What is learning?
Many scholars have developed theories on the meaning of learning. One of them was Säljö in 1979; he determined a set of steps in the process of learning:
1. Acquiring information – Quantitative, amount
2. Memorizing – reproducing information
3. Acquiring facts, skills and methods to be used later
4. Making sense, building connections
5. Interpreting and understanding reality-comprehension
He named 1. and 2. The “knowing that…” part and 3. To 5. The “Knowing how..” part of the process.
There are several perspectives on learning:
It is based on experimental procedures. John B Watson created the stimulus-response model in which he observed the learning leads to changes in behavior and that the environment plays has a huge influence on this process.
Two forms of conditioning were established: classical and operant
• Classical Conditioning: It’s all about modifying behavior using conditioned plus unconditioned stimulus to produce a conditioned response. However the application on humans is limited.
• Operant Conditioning: The use of negative/positive consequences through:
o Reinforcement: Used to strengthen desirable behavior in two ways; by positive consequences and withholding negative ones.
o Punishment: Used to eliminate or weaken and undesirable behavior. It can be achieved by applying two methods: reinforcing negative consequences or withholding positive consequences.
o Extinction: Ignoring undesirable behavior. Behaviors that don’t produce any consequences tend to be weakened.
The cognitive approach is based on the individual’s mental process. It says that learning is not about acquiring habits, it’s about acquiring plans and strategies.
Well organized instructions
Clearly structured instructions
Perception plays a role in task acceptance
Prior knowledge is important
Differences between individuals count
Cognitive feedback is the most powerful rewards
It’s focused on human growth. Basically it is based on the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs mentioned on the blog entry “Motivation”.
Individuals, as learners, are members of social structures. It acknowledges learning as a social process and based on observation.
It’s all about increasing capabilities, knowledge and skills. It’s a continuous process.
There are two approaches:
• The Technical View: effective processing, interpretation of, and response to, information both inside and outside the organization. This information may be quantitative or qualitative, but is generally explicit and in the public domain.
• The Social Perspective: focuses on the way people make sense of their experiences at work. These experiences may derive from explicit sources such as financial information, or they may be derived from tacit sources, such as the “feel” that skilled craftsperson has, or the intuition that a skilled strategists posses.
TYPES OF ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING
1. Adaptive vs. Proactive Learning
Proactive learning is having willingness to change. Uses double loop learning which instead of solving the immediate (single loop learning) problem focuses on finding the root of the problems. On the other hand adaptive learning occurs as a reaction to changes in the environment in an automatic manner. Uses single loop learning.
2. Experiential Learning
It’s based on experiences as the key source for any kind of learning.
3. Kolb’s Learning Styles
4. Communities of practice
It refers to learning as a social process. It’s an ongoing activity without a beginning or end.
These communities are everywhere and individuals are members to more than one.
• The domain: a shared interest – is not just a club
• The community: joint activities and discussions, relationships
• The practice: shared resources to act – shared practices acquired with time and sustained interaction
5. Informal Learning
It says that education should not be about acquiring knowledge but about developing capabilities.
The most important learning is the ability to carry on learning.
This informal learning is difficult to define: does it occur outside the classroom?, is it an implicit process?, should it be non-course based?, does it happen outside the academic life?
The term has been thrown around for years without having a clear understanding of what that means, and it also confused or used indistinctly with organizational learning, but they are two very different things even on its nature. Organizational learning is process sometimes important within a learning organization which is a type of organizations where processes of learning in some way or another are important.
Another concept states that a learning organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.
Some of its key characteristics are: flexibility, teamwork, continuous learning and employee participation and development.
Organizations do not become learning organizations over night; there are factors which contribute to such change. As organizations grow, they lose their ability to learn as company structures and individual thinking becomes rigid. When problems arise, the proposed solutions often turn out to be only short term (single loop learning) and re-emerge in the future. To remain competitive, many organizations have restructured, with fewer people in the company. This means those who remain need to work more effectively.
To create a competitive advantage, companies need to learn faster than their competitors and to develop a customer responsive culture.
The main benefits it has are:
Maintaining levels of innovation and remaining competitive
Being better placed to respond to external pressures
Having the knowledge to better link resources to customer needs
Improving quality of outputs at all levels
Improving corporate image by becoming more people oriented
Increasing the pace of change within the organization
A learning organization shows 5 main characteristics:
1. Systems Thinking: Learning organizations use this method of thinking when assessing their company and have information systems that measure the performance of the organization as a whole and of its various components. Systems thinking state that all the characteristics must be apparent at once in an organization for it to be a learning organization. If some of these characteristics are missing then the organization will fall short of its goal.
