Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Influence of a Continuous Learning Environment on Peer Mentoring Behaviors

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Influence of a Continuous Learning Environment on Peer Mentoring Behaviors

Article excerpt

We live in a world of constant change. Speed of change, the globalization of the work environment, and the increased use of technology all impact the amount of information in the environment, and the extent to which the information can be used by organizations (Anders, 1999; Dreazen, 2002; Gunther, 2000). Individuals, too, are impacted by these trends. As technology changes the way people perform their jobs, and as access to knowledge becomes easier, individuals must work hard to keep up with the new demands placed on them in the workplace. Many have discovered that formal training is not enough. In fact, research by Tannenbaum (1997) suggests that only a small percentage of learning is attributed to formal training classes. Individuals have begun to search out other, less formal methods of learning development (e.g., on-the-job training, task force assignments, learning forums, mentoring) to help keep up with ever-increasing development needs. Work and development are beginning to blur in many cases (Tannenbaum and Yukl, 1992). Rosow and Zager (1988) contend that this "evolution in training" is actually a movement towards a continuous learning philosophy where employee efforts shift from formal training to everyday learning.

There are many potential benefits for individuals who engage in continuous learning, including improved performance, increased value to the employer, more career flexibility, higher self-esteem, and greater creativity. In order for this continuous learning evolution to be successful, however, organizations must realize the need for continuous learning, foster a continuous learning climate and develop policies to support continuous learning. Similarly, individuals must be able and willing to participate in the continuous learning process.

The primary purpose of the current research is to explore peer mentoring as one method that individuals might utilize to enhance learning, and identify the impact that working in a strong continuous learning environment might have on the demonstration of peer mentoring behaviors. Although there has been past research on continuous learning as well as on peer mentoring, to the authors' knowledge there is no research that explicitly explores the relationship between these two constructs. The current research attempts to expand our knowledge base regarding the relationship between peer mentoring and continuous learning by exploring these factors in a branch of the armed services. A secondary purpose of the current study is to examine the appropriate "level of analysis" for analyzing the continuous learning environment. Does continuous learning exist at the individual level or group level? The answer to this question might impact research on this construct, as well as how organizations attempt to develop and sustain continuous learning environments. In the following sections, we define continuous learning, identify the key factors that contribute to a continuous learning environment, and explore how these factors may influence the demonstration of peer mentoring behaviors.

THE CONTINUOUS LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

Organizational learning is one of the few sustainable competitive advantages (Veale et al., 1995). Organizations "learn" when the individuals employed within the organization are continuously learning. Therefore, work environment and interpersonal factors that stifle learning or hinder the application of new skills risk individual and organizational stagnation (see Tannenbaum, 1997). Tannenbaum (1997) defines continuous learning as the process by which individual and/or organizational learning is fostered on an ongoing basis, and identifies nine key factors that may contribute to the development of a continuous learning environment. The current research follows Tannenbaum's typology, exploring the nine factors set forth in Table 1.

As is shown in Table 1, there are a number of ways that continuous learning can be facilitated. …

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