Daniel Wilson and Kyle Hartung’s article about informal learning conversations was published in the Journal of Workplace Learning in October 2015.
Informal learning conversations with colleagues is a powerful yet understudied source of self-directed, professional development. This study investigated the types of learning 79 leaders from 22 organizations reported they learned from 44 peer-led conversations over a two-year period. Survey data suggests empirical evidence of five learning outcomes – informational, conceptual, operational, reflective, and social learning. The study describes these categories, the overall distribution of these types of learning in the community, and how most conversations were “rich” in a particular outcome. It concludes with possible explanations for these patterns as well as potential lines for future research.
In recent years, the value of professionals from different organizational contexts learning with and from one another in informal conversations has gained momentum. Structures such as “knowledge jams” are being used to spark innovation and develop knowledge networks across for-profit and non-profit sectors (Johnson, 2009; Pugh, 2011). Open-ended, emergent conversation formats such as “world cafés” and open space technologies involve participants in large and small group discussions to co-create solutions to entrenched social problems (Brown, 2005; Owen, 2008). Such forms illustrate the power of peer-led informal learning conversations. They convene participants from different organizational contexts –ranging from health care professionals to business managers to policy makers –establish the goals of discussion, engage in lightly-structured and emergent conversational process, and evaluate the outcomes of their experience.
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