Learning What you Really, Really Want: Towards a Conceptual Framework
of New Learning in the Digital Work Environment
Digitization and globalization are leading to
changing demands in the world of work. To cope with
these, employees must constantly learn and develop.
Analogous to the New Work movement, the future of
learning seems to belong to New Learning, in which
protean and empowered learners pursue learning
opportunities to achieve subjectively valuable learning
outcomes and personal growth. This meaningful and
socially-embedded kind of learning enables learners to
learn what they really, really want to learn. In the
literature, however, there is a lack of models and
theories on New Learning. The present paper introduces
a conceptual framework of New Learning building on
psychological theories in terms of a causal chain whose
ten propositions can be empirically examined in future
studies. An important premise is that, in addition to
personal characteristics of the learner, the socio-
technical environment and (digital) tools and methods
play an important role for New Learning. The paper
concludes by setting a future research agenda and
discussing the practical implications of New Learning.
The world of work is changing—not just in recent
years, but the pace of change has accelerated throughout
the last decades . Technologization, digitalization
and globalization shape modern work environments and
have an enormous impact on the what, where and how
of working. At the same time, questions concerning
meaningful work and autonomy gained in importance
[2, 3]. Reflecting these changes, the term New Work has
received attention in practice and research. Bergmann
, taking a critical look at the previous understanding
of employment, introduced the term and characterized
New Work as needing to contain "work that you really,
really want to do." In organizational psychology
research, Schermuly  picked up on the concept and
related New Work to empowerment research . He
assumed that psychological empowerment—the
experience of meaning, competence, self-determination,
and impact—mediates the relationship between New
Work activities and positive outcomes for performance
and health .
It is not only work that is changing, however, but
also why and how employees acquire competencies [7,
8]. Continuous and lifelong learning through and for
work becomes more important to meet the challenges of
the changing world of work [1, 9, 10]. At the
organizational level, companies must remain flexible
and adaptive to keep pace with global competition; at
the personal level, employees must therefore also
expand their knowledge to actively shape change and
not be replaced by other employees. But the “half time
of knowledge” has decreased in recent decades,
rendering professional knowledge obsolete more
quickly . In addition to training-based formal
learning, more flexible learning forms such as informal
learning  and self-regulated learning  thus
attracted research attention. Individuals, however, have
always been learning informally, through trial and error,
feedback, and reflection; or in a self-regulated way
through setting their own learning goals, monitoring and
regulating the learning process. Thus, just as work is
changing into New Work, we assume that learning is
also evolving into New Learning. What does New
Learning look like, which—in the spirit of Bergmann
—emphasizes the autonomous role of the learner but
also considers the increasing demands of the volatile
world of work?
New in the world of work is, above all, associated
with the term “digital”. Digitalization offers an
incredible number of opportunities to acquire job-
relevant skills. However, digital tools are not sufficient
to already speak of New Work . Equally, we cannot
reduce New Learning to the use of digital learning
tools—learners are part of social groups, and their needs
must become the focal point . In the current
dynamic and volatile context, organizations do not
know—or only with delay—which learning content is
Proceedings of the 55th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences | 2022
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needed, and when and where an individual should learn
best. It makes sense to shift the decision about the what,
when, and where of learning to the entity that has
enough information to make a meaningful decision: the
learner. If the learner has a high level of autonomy and
responsibility, following Bergmann , we thus might
conceptualize learning what you really, really want as
an essential component of New Learning.
However, the term "new" is currently used in an
undifferentiated and proliferating manner [5, 15].
