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Regulatory focus and learning: How the pursuit of promotion and prevention-focus goals influence informal learning in the workplace

Jessica E. Federman (Department of Management and Marketing, College of Business Administration and Public Policy, California State University, Dominguez Hills, California, USA)

European Journal of Training and Development

ISSN: 2046-9012

Article publication date: 7 February 2020

Issue publication date: 17 June 2020

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to understand how regulatory focus influences informal learning behaviors. A growing body of research indicates that regulatory focus has significant consequences for goal pursuit in the workplace, yet it has not been readily studied or applied to the field of human resource management (Johnson et al., 2015). This is one of the few studies to examine the relationship between informal learning and regulatory focus theory that can be applied to the training and development field.

Design/methodology/approach

Using a qualitative research design, a semi-structured interview was used to increase the comparability of participant responses. Questions were asked in an open-ended manner, allowing for a structured approach for collecting information yet providing flexibility for the sake of gaining more in-depth responses. An interview guideline was used to standardize the questions and ensure similar kinds of information were obtained across participants. A typological analytic approach (Lincoln and Guba, 1985) was used to analyze the data.

Findings

In a sample of 16 working adults, (44% female and 56% male), participants who were identified as having either a promotion- or prevention-focus orientation were interviewed about types of informal learning strategies they used. The results revealed that performance success and failure have differential effects on learning behaviors for prevention and promotion-focus systems. Stress and errors motivate informal learning for the prevention-focus system, whereas positive affect motivates informal learning for the promotion-focus system. Prevention-focus participants articulated greater use of vicarious learning, reflective thinking and feedback-seeking as methods of informal learning. Promotion-focus participants articulated greater use of experimentation methods of informal learning.

Originality/value

This study provides an in-depth understanding of how regulatory focus influences informal learning. Few studies have considered how regulatory focus promotes distinct strategies and inclinations toward using informal learning. Performance success and failure have differential effects on informal learning behaviors for regulatory promotion and prevention systems. This has theoretical and practical implications in consideration of why employees engage in informal learning, and the tactics and strategies they use for learning.

Keywords

Citation

Federman, J.E. (2020), "Regulatory focus and learning: How the pursuit of promotion and prevention-focus goals influence informal learning in the workplace", European Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 44 No. 4/5, pp. 425-447. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJTD-09-2019-0164

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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