Shift in Learning Focus
Shift in Learning Focus
Aims and Objectives
The aims and objectives of this essay are to map onto Pedler´s model the shift in focus of learning theories that have occurred over the same time period. I also intend to highlight the ways in which this focus has changed along with the reasons for these changes. In addition to this I intend to show what the implications of the changes in learning methods have on the employees, managers and the organisation as a whole.
The way that I will meet the aims and objectives of the organisation are to look at the different types of learning within an organisation. I will then look at the way in which Pedler´s model describes the development of an organisation from systematic training to a learning company. I aim to draw parallels between each stage of Pedler´s model and the three learning theories starting with behaviourist, leading to cognitive and then experimental. I will reflect how and why the focus of learning theories has changed over the last 40 years and the implications of these changes.
In order for success, employees of an organisation must learn the ways that it works so that the goals of the organisation are met and that they comply with the practice of the organisation. They also have to learn the objectives of their tasks. There are many different ways for the employees to learn and develop over time. Many employees learn skills and methods by observing the ways in which others work. Other methods of learning can take place in the way of training and development where employees undergo a series of programmes in order to improve the employee´s knowledge and skills. Many modern organisations use this method in order to improve the organisation´s chance of success.
Pedler developed a model that highlights the development of the learning of organisations in United Kingdom between 1955 and present day. This model shows that organisations always face problems that can often be fixed, however these solutions tend to lead to other problems which are also in need of solutions and so on. It shows the change in the method of learning from systematic training to the learning company. This model can be seen below:
Pedler et al 1991
It was apparent after the Second World War that companies in the United Kingdom were struggling with their productivity levels in relation to their American counterparts. It was concluded that the reason for this was due to a lack of skilled workers within the British workforce.
The solution to this problem was to introduce systematic training within the workforce in 1964. Systematic training involved full training through all the levels of the organisation; it also gave the workers a future vision of the organisation. The systematic training also gave the trainees a sense of involvement within the workplace.
Systematic training was a behaviourist approach to training. This means that the training involved developing employees´ and managers´ behaviour within the workplace.
It has been suggested through Watson´s 5 fundamental assumptions that “learning arose from the association between an external stimulus and a behavioural response.” This could be seen through the studies of Pavlov. Pavlov produced a theory called classical conditioning. He demonstrated that dogs instinctively salivate in reaction to food. Pavlov then discovered that if another stimulus was combined with the food, that the dogs would eventually salivate to the other stimulus (in this case it was the sound of a bell). Eventually Pavlov found that the dogs would salivate to the sound of a bell even if there was no food present.
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This highlights Watson´s view that there is an association between an external stimulus and a behavioural response, with the bells being the external stimulus and the salivation being the dog´s response. This shows that if you give the dogs something that they want, you will in turn get a return from them. It has been suggested that all behaviour learned by animals and humans is learned in the same ways.
The same formula was therefore used during systematic training when the workforce underwent systematic training (external stimulus), that the organisations would in turn gain an increase in production levels (behavioural response).
Another study, which highlights the relationship between an external stimulus and a behavioural response, was demonstrated by Skinner. The theory that he developed was called operant conditioning. Skinner wanted to show the effects of rewards and punishment on learning. Skinner´s experiment involved rats learning to pull a lever and then being rewarded with a pellet of food. He then wanted to see the response when the reward was the prevention of something painful. In this experiment Skinner would use light as the stimulus and the when the rat saw the light it would jump off the box it was on to prevent itself from getting an electric shock. The rat learned that not to pull the lever or it would receive an electric shock and so the stimulus – response bond was broken. This is known as negative reinforcement. This could also be seen in systematic training where the workforce learned if they worked in a certain way they will be rewarded and if they don´t work well, they will be punished.
And so systematic training had been undertaken and the workforce had been conditioned to work in a certain manner around the workplace. The workforce understood that if they worked hard, they would in turn be rewarded occasionally, however if the rewards did not come then there would be many workers who would become increasingly frustrated as the stimulus-response bond would be broken.
As can be seen in Pedler´s model, a major problem arose within the workforce as a result of systematic training. The problem, which arose, was that the behaviourist approach, which was adopted during systematic training, seemed to almost stop the workforces thinking for themselves. The behaviourist approach did not give the workforce an insight into the purpose of their tasks and if they came up against a problem, they were unable to sort the problem they would go through a trial and error process, which is very time consuming and often very frustrating. There was a need to address these problems within the workforce. The approach taken to address this problem was the introduction of the cognitive learning theory.
After this systematic training, there was a distinct increase in the number of skilled workers within the British workforce however this in turn created its own set of problems.
Around 1970 many of the workers found that their individual skills did not help them to mould into the workplace and that their personal identities were ignored. This led a large number of people who felt devalued and so became angry.
By around 1975, it was apparent that systematic training had its flaws within the workforce. It could be seen that people had learned strict procedures in how to do their work, however this did not allow the workforce to be able to adapt and apply their skills in other situations. In other words each individual had their own individual task, but if asked to alter their procedures or if they came up against any problems, the workforce would very often not be able to tackle the situation. This in turn would again cause a decrease in the levels of production.
There was a need to get the workforce to be more adaptable within the workplace. It encourages them to use their initiative and apply the knowledge they have to tackle a variety of situations. This led to the introduction of cognitive learning. Cognitive learning basically involves the workforce learning strategies in being able to solve problems.
