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Authors: Victoria J. Marsick, Karen E. Watkins, Ellen Scully-Russ and Aliki Nicolaides

Background and aims

Informal workplace learning research suggests that it is highly contextual and social. Early models of such learning emphasized individual agency and control, but subsequent theorizing based on sociocultural and complexity theory unveils different interpretations of the dynamics of informal and incidental learning. The aim of this article is to critique and revisit conceptualizations of informal and incidental learning in light of recent research and theorizing that account for the dynamic complexity of learning that occurs on multiple planes or domains in the workplace.

Methods

In this conceptual article, drawing on the literature, the authors trace the development of informal and incidental learning theory from early conceptualizations of individual learning to today’s perspectives that account for the social and contextual nature of learning in the workplace. To extend current theory, we examine informal and incidental learning from the theoretical perspectives of sociocultural-historic and complexity sciences.

Results and conclusion

The results identify implications for how informal and incidental learning is described and theorized on a number of dimensions. We conclude that these more complex and dynamic theories give rise to an enriched understanding of informal and incidental learning as organic self-organizing systems and explore implications for how adult and workplace learning is conceptualized.

Open access