Workplace learning and rapid technological change: designing organisational learning embedded in theory
As the progression of time marches on it is apparent with each passing day that organisations are confronted with the increasing pace of change. Perhaps the most compelling change faced is that of technology. Technology continually changes how organisations interact with their environments and the people they serve. It influences how we work, and it alters social interaction across borders. At the forefront of change are learning and development professionals who are charged with ensuring organisational capability are energised by suitably skilled and innovative staff. To realise ever-improving staff capability, learning and development professionals leverage their knowledge of learning theories with their skill to develop and implement organisational learning.
In the science fiction novel ‘Dune’ (Herbert, 1965), the protagonist was known for his ability to learn quickly. His ability to learn was because the first lessons he received were on how to learn. More recently, Flood and Romm (2018) identify “learning how to learn” (p. 262) as a critical component of developing organisational training and learning. Without creating the ability to learn people within organisations fall prey to their views and biases (Santa, 2015, p. 249) causing decisions to be made lacking the luxury of data to confirm or refute them. Organisations that cannot learn from data for decision making are likely to act contrary to what market conditions would otherwise dictate. Although no universal definition of learning for organisations has been agreed upon (Santa, 2015, p. 244), Kluge and Schilling (2003) provide a compelling definition that “learning can be defined as the modification of learning structures produced by information processing and interpretation that manifests itself in cognition and behaviour” (p. 32). For facilitating learning in organisations, the definition serves well and hints at the use of information processing learning theory. Organisations can be guided by learning and development professionals to collect internal and external data and compare them to current structural systems and processes (Farhan, 2018, p. 16; Santa, 2015, pp. 248-249).
Software applications can assist with the collection of data, data modelling and projection of what may occur when systems and processes are modified. Information collected using organisational learning can be tested using learning methodology to determine the effect of change against organisational objectives. We are fortunate that many software titles can support organisational learning. Learning and development professionals can explore available software and may decide include applications for managing the collection of information and what has been learnt, platforms for the dissemination of information, and programs to aid collaborative learning. No longer are there challenges with geographically dispersed staffing a problem for implementing organisational learning systems. Many software options are cloud-based and can be accessed from multiple locations.
Care must be taken to ensure technology does not become the “driving force behind” organisational training and learning (Santa, 2015, p.251). Technology should be used to assist the training of staff and adaptation of improved organisational systems and processes. Implementation of technology-based learning must be aligned to the contextual needs of people learning from it and match the organisational environment (Sarabadani, Jafarzadeh & ShamiZanjani, 2017, pp. 43-44). Farhan (2018) identifies the need for organisational learning to be led with shared responsibility and leadership (p. 16). Care must be taken to ensure learning leaders are skilled at facilitating learning because inexperience and lack of skill “denies workers the opportunity to obtain the full benefit of continuing education and training” (Billett et al., 2014, p. 25). Learning leaders need to be knowledgeable and skilled in the application of learning theory and methods but also be flexible in their approach (Farhan, 2018, p. 13). The way organisational learning takes place must be subject to learning and improvement. To ensure the development of learning leadership capability, employees should share the responsibility for leading and contributing to learning activities to the benefit of the organisation.
To begin, organisations should implement a facilitated learning activity to determine what technology should be used to support further organisational learning. Employees can be introduced to organisational learning and the organisation, through learning, can determine appropriate software to facilitate further learning. Although information processing learning theory is identified in the definition of organisational learning, experimental and collaborative learning is a reasonable first step to begin organisational learning. Hoekstra and Crocker (2014) identify a strong link between experimental and collaborative learning underpinned by reflective practice (p. 356) for the improvement of organisational activity. Instead of implementing formally structured learning, organisations benefit more from informal learning that allows learning to occur along natural pathways (Eraut, 2011, p. 9). Castanheira (2015) found the application of mentoring was suitable to facilitate informal and formal learning in workplaces to yield positivity for individual workers, groups of workers (p. 341), and workplaces (p. 335). A study of organisational learning and performance found the implementation of informal learning and mentoring had an improved effect on performance compared to formal approaches (Bozionelos et al., 2016, p. 158).
Learning and development professionals would do well to implement organisational learning facilitated by informal mentoring supported by software to capture what is learnt. Organisations benefit from the capture of what is learnt to affect change in processes, systems of work, and product and service offerings. The additional benefit occurs at the employee level, where workers perform collaborative learning activities. Collaborative learning acts to improve individual learning and leadership abilities in addition to contributing to the whole of the organisation. An argument against implementing organisational learning is that it is challenging to prove return on investment (Industry Skills Councils, 2011, p. 7). A study conducted in 2012, however, found a positive return on investment due to organisational learning at the employee level focusing on leadership and individual skills (Australian Industry Group, 2012, p. 9). When organisational learning is implemented to support the goals of organisations and individual and groups of employees, organisations gain improved retention of staff (Castanheira, 2015, p. 341). Use of learning theory, software and skilled learning and development professionals are vital elements for organisations to achieve a return on investment and retain employees who engage in learning to their own and the organisation’s benefit.
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