Exploring Informal and Formal Learning Activities as Enablers of Learning-by-Exporting in Small and Medium Sized Firms
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Innovation and internationalization are important sources of growth for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). However, as SMEs often experience resource constraints, these companies may face difficulties when seeking to innovate or enter foreign markets. An important question is therefore whether these two activities may positively reinforce each other. We assess the extent to which export activities may improve innovation capabilities, by exploring the role of formal and informal learning activities. The empirical analysis builds on a sample of 380 Norwegian small and medium sized exporting enterprises. Based on structural equation modeling, the results confirm the hypothesis of a positive relationship between informal learning activities and firm innovation performance. Considering export structure, neither export share and psychic distance nor export scope had a direct effect on innovation performance. However, we did find that a high export scope combined with informal learning activities contributed to increased innovation performance. An important implication for managers is that scarce resources for internationalization and innovation might at least to some extent be compensated for by introducing systematic but informal learning activities in the organization. Furthermore, our results suggest that using more formal approaches for learning from export is not a recommendable strategy for SMEs if the goal is to increase innovation performance.