Capitalizing the strength of informal learning


Maike Gerken, Simon Beausaert and Mien Segers

Further information

Introduction and position in the current literature
Organizations increasingly pay attention to how they keep their employees employable (Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market, 2009). Many researchers argue that supporting and facilitating learning is the key to employability (Nauta, Vianen, Heijden, Dam, & Willemsen, 2009; Van der Heijden, Boon, Van der Klink, & Meijs, 2009). Previous research focused mainly on the effects of formal training programs such as workshops and courses (e.g. Brown, 2003). In contrast, informal learning has received much less attention in practice and research. Moreover, research shows that the extent to which employees undertake informal learning activities are an important predictor for the enhancement of employability (Eraut, 2004; Van der Heijden et al., 2009). Informal learning is defined as seeking feedback and information as well as seeking help (Ashford, 1986; Eraut, 2004; Karabenick, 2004; Kyndt, Dochy, & Nijs, 2009). It takes place every day in practice, in the communication between professionals through the exchange and development of knowledge (Van der Heijden et al., 2009). Still, for many organizations, it is not clear how they can facilitate, support and encourage informal learning among employees. The goal of this project is to provide organizations a basis for structurally supporting the exchange of knowledge and feedback in the workplace (two powerful components  of informal learning) thereby increasing employability.

Research questions & hypothesis
How do employees’ informal learning relate to their employability?

Research methods
During the past months, researchers from ERD have been cross-validating a questionnaire that measures informal learning in the workplace in different sectors (medical, IT, metalektro, academic). The questionnaire was used to better understand which informal learning activities (feedback exchange, information exchange, help giving and seeking) are powerful predictors of employees’ employability.

Results & follow-ups
The results are the input for the development of the app that measures informal learning, but also provides suggestions on how to optimize employees’ informal learning in the workplace and/or measures effects of interventions meant to support the informal learning of employees. A first version of the app is available under