Integration of Informal Learning Theory and Practice into the Study of Implementation in Healthcare Contexts

Integration of Informal Learning Theory and Practice into the Study of Implementation in Healthcare Contexts

Patrick R. Walden (St. John's University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8265-8.ch017
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This chapter provides a workplace learning perspective that acknowledges informal learning with which to understand, research, and successfully foster implementation theory and evidence-based practice into the medical workplace. The methodology used includes literature review and use of case examples from this author's previous work in informal learning in healthcare settings. Specifically, a model of informal learning in medical workplaces is reviewed followed by a discussion of the Active Implementation Framework (Fixsen et al., 2005). Last, informal learning's role in implementing evidence-based practices is explored in light of the models presented. Financial implications of the model are briefly explored.
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The workplace is a context rife with learning potential. From unskilled labor to professions requiring advanced degrees, all individuals, at some time or another, will be required to learn at work. How organizations may enhance learning in the workplace has, however, been approached from different theoretical and practical perspectives. Rowden (2007) described three different views on learning in the workplace: Training and Development (T&D), Human Resource Development (HRD) and Workplace Learning perspectives. Training and Development approaches tend to focus on training required for employees to perform specific job duties while Human Resource Development tends to integrate principles of organizational development, Training and Development, as well as career development to allow better employee performance in current as well as future positions. Last, a Workplace Learning approach operates under the assumption that people want to learn and develop to achieve both personal and organizational goals. To this end, a Workplace Learning perspective focuses on social interactions in the workplace as well as personal lives. From an organizational angle, a Workplace Learning approach is “the processes involved in learning from work, at and through work” (Garavan, Morley, Gunnigle and McGuire, 2002, p. 61). These three perspectives of learning in the workplace differ in how informal learning is acknowledged (if at all) as well as how informal learning may (or may not be) used in workplace education.

For the purposes of this chapter, informal learning is the type of learning which is: “(1) based on learning from experience; (2) embedded in the organizational context; (3) oriented to a focus on action; (4) governed by non-routine conditions; (5) concerned with tacit dimensions that must be made explicit; (6) delimited by the nature of the task; and (7) enhanced by proactivity, critical reflectivity and creativity” (Watkins & Marsick, 1992, p. 287). Further, informal learning may take the form of any activity which involves seeking understanding, knowledge or a skill in the absence of an externally-imposed curriculum or teacher (Livingstone, 2001). Any mental process which is undertaken, consciously or unconsciously, to increase knowledge and skills in the workplace without an externally-imposed criterion or curriculum is considered to constitute informal workplace learning.

Within the workplace learning perspective, attention is paid to both formal and informal learning. While training and development as well as human resource development approaches tend to rely on more formal methods of education in the workplace through use of externally-imposed curriculums, a workplace learning perspective acknowledges informal learning (Rowden, 2007) and seeks to make use of this type of learning to meet personal and organizational goals. At the same time, use of the terms “formal” and “informal” to describe the type of learning that happens in the workplace has not reached complete acceptance in the literature. Billett (2002) made the case that use of terms such as “formal” and “informal” may create a hierarchy in which use of an externally-imposed curriculum (formal learning) may be perceived as superior to the type of learning that takes place at work without an educator (informal learning). Billett furthered that the use of the term “informal” may imply that learning in the workplace is situation dependent, effectively removing human agency from the learning context. Yet, research has pointed out that informal learning may become more important as more work experience is gained over time (Cheetham & Chivers, 2001; Marsick & Watkins, 1990). Thus, attention to informal learning in the workplace may be of greater concern for workers/professionals who have achieved at least a moderate mastery of work-based knowledge and skill performance.

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