Workplace Learning and Performance Thesis

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Workplace Learning and Performance

Over the years, studies have demonstrated an inextricable relationship between workplace learning and employee performance time and again, but many companies may not be achieving the full benefit of this aspect of employee development because they are either unaware of the benefits or fail to allocate sufficient resources to the enterprise. Indeed, in an increasingly globalized and competitive marketplace, organizations that fail to take advantage of workplace learning do so at their peril. In order to identify opportunities for improving the administration of workplace learning and how it can be used to improve employee performance, this paper provides a review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature, followed by a summary of the research and salient findings in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

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The current global economic downturn has driven home the need for identifying better ways of improving employee performance and many organizational and governmental leaders are turning to workplace learning as the solution. In this regard, Rainbird, Fuller and Munro (2004) emphasize that, "Policy-makers preoccupied with finding ways of strengthening the relationship between education systems and the economy are increasingly focusing on workplace learning as a way of improving organizational performance and, at the aggregate level, national economic success" (p. 1). The need for "leaner and meaner" organizations extends to both the public and private sectors as well. For example, Gunasekara (2003) reports that, "Organizations in public and private sectors are increasingly aware of the need to adapt faster than their competitors in order to cope successfully with the rapidly changing and highly competitive environment of the global economy" (p. 37).

TOPIC: Thesis on Workplace Learning and Performance Assignment

From a purely pragmatic perspective, helping people become more effective in the workplace just makes good business sense. For instance, Rainbird and her associates add that, "From a human capital perspective, the skills and qualifications of the workforce are believed to be central to productivity. Investing in their (or one's own development) is assumed to result in economic dividends. The idea of investing in human beings as a form of capital has fueled a very powerful discourse of workplace learning" (p. 1). A useful definition of workplace learning provided by Gunasekara indicates that it "involves the process of reasoned learning towards desirable outcomes for the individual and the organization. These outcomes should foster the sustained development of both the individual and the organization, within the present and future context of organizational goals and individual career development" (2003, p. 37). This definition is congruent with the observation made by Beckett and Hager (2001) that, "Learning is bound up with what it is to be a whole person, because experience, knowledge and skills already possessed range over all of a person's life, not just that part of it in paid employment. Yet people bring to work their entire experiential selves, and it would be odd to shape workplace learning only around the formal, or propositional, knowledge that the workplace required" (p. 6).

Although the Age of Information has witnessed the introduction of distance learning programs for adult education, the workplace remains one of the most important venues for learning today. In this regard, Evans, Hodkinson and Unwin (2002) emphasize that, "For most people the workplace is the site of tertiary socialization, after the family and the education system. It is here that workers learn to modify their performance and to understand their roles, including their gender roles, in the structures and interactions of the organization" (p. 7). In spite of its importance to the individual employee and the organization alike, workplace learning remains understudied and poorly understood by many organizational leaders and this lack of understanding has contributed to inefficiencies across the entire spectrum of operations (Evans et al., 2002).

Although all organizations are unique, two general types of workplace learning that are typically encountered in the workplace today are described by Gerber and Lankshear (2000) in Table 1 below.

Table 1

General types of workplace learning

Type of Learning

Single Loop Learning

Double Loop Learning

Triple Loop Learning

Passive/correcting

Idiosyncratic adaptation

Adaptation to environment

Problem-solving

Active/generative

Generative idiosyncratic adaptation -- new routines

Generative adaptation to the environment -- new norms

Generative problem solving -- new values

Source: Gerber & Lankshear, 2000, p. 77

In order to become more effective at the provision of workplace learning, organizations may need to reformulate their corporate culture to encourage employees to become more knowledgeable about their jobs and to help identify opportunities for training that can facilitate their accomplishment. The types of workplace learning described in Table 1 above suggest that in order for organizations to become "problem-solvers" and assume a proactive approach to doing business rather than remaining reactive to problems as they become serious, an active/generative approach to workplace learning is required. In this regard, Gerber and Lankshear identify three levels of responsiveness that these two types of workplace learning can achieve as follows:

1. Idiosyncratic adaptation or the correction of action in relation to fixed plans, standards, norms, values and instructions. Here, negative feedback allows for incremental steps in learning that lead to minor changes. It leads to a mechanical and self-correcting system that searches for increased efficiency.

2. Adaptation to environment represents the results of confrontation between existing ideas, rules and plans for actions and observations in the environment. Here, 'old' knowledge is abandoned and 'new' knowledge is accepted to perform new patterns of action and behavior. The aim is for increased effectiveness as a reaction to a given work environment.

3. Learning through problem-solving which focuses on the process of learning how to adapt, i.e. improving effectiveness and efficiency under new circumstances (Gerber & Lankshear, 2000, p. 77).

Taken together, the foregoing listing suggests that each of these approaches has something to offer organizations in search of better ways of providing their employees with workplace learning opportunities. In fact, according to Gerber and Lankshear (2000), "These three forms of learning can be transformed into generative forms when the learning shapes the work environment and affects it, i.e., it focuses on generating new knowledge as an active process, thus developing new routines, norms or values depending on which form of learning is being considered" (p. 77).

These three forms of workplace learning are typically manifested in ways that are better known as mentoring and coaching programs, project-based management and competency structures. For instance, Beckett and Hager (2001) identify the common examples of workplace learning below:

1. Mentoring and coaching programs, which are most effective when they deal in the sociocultural experiences of the participants: there is a personal investment in 'fitting in' fast; this is integrative and growth-conducive.

2. