Collaborative, Informal Learning in Distributed Knowledge-Intensive Work: Organizational Contingencies

Päivi Pöyry-Lassila

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The increasing interest in boosting learning and innovation in organizations has created the need for researching the very phenomena of learning and creation of new knowledge at work. There has been a growing interest in this topic in several fields of research, and learning and knowledge creation in organizations have been studied from various perspectives. What has been missing is a bigger picture explaining how the two perspectives that describe learning at work, i.e., learning sciences and organization studies are interconnected. Not enough has been known about how learning at work takes place on the group level between the individual and organizational levels. The purpose of this research was to explore collaborative informal learning at work, and more specifically focusing on the every-day practices related to knowledge sharing and creation in a distributed work context. This research focused on the mid-layer of learning (group or community level) that exists between the organizational and individual levels of learning at work. This research combined theories from organization and learning sciences to produce multidisciplinary, both theoretically and empirically grounded knowledge on informal learning at work and how it is shaped by the work context. Moreover, this research aimed to study whether the features of distributed work context and task environment affect the practices and social structures of collaborative informal learning at work.The overall research problem was 'In the context of knowledge intensive distributed work, how does informal, collaborative learning take place? The research problem was divided into three more detailed research questions. This thesis adopted a multiple-case study approach and the data was collected from four cases by thematic interviewing. The context of the research was formed by a globally operating company and its partner firms. Data was collected from employees aiming to understand the practices of workplace learning. The interviews were analyzed with qualitative content analysis, and the research questions were answered based on the analysis. The key findings show that the task environment affects significantly both the practices of informal learning at work and the supporting social structures. In particular, this study highlights the need and search for fit between the qualities of task environment and the practices of learning and the supporting social structures. This research contributes to the fields of organization and learning sciences that both study learning in the workplace.
Translated title of the contributionCollaborative, Informal Learning in Distributed Knowledge-Intensive Work: Organizational Contingencies
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Smeds, Riitta, Supervising Professor
  • Smeds, Riitta, Thesis Advisor
  • Jaatinen, Miia, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6481-9
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6482-6
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • informal learning
  • collaborative learning
  • workplace learning
  • task environment
  • organizational contingencies


Dive into the research topics of 'Collaborative, Informal Learning in Distributed Knowledge-Intensive Work: Organizational Contingencies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this