted in the employees having to ask others for help and advice regarding projects they are working on. In addition, the employees said they learn more when attending meetings and discussing areas on projects that may be useful for a wider group of employees. It was also said that during meetings, they are encouraged to hold presentations for the group as a useful way of acquiring new knowledge.
The second research question has looked at how the employees learn through courses. All of the employees in this survey have participated in a variety of courses offered by Det Norske Veritas (DNV). On the question regarding why they attended courses, the informants answered that they either had to because it was mandatory, or that they were encouraged to attend. In the section on how they learn at the courses, the employees mentioned that it is easier to learn when they are working on practical workshop material during the course. This gives them the chance to understand how to incorporate what they learned into their daily work tasks. It was also mentioned that it was easier to work in groups and having discussions while attending the courses. The employees also said that when they attend courses, creating networks is important for future use.
The third question addresses how the employees use learning from courses in daily work operations. All of the employees felt that what was learned at the courses could be applied to their daily work operations. The accumulation of knowledge is a vital part of working in a knowledge-based organisation. There was also evidence that employees having a network gained a learning benefit from this in their daily work operations. Such networks can be seen in connection to the first question presented earlier. It was also acknowledged that workplace learning is not a one-way process, they need the formal learning from courses to be able to complete their daily work operations, and furthermore to share the knowledge with colleagues. Although it was found that most of the knowledge developed in the organisation takes place through informal learning, it was found that without formal learning through courses, it is not possible to achieve the full potential of learning in the organisation. For the organisation to be able to grow, the employees have to have a form of formal learning, and it is the combination of formal and informal learning that is important. By using different theories to study and describe organisational learning, the learning organisation and competence development, it’s possible to see that the theories complement each other. Formal learning plays an important part of competence development in a knowledge-based organisation. Formal courses serve as a foundation for knowledge that can be further developed in informal settings. However, it is finding the balance between these formal courses and the informal learning that occurs in the work place that is the main challenge. For the employees to be able to solve problems, they also need to attend courses. Formal courses represent the essential foundation for learning. It is also the combination of formal and various forms of informal learning that is important, and the interplay between these play a significant role. Since new knowledge is being produced at such a rapid rate, informal learning alone does not ensure that new knowledge is acquired and competence is being kept up to date. Moreover, the interplay between formal and informal learning takes several forms and recognising this and allowing the development of different learning places, helps develop a learning organisation. Networking, working in teams and discussions through meetings are three of the main sources for informal learning in the organisation. A learning model was created showing how the interplay between formal and informal learning takes place in the organisation. The model shows that through attending courses (formal learning), and learning from working in teams, attending meetings, and being part of communities of practice (informal learning), the interplay occurs. By combining formal and informal learning and taking into account how the interplay between these takes place, there is a greater possibility to develop and exploit the various learning methods, and through this to create a learning organisation.