With the constant changes faced by workers, people are now relying on non-formal learning to keep current with industry trends and the learning they need to complete their work projects. This study investigates how training professionals manage their non-formal learning.

Manning, C.A. (2015) ‘The Construction of Personal Learning Networks to Support Non-Formal Workplace Learning of Training Professionals’, International Journal of Advanced Corporate Learning, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 4-12 [Online]. DOI: 10.3991/ijac.v8i2.4367.


  1. Introduction
  2. Research methods and procedures
  3. Findings
  4. Recommendations
  5. Conclusion


‘[D]ue to the fast pace at which business is conducted, employees often do not have time during their normal business hours for formal programs and seek non-formal learning as a supplement or replacement’ (Manning, 2015, p. 4). The author cites connectivism as a theory important in today’s non-formal learning. The connecting to each other is supported by the individuals’ creations of personal learning networks (PLNs), which he defines as including people, written resources, and organizations and groups of people. Non-formal learning is done by professionals outside work, and should be supported in the workplace as well: ‘Human Resources and Training groups should be moving toward shifting workplace learning away from solely formal training programs to becoming a learning organization where learning is embedded in the work processes’ (Manning, 2015, p. 5). ‘Employees working in organizations that encourage personal learning (non-formal) become better able to adapt to the constant changes and demands made on them in the workplace’ (Manning, 2015, p. 9).


The author solicited people for the study from professional organizations, LinkedIn groups, and professional conferences — so, it should be noted, these are people who are already involved in these aspects of a PLN, not necessarily a cross-section of the profession.

In comparing the study’s participants with demographic information from the US Dept. of Labor, the gender was about the same and the age was difficult to compare, but the difference in education was significant.

 By genderBy ageBy educationBy experience level
Demographics (this study)65% female
31% male
4% other
21-29 years old: 2%
30-39 years old: 23%
40-49 years old: 29%
50-59 years old: 35%
60+: 6%
n/a: 5%
Less than Bachelor's degree: 13%
Bachelor's degree: 32%
Master's degree: 44%
Ph.D.: 6%
Course Developer
Instructional Designer
Demographics (US-wide)Managers: n/a

62.1% female
37.9% male
(Source )
Median age: n/a
35-44 years old: 37%
45-54 years old: 27%
55-64 years old: 19%

Median age: 42
20-24 years old: 8%
25-34 years old: 25%
35-44 years old: 19%
45-54 years old: 25%
55-6 years old: 20%
(Source )
Less than Bachelor's degree: 31.9%
Bachelor's degree: 41.1%
Master's degree: 23.4%
Ph.D.: 3.1%

Less than Bachelor's degree: 46.5%
Bachelor's degree: 33.9%
Master's degree: 16.2%
Ph.D.: 1.8%
(Source )
Training and Development Specialist
Training and Development Manager

Time set aside for non-formal learning

Average response was 3 hours/week.

None of the respondents mentioned non-formal learning initiatives at their work (and they work in training departments, so would likely be aware). ‘There seems to be a lack of connection between the amount of non-formal learning they do on their own and what their learners must be doing to learn for their own jobs’ (Manning, 2015, p. 9).

By gender: ‘[M]en are more willing and able to devote more time to their non-formal learning than women who may have conflicting requirements on their time’ (Manning, 2015, p. 7).

By age:  The 30-39 year old respondents spent more time on non-formal learning than older groups.

Author’s recommendation: Training departments should consider what they are doing and reflect on how to provide something similar to learners.

Method for finding information needed for work projects

Most first conduct an Internet search, and then refer to books and reach out to people in their network.

By gender:

Author’s recommendation: In corporations, an Internet search doesn’t work as well. Companies need to make sure internal content is searchable to support the same mechanisms used by people outside the office. This can be done with wikis and internal social networking sites, for example.

The author also recommends (rather extensively) that training departments implement electronic performance support systems (EPSS) to meet learners’ non-formal learning needs. Wikis are provided as an example of an EPSS, but it also seems to be more than that. The author proposes that the EPSS should have small pieces of learning content, provided for just-in-time needs appropriate for given contexts and job roles, and have a system that automatically emails alerts to learners when the system has been updated with new content. All learners could contribute and remix content, but the training department would serve as curators and owners. The content should be tagged and searchable.

Technology used for non-formal learning

Email was the main starting point, with subscriptions to LinkedIn groups, professional organizations, and magazines. It was preferred because it is already integrated into their daily work life.

Author’s recommendation: Corporate training departments can deliver small learning pieces via email (micro-learning), to keep in line with what learners are already doing. Author also notes that emails can be forwarded as a way to spur conversation, but this type of sharing is woefully lacking (via email, Twitter, etc.). Training departments should help learners find and use social bookmarking tools.

Technology used to build a network of resources

Webinars and blogs were preferred over Twitter and Facebook because webinars and blogs are ‘a means to access information from experts on topics and trends…. [that] provide quick access to information… [moreso than] a means to develop connections to other people’ (Manning, 2015, p. 7)

By age:

Author’s recommendation: When training departments conduct learner analysis before designing training courses, they should keep in mind that older and more experienced people are less likely to participate in sharing knowledge with strangers via Web 2.0 tools. This means that they do not prefer to learn in that way, and also that they do not prefer to share with others in that way. Because webinars and blogs are preferred, be sure to include them instead of just using Web 2.0 tools.

Ways of using technology for people resources

They felt that professional organizations were the most important for non-formal learning (49%), with conferences (36%) and LinkedIn (24%) also mentioned. They felt that these were tools they use to keep current and connected with experts who they may call on in the future.

By experience level:

Ways of evaluating experts for inclusion in a PLN

This is really a question of how do you know the person can provide accurate and current information. From a set of given options, they ranked them in this order:

  1. Educational background
  2. Organizational affiliation
  3. Blog contributions
  4. LinkedIn groups

When interviewed, the attributes most commonly added to this set list were:

By gender:  The only difference between the responses from the men versus women was that men rated blog contributions as more important than women did.

By age:  Younger groups ranked organizational affiliation and formal education as more important than did the older and more experienced groups, who focused more on what the expert could show was learned through experience in the field, and through their publications.

By education:

By experience level:

Author’s recommendation: After name recognition from writing and speaking engagements, people turn to education and online presence (for example, from LinkedIn) to gauge expertise. Training groups should help people find and use tools that allow them to aggregate the multiple feeds and sources of information they may use, such as HootSuite, RSS readers, and Pinterest.

See also

This article is cited in Breunig, K. (2016) ‘Limitless learning: assessing social media use for global workplace learning’.

Panari, C., Guglielmi, D., Simbula, S., and Depolo, M. (2010). Can an opportunity to learn at work reduce stress? A revisitation of the job demand-control model. Journal of Workplace Learning, 22(3), 166-179. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/13665621011028611.

Reardon, R. (2010). The impact of learning culture on worker response to new technology. Journal of Workplace Learning, 22(4), 201-210. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/13665621011040662.

Vaughan, K. (2008). Workplace learning: A literature review. Auckland, NZ: The New Zealand Engineering Food & Manufacturing Industry Training Organisation.

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