Conceptualizing Social Media-enabled Fragmented Learning of Employees and Exploring Its Antecedents and Consequences


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date4 Jun 2021


Confronted with the increasingly complex and turbulent business environments, numerous organizations have realized the strategic importance of organizational learning and spent vast amounts on employee learning practices. Nowadays, the prevalence of social media in the workplace has transformed how employees learn. As an interactive learning platform that supports micro and mobile learning, social media can enable employees to learn work-related information and knowledge from various sources out of their own needs whenever and wherever possible. There thus emerges a phenomenon of social media-enabled fragmented learning (SMFL), which has triggered discussions by netizens but has rarely been noticed by organizational managers and scholars. In practice, despite the increased popularity of fragmented learning methods among employees, managers know little about the values of SMFL for employees and organizations and why employees undertake SMFL activities. They may thus miss the opportunity to develop talents in a way that employees prefer. Although previous scholars have noted the application of social media to employee learning in literature, their research findings are insufficient for understanding fragmented learning. Specifically, there lacks a systematic conceptualization of employees’ SMFL and a comprehensive investigation into its nomological network. The literature review indicates that: (1) the connotation of SMFL has not been fully elaborated; (2) the organizationally oriented consequences of employees’ SMFL have yet to be unveiled; (3) the antecedents of employees’ SMFL have not been explored. To address the aforementioned practical issues and research gaps, I perform three sub-studies in this dissertation to conceptualize SMFL and to explore the antecedents and consequences of SMFL, respectively.

Based on the literature on employee learning, fragmented learning, and social media use at work, study 1 discusses the definition and characteristics of SMFL. Notably, the fragmentation characteristic of SMFL, which means fragmentation in the learning content and learning time, variety in learning spaces and learning media, and fragmentation in learners’ attention, has been highlighted. According to the social network perspective, SMFL can be classified into SMFL in local communities of practice (SMFLLC) and SMFL in electronic networks of practice (SMFLEN). After the conceptualization of SMFL, a ten-item scale for SMFL has been generated to measure the extent to which employees undertake SMFL activities.

To clarify organizationally oriented consequences of employees’ SMFL, study 2 draws on information processing theory to examine the intervening role of individual absorptive capacity in the relationship between SMFL and job performance and the contingency role of cognitive styles in the relationship between SMFL and individual absorptive capacity. Study 2 also proposes that analytical cognitive style and intuitive cognitive style can differently moderate the indirect relationship between SMFL and job performance through individual absorptive capacity. An empirical study of 311 employees in a large software company indicates that: (1) SMFLLC and SMFLEN have positive relationships with job performance. (2) Individual absorptive capacity partially mediates the SMFLLC-job performance linkage and fully mediates the SMFLEN-job performance linkage. (3) Analytical cognitive style weakens the positive relationship between SMFLEN and individual absorptive capacity, and intuitive cognitive style attenuates the positive relationship between SMFLLC and individual absorptive capacity. (4) The mediating effect of individual absorptive capacity on the SMFLLC-job performance linkage and the SMFLEN-job performance linkage is stronger at the lower level of intuitive cognitive style and analytical cognitive style, respectively.

To explore the antecedents of employees’ engagement in SMFL, study 3 draws on the task-individual-technology fit model to propose a research model that describes the relationships between social media features and employees’ engagement in SMFLLC as well as the moderating role of employee characteristics and task characteristic. Based on the literature on employee learning and social media adoption, study 3 identifies informativeness and social presence as two representative social media features, regards work-home segmentation preference and polychronicity as two employee characteristics, and incorporates task non-routineness into the research model. Two methods are adopted to analyze the data of 496 employees in a large energy company. Results of hierarchical regression analyses show that: (1) Informativeness and social presence are positively associated with employees’ engagement in SMFLLC. (2) Work-home segmentation preference positively moderates the relationship between social presence and engagement in SMFLLC, and polychronicity negatively moderates the relationship between informativeness and engagement in SMFLLC. (3) At high levels of task non-routineness, the positive interaction effect of social presence and work-home segmentation preference is weaker. In comparison, the negative interaction effect of informativeness and polychronicity and the positive interaction effect of social presence and polychronicity are stronger. Serving as a complement, a fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA) identifies several antecedent configurations that explain employees’ high level of engagement in SMFLLC. 

Theoretically, the conceptualization of SMFL and empirical findings of its nomological networks can make several contributions. First, by focusing on employees’ fragmented learning on social media, scrutinizing the fragmentation characteristic of SMFL, and developing a measurement scale for SMFL, this dissertation advances our current understanding of fragmented learning, employee learning, and social media use at work. Second, by examining effective mechanisms and boundary conditions of the relationship between SMFL and job performance from the perspective of cognitive processing, this dissertation adds to previous research on the consequences of employee learning. Third, by investigating how two-way interactions and three-way interactions of social media features, employee characteristics, and task characteristic influence employees’ engagement in SMFL, this dissertation extends prior research on the antecedents of employee learning and employees’ adoption of social media at work. Last, by adopting information processing theory and task-individual-technology fit model to develop research models and hypotheses, this dissertation extends the applicable boundary of these theories to the SMFL context. Practically, this dissertation can remind employees and organizational managers that fragmented learning is a new trend of employee learning in the social media era. Empirical findings can provide managers with suggestions about creating the conditions under which SMFL activities lead to desired learning outcomes and developing strategies to utilize and motivate employees’ SMFL practices.

    Research areas

  • social media-enabled fragmented learning, antecedents, consequences, information processing theory, task-individual-technology fit model, conceptualization, scale development