Bridging the Knowledge Gap: Using Social Network Methodology for Detecting, Connecting and Facilitating Informal Networked Learning in Organizations

Maarten de Laat
2011 2011 44th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences  
This paper presents a social network analysis (SNA) based methodology for holding up a mirror within organisations to detect and visualise informal networked learning activities spontaneously undertaken by its workers. Practice driven informal workplace learning often goes undetected, but is increasingly seen as a powerful way of optimizing organizational learning and knowledge management practices based on meaningful day-to-day learning interactions. Empirical data from this study shows that
more » ... study shows that using the Network mirror helps to bridge latent and weak ties between workers in organisations who are dealing with similar challenges and questions. The methodology combines SNA with group decision software not only to detect networks but also to make explicit what these networks are working on and what is meaningful to them. Triangulation of these data streams leads to new interventions driven by bottom-up networked activity as opposed to management directives. Practice-based informal social learning Professional development is effectively realized and organized by professionals through their own networks and communities. This is a perspective within organizational learning [1] that is gaining popularity and emphasizes informal learning processes in the workplace rather than planned interventions by management with its focus on explicit knowledge [2] [3]. There is a need not only to look beyond explanations that take knowledge as a well-defined substance, but also to look beyond explanations that take the cultural unity of an organization for granted [4] . Knowledge is developed in practice and shared among the workers involved in the communities they are members of [5], [6] . Learning, working and innovational change is therefore closely linked [7], [8]. Understanding work practices seems critical in understanding how learning takes place and how knowledge is shared and co-created through a web of social relations maintained throughout one's working life. As professionals (i.e knowledge workers) are given more responsibility and space for collaboration and innovation, we must pay more attention to the sets of relationships that people rely on to accomplish their work and how these relationships help to solve problems and create new knowledge [9] . Understanding informal learning in such a social context is therefore becoming an important research agenda. A study by Vaast [10] for example stressed the importance of tacit knowledge for learning and organizational development and explores this further in context of networks of practice and communities [4] . Lewin and Cross [11] studied knowledge creation and sharing activities in social networks. Dixon et al explored network leadership roles and their impact on organization learning. Homan [12] found that successful organizational change and innovation is dependent of the support and actions of what he calls the -informal organization. This refers to the informal powerbases maintained by informal networks within the organization. Their resistance or support for organizational change is proven to be a good predictor for success in change management. Bringing together social networks and how they impact organizational change and learning is the research focus on if this paper. Being able to change and innovate is a product of learning and identity development [5] . Homan [13] has developed a SNA based research methodology to detect informal networks and to mirror to the organization their voices and opinions using a group discussion software. This methodology will be tested in the context of networked learning in organizations to see how this fits with our aim to detect informal learning relationships and study what they are about, what they produce and what support they need to foster collaboration and innovation. The underlying assumption is that if learning and innovation is
doi:10.1109/hicss.2011.88 dblp:conf/hicss/Laat11 fatcat:comlhdjtyjarncaemddq3aqabi