Specifically, in the field of learning it lacks a clear
conceptualization. We therefore develop a conceptual
framework of New Learning to delineate the learning
process and influencing variables. We consider New
Learning as a process started by the perception of
learning opportunities by empowered learners  with
a protean career orientation (i.e., an agentic orientation
toward their own career ). The perception of
learning opportunities leads to the formation of a
learning intention, which in turn leads to learning
behaviors, resulting in learning outcomes. This process
is reinforced by the socio-technical work
environment—emphasizing the social embeddedness of
learning—and respective (digital) work and learning
tools, as well as personal attitudes of the learner. These
influencing factors are represented as moderators in our
framework. We deduct New Learning from Bergmann’s
 socio-philosophical concept of New Work as well as
Schermuly’s psychological New Work theory, focusing
on empowerment. To further specify and extend these
approaches, we base our conceptualization of New
Learning on other established psychological theories
and models: Theory of Planned Behavior , Rubicon
Model of Action Phases , and Regulatory Focus
Against this background, New Learning refers to
learning as a socially-embedded process in which the
protean and empowered learner seeks and utilizes
learning opportunities to engage in meaningful formal,
informal and self-regulated learning to achieve
subjectively valuable learning outcomes and personal
growth. New Learning takes place in a new societal and
organizational context brought forth by digitalization
and characterized by dynamic change, uncertainty, and
complexity. This definition underscores the importance
of balancing social and technological aspects in digital
work contexts [20, 21].
Our theoretical paper provides for the first time a
conceptual psychological framework of New Learning,
structured in ten propositions. We set the stage for future
empirical research on the concept, which has so far been
considered mainly from a practical point of view [14,
15, 22]. We also present a future research agenda that
includes possible facilitating factors for New Learning,
as well as implications from the model for practice.
2. Framework Development
We started the development of our conceptual
framework with a literature review for the term "new
learning." The search yielded a few practice-based
articles, articles from neuropsychological learning
research, and frequent use of "new" as a merely
descriptive adjective (e.g., new learning challenges).
Theoretically sound contributions on the future of
learning at work were not present. The search did,
however, reveal a first psychologically grounded
approach to “new work” . We therefore decided to
take the concept of "new work" [4, 5] as the starting
point for our considerations. In setting up our
framework, we therefore followed the basic
assumptions that the empowered learner is at the center
of learning and learns things he or she wants to learn,
rather than primarily following external requirements.
Based on these rationales, we sought psychological
theories and models that would explain human attitudes,
motives, and behaviors in this specific work context. We
then established the basic conceptual chain from the
new learner’s prerequisites to the learning outcomes.
Subsequently, strove to identify possible moderators of
the specified relationships. This deductive process
resulted in ten propositions.
3. Conceptual Psychological Framework of
The following ten propositions form the causal
chain of the conceptual psychological framework of
New Learning as shown in Figure 1. Each proposition is
introduced in sequence below.
Proposition 1. There are two important antecedents
of New Learning: protean career orientation and
psychological empowerment. High levels of protean
career orientation and psychological empowerment
increase the potential to perceive learning opportunities.
By doing so, they build a formative construct, that we
call learning opportunities perception potential (LOPP).
Protean career orientation. The concept of a protean
career addresses the employee’s long-term
development: Hall  conceptualized protean career as
"a process which the person, not the organization, is
managing". Central to this process is "an agentic
orientation toward one's career" (p. 201). Individuals
differ in their protean career orientation, an attitude that
comprises two central facets: self-direction and
orientation toward intrinsic values . That is,
employees feel responsible for their careers, career-
related decisions, and actions. Intrinsic values such as
autonomy, meaning and growth guide the career pursuit.
Self-direction also results in volition to pursue long-
term career goals. High levels of protean career
orientation should result in an increased awareness of
career development opportunities and employability
. These career opportunities may also require
learning something . High levels of protean career
orientation sharpen the lens through which individuals
perceive their environment including its offer of
learning opportunities. Consequently, high levels of
protean career orientation should increase the LOPP.
Empowerment. While protean career orientation
focuses on individual differences, empowerment is
rather linked to job characteristics, though it is just a
subjective reflection of objective job characteristics
. Contrary to a widespread belief, however, New
Work is not achieved by organizations equipping their
employees with mobile technologies and providing
home office facilities. Schermuly  notes that sending
employees home with a smartphone for paid work is
contrary to the understanding and spirit of Bergmann's
concept  of work-related freedom of choice. In this
organization-driven structural empowerment approach,
the focus is on the macro level, i.e., on the company's
structures. However, since employees interpret their
work environment and work processes individually and
independently of collective structures , the
psychological empowerment approach is preferable for
New Work and New Learning. According to Spreitzer
, this multi-faceted approach includes the facets
meaning, competence, self-determination, and impact
(see also ). Employees with high levels of
psychological empowerment perceive their work as
valuable, experience competence and autonomy. So,
they may enrich their work with learning opportunities.
