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Networked individualism and learning in organizations: An ego-network perspective on informal learning ties

Bieke Schreurs (Welten Institute, Open University of the Netherlands, Heerlen, The Netherlands)
Antoine Van den Beemt (Eindhoven School of Education, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, The Netherlands)
Nienke Moolenaar (Dutch Inspectorate of Education, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Maarten De Laat (School of Education, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 25 March 2019

Issue publication date: 8 April 2019

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to investigate the extent professionals from the vocational sector are networked individuals. The authors explore how professionals use their personal networks to engage in a wide variety of learning activities and examine what social mechanisms influence professionals’ agency to form personal informal learning networks.

Design/methodology/approach

This study applied a mixed-method approach to data collection. Social network data were gathered among school professionals working in the vocational sector. Ego-network analysis was performed. A total of 24 in-depth, semi-structured, qualitative interviews were analyzed.

Findings

This study found that networked individualism is not represented to its full potential in the vocational sector. However, it is important to form informal learning ties with different stakeholders because all types of informal learning ties serve different learning purposes. The extent to which social mechanisms (i.e. proximity, trust, level of expertise and homophily) influence professionals’ agency to form informal learning ties differs depending on the stakeholder with whom the informal learning ties are formed.

Research limitations/implications

This study excludes the investigation of social mechanisms that shape learning through more impersonal virtual learning resources, such as social media or expert forums. Moreover, the authors only included individual- and dyadic-level social mechanisms.

Practical implications

By investigating the social mechanisms that shape informal learning ties, this study provides insights how professionals can be stimulated to build rich personal learning networks in the vocational sector.

Originality/value

The authors extend earlier research with in-depth information on the different types of learning activities professionals engage in in their personal learning networks with different stakeholders. The ego-network perspective reveals how different social mechanisms influence professionals’ agency to shape informal learning networks with different stakeholders.

Keywords

Citation

Schreurs, B., Van den Beemt, A., Moolenaar, N. and De Laat, M. (2019), "Networked individualism and learning in organizations: An ego-network perspective on informal learning ties", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 95-115. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWL-05-2018-0070

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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