Workforce.com

What Employees Learn Informally

Trainers can specify the learning process of employees through a concept called taxonomies. It is a matrix that represents how employees learn.

June 1, 1998
According to a study by Newton, Massachusetts-based Education Development Center, trainers can specify the learning process of employees through a concept called taxonomies. It is a matrix (condensed below) that represents how employees learn (through activities on the job, whether alone, such as report-writing, or with others); what they learn (pragmatic, intrapersonal, interpersonal and cultural), and what contextual and direct factors effect informal learning.

EDC cautions that the taxonomies "while useful tools, should not be used without a comprehensive cultural analysis."

This chart condenses the four taxonomies of informal learning by content:

Practical Skills:
Content of learning: Job-specific skills/knowledge, technical competence/skills, safety issues.

Types of Activities: on-the-job training, cross-training, supervision, mentoring, shift change.

Occasions for learning: Observing superiors, mentors and peers; asking questions; socializing; job rotation; personal reflection; networking.

Intrapersonal Skills:
Content of learning: Problem-solving, critical-thinking, learning about alternative work processes, boundaries for risk-taking, self-esteem/pride, stress management, prioritizing.

Types of activities: Teaming, supervision, meetings, customer interaction, mentoring, execution of one’s job.

Occasions for learning: interaction with peers, subordinates and superiors; expanding the scope of the job/assign new responsibilities; internalization of organizational policies; answering unanticipated questions; reflective observation.

Interpersonal Skills:
Content of learning: Interactive skills, such as peer-to-peer or subordinate-to-superior communications; formal presentation skills; teamwork dynamics; conflict resolution.

Types of activities: On-the-job training, customer interaction, meetings, teaming, mentoring.

Occasions for learning: collective work on production goals, instructing others, receiving/giving feedback and advice.

Cultural Awareness:
Content of learning: Teamwork dynamics, professional advancement, social norms, bigger picture, understanding company goals, business operations, production metrics, quality standards, company expectations and priorities.

Types of activities: Mentoring, teaming, goal-directed peer-to-peer communication, internal customer interaction.

Occasions for learning: Observing peers and supervisors, socializing, shift change, exploration.

SOURCE: Center for Workforce Development, Newton, Massachusetts.

Workforce, June 1998, Vol. 77, No. 6, p. 34.