Consequently, psychological empowerment should
increase the potential to perceive learning opportunities.
Proposition 2. It is important to note, that neither
protean career orientation nor psychological
empowerment provide learning opportunities. Both are
personal characteristics that are antecedents of the
LOPP. We conceptualize the LOPP as a stable but still
malleable personal factor, which serves as a cognitive
and motivational filter. This filter shapes the
individual’s perception within their work environment
and helps to identify attractive learning opportunities in
specific situations. More specifically, self-direction
leads to a proactive seeking for learning opportunities,
value orientation leads to recognizing attractive learning
opportunities, and empowerment leads to evaluating the
feasibility of learning (cf. [6, 29, 30]). A high LOPP
increases the probability to recognize learning
opportunities—but in a situation without any objective
learning opportunities, an individual cannot perceive
any learning opportunity. However, in situations with an
average amount of learning opportunities, high levels of
LOPP will result in high levels of perceived learning
opportunities, whereas low levels of LOPP will result in
low levels of perceived learning opportunities.
Proposition 3. The socio-technical environment is
an important moderator in the relationship between
LOPP and perceived learning opportunities. As
described, the LOPP serves as a filter that allows
objectively available learning opportunities to become
perceived learning opportunities—however, how well
this filter works depends not only on the filter quality
Figure 1. Conceptual Framework of New Learning
Figure 1. Conceptual Framework of New Learning
but also on whether it is used in a “filter-friendly” or
“filter-hostile” environment. One key aspect of the
environment's "filter-friendliness" is the digitalization
of work. The higher the digitalization within a socio-
technical system, the higher are learning demands and
opportunities. New technologies, for instance, require
the acquisition of new skills (cf. ). It is important to
note that digitalization is by far more than just the usage
of new technologies. Digitalization affects the broader
socio-technical system and has an impact on
organizational structures and processes, and in turn
requires new roles from employees [21, 32, 33]. That is,
with increased digitalization, working conditions (e. g.,
complexity, autonomy) and processes will change (e.g.,
new work tasks) and provide learning opportunities in a
broader way. The usage of digital information
technology enables collaboration between teams within
an organization and beyond organizational structures.
However, these changes are just perceived as learning
opportunities if LOPP is high. In contrast, in conditions
of lower LOPP due to low protean career orientation or
a lack of psychological empowerment, the same
changes may be appraised as hindering demands rather
than opportunities (cf. ). The socio-technical
environment also comprises social factors such as
organizational cultures  as well as supervisor and
co-worker support. A positive learning culture shapes
the values of and basic assumptions about learning and
facilitate individual learning . Within organizations
that value learning, the link between LOPP and
perceived learning opportunities is higher. Supervisor
and co-worker support are important environmental
factors for learning and application of knowledge in
practice . Furthermore, human resource
management and its practices influence the perception
of learning opportunities .
Proposition 4. Perceived learning opportunities
make the learner develop a learning intention, i.e., the
concrete behavioral intention to engage in learning
behavior. Perceived learning opportunities can be
considered affordances to learn (cf. ), i.e., perceived
learning opportunities encourage a person to learn. For
example, if someone perceives that coworker support is
available and that learning from errors is a desired
behavior, they are more likely to learn from them .
Following the action phase model, perceived learning
opportunities can be assigned to the predecisional phase
. Encouraged to learn by a learning opportunity and
having formed a concrete learning intention, the learner
"crosses the Rubicon". The learner enters the
preactional phase, in which it is no longer a question of
whether something is learned, but how it is learned.
Proposition 5. As stated before, we assume that the
perception of learning opportunities leads to a learning
intention. However, the strength of this relationship
depends on one important factor: enthusiasm for the
learning topic. Building on Bergmann  who
proclaims in his book on New Work and new culture that
the future belongs to work "that we really, really want"
(p. 121), in our opinion the future of meaningful
learning belongs to learning what you really, really
want. This kind of learning does not only satisfy the
psychological need for competence but also the need for
autonomy, and therefore promotes intrinsic motivation
. In other words: The effect of perceived learning
opportunities on learning intention is moderated by this
enthusiasm for the learning topic. These positively
experienced emotions not only push the motivational
process of intention formation but can also lead to a
positive upward spiral over time as stated in the
broaden-and-build theory . That is, enthusiasm for
the learning topic fuels learning and growth. Learning,
application of what has been learned, and experiencing
competence are in turn the basis for increasing
enthusiasm for further learning topics.
