Learning centres represent important sites for the interweaving of formal and informal learning opportunities. It is noticeable that in the cases here, popularity of the learning centres rests partly on their not being too closely associated with formalized learning. Facilities such as loan of laptops and accordance of space for informal self-directed learning on computers (Searching independently for information) are important examples of how the affordances for learning can be enhanced.
In two of the UK cases provision has to relate to large, multi-site organisation. Although the classes have been carried out at a wide range of sites they are mainly held in various centres or ‘Learning Zones’. Equipped with computers and training rooms, they aim to provide an inviting and non-threatening space for learning, which includes literacy, numeracy, GCSE English, IT alongside other courses. In one case, a training facility initially consisting of a small room with five computers expanded to a learning centre became a ‘LearnDirect’ (mediated computer-based training) centre in 2002, and then moved to a large purpose-built building in 2004. In the latter case, the company pays the salary of a full-time tutor and assistant and provided the funds for the new building, whilst LearnDirect (public funding) finances the computers and resources, with the centre is also open to the local community. In addition to computer and skills for life courses and jobspecific training, the centre also offers adult education courses which have been very important in attracting individuals from the company and community at large. In another food processing company, literacy and language courses were offered as part of a company strategy (union negotiated) to upskill their existing workforce in order to to fill promoted positions internally such as the team leader.
One of the key findings of the wider study was that employee participation in a formal program acted as the catalyst for the various informal training activities that occurred back on the shop floor. Participating in an organized class or in a tutorial session heightened employee awareness of the importance to learn. This interplay between formal and informal training was synergetic. Care should be taken not to confuse strategies for ‘getting by’ at work with informal learning. Supervisors taking pre-emptive or circumventing action over tasks involving literacy skills can create a vicious circle of employees’ over-reliance on supervisors to fill in forms, for example, thus missing the opportunities for informal “Mentoring and coaching” and reinforcing underlying skills deficiencies instead of helping to solve them.
There was evidence that, in the interplay between formal learning and informal learning, both external and internal motivation combine in highly context specific ways. The levelling out of management structures often leads to the expectation that employees should “take on more” and “show initiative”.