As can be in the model, Pedler shows that were three main movements to tackle this problem. One of the solutions was the introduction of organisational development. This involved the development and learning of organisations strategies, structure and processes in the hope of improving the effectiveness of the organisation. An example of organisational development was developed by Lewin (1958). He developed a three-step model, which aimed at improving the organisations or worker´s performance from its present level to a new improved level. The three steps were as follows:
1.unfreezing the present level
2.moving to the new level
3.refreezing the new level
This involved the disposal of the old level (unfreezing), the implementation of the new structures and processes (moving) and the final step involves stabilising the company with its new structure (refreezing). This method was used so that the organisation and the employees would be able to understand and implement how to make improvements to their methods of working. Problems, which seemed to arise from organisational development was that it was not very adaptable to unpredictable situations such as an economic recession. Also it did not seem to be very effective at tackling the main problem of improving the workers skills.
Another solution, which was implemented, was action learning. Action learning was developed by Reg Revans. It was introduced because the workforce and managers did not have an understanding of each other´s work and so there was a need for all these people to compare each other´s work and knowledge. This learning method was based on learning through experience, sharing that experience with colleagues, criticising and advising colleagues, taking advice from others and to review with colleagues what had been learned. The benefits of this method is that the workforce got to see procedures and problems being tackled first hand and so gained personal experience and improved individual skills from this learning method. This method of learning was very beneficial to the people who performed action learning, however many people did not partake in action learning and so did not allow the whole organisation to move on.
The third solution to the problem was the quest of excellence. Peters and Waterman developed this. Excellence involved trying to brake down all of the governing bodies and bring the workplace into a more level playing field. The aim of this was to try to “liven things up” and improve communications within the workplace. This destiny of excellence did create motivation within the workplace however it failed to really tackle the issue of improving productivity within the workplace.
Organisational transformation arose from organisational development, Harrison Owen mainly developed this theory, and the learning company was developed from self-development and action learning.
As can be seen in Pedler´s model, the cognitive learning approach did improve the knowledge and the communication within the workforce however it did not really improve the organisations as a whole. The organisations didn´t seem to make too many improvements after cognitive learning had been introduced. The reason for this may have been that too many changes had been made to the way that the organisations operated. Hence none of the solutions were able to be as effective as they could have been, if perhaps one of the options had been the focus point of development. And so there was a need to create a solution to tackle this problem. It had been suggested that if one particular learning method were used, problems would always arise as a direct result of it. There was therefore a need to introduce a learning method that was able to adapt through time.
The learning theory that was introduced to set about the problem was the introduction of experimental learning theories. Experimental learning involves a strategy, which is flexible to change. This is why the learning company was developed. The learning company consists of eleven areas, which are split up into 5 categories. This can be seen in the diagram overleaf:
The first category deals with the strategy of the company which is made up of the learning of the organisation where the company modifies its direction where and when necessary. It also deals with factors such as feedback, which can be included in the planning process of the organisation. The strategy is also made from the policy making of the organisation. This deals with areas such as appraisal, which can help to create strategies for the organisation. Other areas include commitment between the workforces to work through their differences rather that allow conflict to continue at work.
The second area of the learning company is the inward looking of the organisation. This area deals with areas such as informating, which includes receiving information
on the performance of each individual department and to produce communications so that employees are able to make calculated decisions. Inward looking is also responsible for accounting and control, which allows for budgeting and allows departments to take control of finances available. A further factor, which is looked at, is internal exchange, which looks at areas such as communication between departments. The final factor which is assessed in this area is reward flexibility where reward processes can be altered when necessary etc.
The third area of the learning company is the structure where roles are flexible to enable experimentation within an organisation and where departments can adapt in response to any changes.
The forth area of the learning company is in relation to the outward looking of the organisation. This involves meetings regarding actions outside the organisations and meetings with customers, suppliers etc. outward looking also looks inter-company learning which deals with meeting with competitors to share information and to partake in things such as joint ventures.
The fifth and final area of the learning company is learning opportunities. This looks at the learning climate, which includes instances such as if an employee, does not know how to perform a task, they can go and seek advice in how to tackle the problem. The learning climate also involves people/departments assessing their own work and finding areas of improvement. Learning opportunities also covers the area of self-development, which looks at people and departments deciding what training they need to partake in and also allows them to see what resources are available to them for training.
So it can be seen that the learning company seems to be much more effective than the behaviourist and cognitive approach because it appears to be much more flexible and can be applied in many different circumstances. However as Pedler´s model shows there is a feeling that this approach lacks a certain amount of morals around the workplace. This may lead to tension within the workplace and once again the production levels of the workforce may be affected. And so a solution to this problem needs to be developed. The solution however has not yet been developed however I would think that it could be infiltrated into the learning company, as the learning company method has proved to be very successful.
I can conclude from assessing Pedler´s model that there has been a parallel shift in the focus of learning theories over the past fifty years. Organisations and all the members of the workforce in an attempt to try to tackle difficulties face the reason for this shift. While each of these forms of learning addresses the difficulties facing the organisations, they cannot be full proof and so there are always of improvement to be found. One of the main reasons for this is that the markets that the organisations compete in are also constantly changing and so the organisations must adapt to keep up with the times.
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