The goal of this book is to generate scholarship around the phenomenon of autonomous learning. Autonomous learning refers to activities that employees engage in to teach themselves in a way that is not structured by professional or corporate trainers.
One thing that is becoming clear when you look at the training space within corporate America is that people are learning informally in many ways, and they are looking for opportunities to broaden their abilities outside of a traditional training experience. We want researchers and scholars to start thinking about ways to capture that. We want to trigger research that can help us understand that phenomenon. What does it represent? How do people engage in autonomous learning and how can companies reinforce that kind of behavior? What factors inhibit or challenge employees who are trying to teach themselves knowledge? And, what are the effects of that on the organization? Do employees develop effectively? Is productivity enhanced in a positive way?
We hope to benefit two audiences specifically. The primary audience is a scholarship audience – individuals who are interested in these themes for their work and their research. In this area, practice is outpacing research. Organizations are doing innovative things to support autonomous learning. Organizations recognize its potential; but there is much more that we can and need to learn about how autonomous learning happens and why.
We also hope the book connects with training practitioners — those folks who do this as part of their job and are tasked with identifying innovative ways to support human capital development in their company. Organizations face the reality that the cost of training is ever increasing, and it’s becoming more and more challenging to establish a return on investment. In that light, are there more creative ways of building skills that ultimately are less costly for the firm in the long term? HR professionals are asking those kinds of questions. Maybe autonomous learning can help facilitate skill growth in a way that makes a better investment, both for employees and for organizations? The ideas discussed in the book will hopefully get them thinking about creative ways for doing that.
The climate for learning is likely to be a critical factor that either helps or hinders autonomous learning. One common way that people learn on their own is to ask another person for knowledge or clarification. You learn from others around you, but that action on their part must be positively reinforced. They must be willing to share their knowledge, willing to help you understand, willing to give you the guidance that you seek, but that means they must feel positively disposed to that kind of an exchange. The climate for learning will help ensure that people value learning and supporting others in that goal.
Autonomous learning may result in better performance and enhanced skill sets. But, autonomous learning also has the potential to result in poor quality learning if the information accessed is out-of-date, prone to misinterpretation by a novice, or ill-structured. Understanding this phenomenon requires recognizing the conditions under which it works well and the conditions under which it can fail, before we hold this type of learning up as a positive force for skill development and growth.
We have conducted a series of interviews with medical doctors working in hospitals to understand the actions they use to engage in autonomous learning and to identify the personal and organizational factors that assist them in these actions. We’re hoping to uncover more details about when, why and how autonomous learning occurs. We’ve also begun a project that looks at the connection between autonomous learning and human capital theory. Stay tuned for our results!
Jill Ellingson is a professor of human resource management and Dana Anderson Faculty Fellow at the University of Kansas School of Business. She received her doctorate in human resources and industrial relations from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Prior to joining KU’s faculty, she served as an associate professor at Ohio State University. Ellingson is a leading researcher in human resource management topics such as hiring, retention, training, individual differences and assessment. Her interest in studying human resources grew out of a desire to help individuals and organizations reach their goals within an employment relationship by recognizing the many ways that workers differ and how those differences can be leveraged for professional and organization success. Recognizing that people spend countless hours at work, she is dedicated to learning how work can be positively experienced and mutually beneficial.
Ellingson’s research has been honored with the SIOP Foundation Jeanneret Award for Excellence in the Study of Individual or Group Assessment and published in leading journals including the Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the American Psychologist. She is an associate editor for the Journal of Applied Psychology, a member of the SIOP Frontiers Series editorial board, and has served on the editorial boards of Personnel Psychology and the Journal of Business and Psychology. Ellingson is a former member of the Executive Committee for the Human Resources Division of the Academy of Management and a former Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO) Fellow (1998). She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in human resource management, training and development, and individual differences.
Ellingson lives in Kansas City with her husband and two kids, ages 9 and 14. In her spare time, she enjoys recreational boating and watching her son play baseball and her daughter compete in gymnastics.