2. Personal Mastery: The commitment by an individual to the process of learning is known as personal mastery. There is a competitive advantage for an organization whose workforce can learn quicker than the workforce of other organizations. Individual learning is acquired through staff training and development; however learning cannot be forced upon an individual who is not receptive to learning.
3. Mental Models: The assumptions held by individuals and organizations are called mental models. To become a learning organization, these models must be challenged. Individuals tend to adopt theories, which are what they intend to follow, and theories-in-use, which are what they actually do. Similarly, organizations tend to have “memories” which preserve certain behaviors, norms and values. In creating a learning environment it is important to replace confrontational attitudes with an open culture that promotes enquiry and trust.
4. Shared Vision: The development of a shared vision is important in motivating the staff to learn, as it creates a common identity that provides focus and energy for learning. The most successful visions build on the individual visions of the employees at all levels of the organization; learning organizations tend to have flat, decentralized organizational structures whereas traditional organizations impose their vision from above stalling the creation of a shared vision.
5. Team Learning: The accumulation of individual learning constitutes Team learning. The benefit of team or shared learning is that staff grows more quickly and the problem solving capacity of the organization is improved through better access to knowledge and expertise. Learning organizations have structures that facilitate team learning with features such as boundary crossing and openness. Learning organizations typically have excellent knowledge management structures, allowing creation, acquisition, dissemination, and implementation of this knowledge in the organization.
Comparing traditional and learning organizations is easy to see where they differ, in a learning organization change is always fostered and there’s a willingness to let, all the necessary measures in order to change, be implemented. For instance the individual input is valued in a learning organization, what the employees have to say is taken in to consideration at making decisions, which are not impose upon them but on the contrary are taken with them.
Learning organizations have a flexible approach to management, they understand that in order to be competitive in an ever increasingly changing world, companies must also adapt and change, so they are open to it. Traditional companies on the other hand say that the way they’ve been doing things has proven to be successful so there’s really no need to change it.
In a general sense learning companies are flexible, dynamic and open, traditional ones are more rigid, like the name says traditional, and more reluctant to change.
BENEFITS OF FOSTERING INFORMAL LEARNING
Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way people learn to do their jobs. Learning is adaptation. We learn from one another.
Informal learning covers a number of areas within an organization and concepts. For instance it says that the traditional ways of training employees are obsolete.
It also makes reference to the cost/outcome ratio. People learn how to do their jobs informally, talking, observing others, trial and error and simply working with knowledgeable people. Training and workshops account for 10% to 20% of what people actually learn at work so most companies are spending way too much in formal training while neglecting more natural and simple processes through which people actually learn. They are cheaper and people learn more.
The concept of Network is essential when talking about informal learning. This network should then replace the hierarchical way to manage. As networks engage our lives, centralize power crumbles and people gain more control over their own destinies.
Another benefit that informal learning brings is that training is something pushed on you; informal learning is something you’re pulled into. Knowledge workers thrive when they’re given the freedom to decide how they will do what they’re asked to do.
Informal learning is like riding a bike. The rider chooses the direction, the route and the speed. The rider may also take a detour to slow down or to help a fellow rider. Whereas formal learning is like riding a bus, the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are just along for the ride.
Informal learning emerges in complex environments called Learnscapes. Learnscaping involves removing obstacles, seeding communities, increasing bandwidth, encouraging conversation and growing networks.
The concept of unconferences is also introduced. New approaches are creating business meetings that people enjoy. Successful gatherings are those where everyone participates. No podium. No positions carved in stone.
All of these concepts and theories can bring considerable benefits for a company. It not only can it reduce its costs when it comes to training but it can also make the working environment a lot more comfortable for everybody and more efficient because when people are given more freedom to act and more responsibilities they perform better than when they’re being watched over the whole time.
If employees are included in the decision making process the amount of ideas that can come out at a meeting can easily double, because not everyone knows exactly what is happening at every department in the company.
Informal learning proves to be a more cost efficient and easier way to train your employees and to improve the working environment, not to mention that employees may feel more loyal towards a company that believes in them and that shows them that they matter, which is something that is usually neglected but really shouldn’t be.
• Pedler, M., Burgogyne, J. and Boydell, T. 1997. The Learning Company: A strategy for sustainable development. 2nd Ed. London; McGraw-Hill.
• O’Keeffe, T. 2002. Organizational Learning: a new perspective. Journal of European Industrial Training, 26 (2), pp. 130-141.
• Senge, P.M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline. London: Century Business.