New Ways of Learning in the Workplace

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New Ways of Learning in the Workplace

In today's "high performance organizations," workers must be prepared for continuous on-the-job growth and development. Given the increased age, variety of experiences, and diverse lifestyles and cultures of the working population, it is understandable that adult education practices must move beyond the traditional model of teachers as purveyors of knowledge and learners as passive recipients. Methods and techniques that draw upon workers' previous experiences, link concepts and practices, and encourage reflection and the transfer of knowledge from one situation to another are vital to the learning process. This Digest addresses some of the new ways to learn at work, such as action learning, situated learning, and incidental learning.

Action Learning

Action learning is a systematic process through which individuals learn by doing. It is based on the premise that learning requires action and action requires learning. It engages individuals in just-in-time learning by "providing opportunities for them to develop knowledge and understanding at the appropriate time based on immediate felt needs" (Lewis and Williams 1994, p. 11). Learning itself is the desired outcome of action learning, not problem solving. It is the learning that occurs in the process of finding solutions to problems that constitutes action learning. It is a type of learning that helps individuals respond more effectively to change.

Action learning has been adopted in the workplace as a viable approach to experiential management education and development and an important element of a training and development strategy (Vince and Martin 1993). It involves the members of an organization in group situations with the goal of helping each group member learn through the process of finding solutions to their own problems. Through this process, learners increase their self-awareness and develop new knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills for making changes and redefining their roles within new contexts (Williams 1992). The properties of action learning clarify its relevance to workplace learning (Beaty et al. 1993):

Learning is based on the solution of real problems.

Learning occurs with and from others who are also engaged in managing real problems.

Members of the group are responsible for solving their own problems, unlike those on a project team or task force.

Members of the group are concerned with implementing actions, moving beyond the stages of analysis and recommendation.

Situated Learning

Situated learning is another approach that is receiving attention in the field of adult and workplace learning. In the situated learning approach, knowledge and skills are taught in contexts that reflect how the knowledge will be used in real-life situations.

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