Proposition 6. According to the Theory of Planned
Behavior , an intention leads to appropriate
behavior when normative beliefs and subjective norms
do not interfere, and the individual holds the belief of
being able to control the situation. A learner capacitated
by the LOPP should have appropriate control beliefs and
learning-enhancing values due to protean career
orientation and empowerment. Accordingly, learning
intention leads to learning behavior. Learning behavior
can be defined as follows:
Engagement in mental processes—learning
events—that result in the acquisition and retention
of knowledge, skills, and/or affect over time and
until needed, along with the capacity to identify
conditions of performance and respond
appropriately. More colloquially, learning is an
increased capacity to do the right thing at the right
time. (p. 3 )
Proposition 7. The relationship between learning
intentions and learning behavior is moderated by the
availability of tools and learning resources. We assume
that a high availability of tools and resources will
strengthen the relationship between learning intention
and learning behaviors. Digitalization has led to a shift
from instruction via conventional media and methods
(books, classroom-based lectures, or training) to
computer-based media or digital tools , such as
enterprise social networks, learning experience
platforms, search engines, wikis, podcasts, webinars,
instructional videos, and virtual/augmented reality
applications. In digital work environments, these tools
can be flexibly accessed by the learner in the moment of
need (anytime, anywhere, with any device), point to any
content relevant for the learner’s current area of interest,
or even provide customized feedback through wearables
[21, 44, 45]. This access to digital tools as learning
resources increases the learner’s autonomy and is
assumed to consequently facilitate learning behaviors
(cf. [46, 47]). When different learning tools and methods
are available and easily accessible for learners, learning
intent is more likely to result in learning behaviors [48,
49]. New Learning thus manifests itself in empowered
learners who use a wide array of available (digital) tools
to attain their individual learning goals .
Proposition 8. In the preactional phase due to the
action phase model , the learner's focus is on how to
translate the learning intention into behavior. Three
pathways can be distinguished in work-related learning
contexts, which lead to different learning forms during
the subsequent actional phase (cf. ): on the job, near
the job, and off the job (also known as in work, at work,
and outside work [51, 52, 53]).
The "on the job" pathway leads to informal learning
behaviors occurring rather casually in the work process
(e.g., [12, 46]); the "near the job" pathway leads to
learner-planned self-regulated learning (e.g.., [13, 54]),
and the "off the job" pathway leads to more structured
and planned formal learning or training (e.g., [55, 56]).
Below, we describe the three learning forms in more
Formal Learning. Formal learning refers to high
structuring in terms of learning context, learning
support, learning time, and learning objectives .
Formal learning activities are curricular in nature and
have a discrete beginning and end . This includes
training, instruction, and other formal education. The
effectiveness of these activities depends, among other
aspects, on the training method chosen, and the skill or
task characteristics trained . Despite being highly
structured, training interventions should consider
individual learner differences, e.g., personality,
motivation, and self-efficacy .
Informal Learning. According to Decius (2020)
, work-related informal learning is a conscious
learning that takes place independently of external
structural constraints and directly at the workplace—
usually as a spontaneous reaction to a problem or
challenge at work. Accordingly, the learner's intention
is directed towards action or problem solving. Even if
learning process responsibility and control lie with the
learner, an external stimulus determines the goal of
action (e.g., an error in the work process). Informal
learning occurs outside of formally defined learning
contexts or curricula and is characterized by a low
degree of planning and organization with respect to
learning context, learning support, learning time, and
learning objectives [46, 57]. The behavioral facets of
informal learning include trying and applying problem-
solving strategies, exchange with other people (e.g.,
obtaining feedback on one's own work performance),
and reflection on one's own work performance [12, 58].
Self-regulated Learning. Self-regulated learning is
"an active, constructive process whereby learners set
goals for their learning and then attempt to monitor,
regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and
behavior, guided and constrained by their goals and the
contextual features in the environment" (p. 453 ).
