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