Self-regulated learning thus refers to the "modulation of
affective, cognitive, and behavioral processes
throughout a learning experience to reach a desired level
of achievement” (p. 421 ). In contrast to informal
learning, the learner pursues a self-imposed learning
goal that does not have to be triggered by a problem
arising in the work process. Accordingly, there is no
action intention but an explicit learning intention .
In everyday work, often combinations of the above
learning forms (i.e., formal, informal, self-regulated)
occur. A problem or challenge in the work task, for
instance, may lead not only to informal learning but also
to the employee requesting and participating in training.
However, we consider the presented mapping of
learning forms to learning paths (i.e., on the job, near the
job, off the job) to be typical. New Learning combines
the three learning forms and harnesses their benefits
Proposition 9. Learning behavior leads to various
valued outcomes. Learning outcomes refer to the
relative permanent change in knowledge, skills, affect
and ability as well as other characteristics (KSAO; [9,
59, 60]). Formal as well as informal and self-regulated
learning have been shown to lead to positive outcomes
on the individual and organizational level [46, 55, 59,
61, 62]. Learning has been shown to be associated with
positive work attitudes, knowledge and skill acquisition,
and improvements in performance criteria (e.g., job
performance, team performance, problem solving,
effectiveness, and promotions) [46, 55, 56, 62].
Learning helps employees adapt to their work
environment and provides them with resources to cope
with work demands (e.g., through job crafting, when
employees adapt or “craft” the task, relational, or
cognitive boundaries of their work; cf. ). When
workers adapt their work according to their preferences,
their learning in turn may improve . We ssume that
learning is thus also associated with less stress and better
health. However, learning opportunities could increase
demands in the long-term and therefore result in more
strain (e.g., delegated tasks and responsibilities, cf.
Proposition 10. According to Higgins' 
Regulatory Focus Theory, a promotion focus is
characterized by the individual's striving for positive
outcomes. In the New Learning framework, the effect of
learning behavior on learning outcomes is reinforced by
the promotion focus of the learner as a moderator. If the
learner pursues positive outcomes rather than just
learning something to avoid negative outcomes
(prevention focus), we expect more positive
consequences [66, 67]. Aiming for positive outcomes
should be more likely if the learner feels enthusiasm
about the learning content. Qualitative research has
shown that stress and errors enhance learning within the
prevention-focus system, whereas positive affect is a
typical motivator for the promotion-focus system .
4. Future Research Agenda
Introducing the conceptual framework of New
Learning we have built on psychological theories leads
to further questions that future research could address
(see Table 1). These questions can be divided into five
areas. The first area encompasses the learning process
as an entire chain of effects—here the focus is
particularly on triggers and learning behavior (mainly
related to proposition 8). The moderators of the
relationships can be divided into organizational and
personal moderators The former deal with the socio-
technical system (mainly related to proposition 3), the
latter with the individual characteristics of the learner
(mainly related to propositions 5, 6, 7, 10). Research
should address how the learning process can be best
designed and supported by the organizations and the
learners themselves. The fourth area addresses the
support provided by (digital) learning methods and tools
(mainly related to proposition 7). Finally, the fifth area
focuses on learning outcomes, taking into account both
the learner's and the organization's perspective (mainly
related to proposition 9).
Table 1. A New Learning Research Agenda
● In which situations or through which triggers does the learner choose which learning
path to follow (i.e., the formal, informal, and self-regulated learning path)?
● How are the different learning forms interrelated?
● Is the learning process linear (as presented in the model) or are there feedback loops
(e.g., “learn crafting” behavior)?
● Which role does social support play in New Learning compared to traditional learning
● What are the roles of Human Resources (HR) and line management in supporting New
● Are there work changes in a socio-technical environment that foster the perception of
learning opportunities in the short-term, but hamper it in the long-term (e.g., does change
lead to less autonomy)?
● Can social support be replaced by technical (robotic) support?
● Which kind of technical or social support (e. g., organizational support, supervisor
support, peer support, feedback and guidance by technical systems) is most important for
the LOPP – learning opportunities relationship?
● How do social and technical support interact?
● How does the quality or quantity of learning opportunities affect their perception?
● How does New Learning enable the alignment of individual and organizational goals?
● Are there additional factors that moderate the relationship between learning intention
and learning behavior (e.g., digital competency)?
● Does the prevention focus have a negative effect, no effect at all, or only a less positive
effect—compared to the promotion focus—on the relationship between learning
behavior and outcomes?
● How does employee tenure affect the relationship between perceived learning
opportunities and learning intention?
● Which subjective norms and values, in the sense of the Theory of Planned Behavior, act
as most conducive to learning in the context of New Learning?
● How can enthusiasm for learning be awakened?
● Are analog or digital tools better suited to promote New Learning, or is there no
● How do analog and digital tools interact to promote New Learning?
● Which affordances of digital tools foster New Learning?
● How effective are learning tools (e.g., learning experience platform) and work tools
(e.g., collaboration software) in promoting New Learning? How do they interact?
● Is there a "Dark Side of Technology" in digital-driven learning that could threaten
● Which outcomes are the most important in New Learning (rather knowledge acquisition,
performance, or health)?
● Is there an adverse impact of New Learning?
● Which outcomes are most important to the learner?
● Which outcomes are most important for the organization?
5. Practical Implications, Limitations, and
Our conceptual framework of New Learning has
various practical implications at the levels of
organizations, teams (with the leaders as particularly
relevant team members), and individuals.
At the organizational level, the role of HR
departments needs to be further developed. In the spirit
of the New Learning model, which considers the
learner as the active designer of all learning, the HR
department must create its services in a learner-centric
way. The HR strategy therefore needs to consider the
individual goals of the employees or at least allow a
corridor for individual development. Here, the
reflection of the current learning culture can delineate
this corridor (cf. [14, 36]). The learning culture and the
associated basic assumptions (e.g., "learning moves
the company forward"), values ("making mistakes is
valuable"), and artifacts (e.g., allowing time for
learning, providing easily accessible digital and non-
digital learning resources, cf. ) serve as a guide
that makes it clear to employees what learning is
desired and what fits the company's strategy.
Moreover, a positive learning culture leads to the
perception and creation of additional learning
opportunities. This can also be a response to the
problem that changes resulting from digitization might
lead to working conditions that offer fewer
opportunities for learning (e.g., high degree of
automation, less autonomy).
The team is an important context for New
Learning, since a large part of New Learning takes
place in the direct social work environment.
Colleagues are often sparring partners or sources of
learning, and they can also play a role in the
application of methods. It might also be helpful to
bring people with similar enthusiasm for learning
together in a team so that they can infect each other
with their enthusiasm.
From the team in general, leaders stand out as
particularly relevant for New Learning. Because
leaders act as role models and set the conditions under
which learning may occur (cf. ) it is important to
sensitize managers so that they shape the learning
environment of their employees. In addition, leaders
can empower their employees and thus facilitate New
Learning by giving them meaningful tasks that enable
them to experience competence and allow them to
make choices [5, 6].
At the individual level, the framework suggests
that employees have a great deal of control over
whether they become New Learners. Here, we can
imagine many levers. Learners have the best
prerequisites for New Learning if they see their own
further development as meaningful and useful for their
own goals, can gain meaning from their learning
activity, strive for positive results, experience
competence, and have autonomy over what they do.
Even if this is only fulfilled to some extent, learners
could engage in the things they really, really want to
do to facilitate learning. The New Learning process
can also be strengthened by choosing tools and
methods that the learner feels are individually
In this paper, we have attempted to define the term
New Learning, link it to existing concepts, and
conceptualize it within a psychological framework.
However, a systematic literature review was not
possible due to the ambiguity of the term. Moreover,
due to space constraints, we had to limit the present
paper to a brief presentation of the relevant theories
and mechanisms—we refer interested readers to the
cited sources instead. In this sense, we would like this
contribution to be understood as a starting point for
Concluding, the presented conceptual framework
of New Learning offers a human-centered approach to
learning in the digital work environment—a work
environment that challenges employees to learn
continuously (cf. ). A perspective focusing on
learner autonomy and enthusiasm is specifically
important in digital work contexts where rapid
advancements in technology, automation and analytics
pose the risk of decreased employee autonomy and
control. Our framework provides a building block for
creating a more human-centered work design, opening
an avenue for digital work contexts to turn into an
opportunity for augmenting learning instead of
reducing learner autonomy.
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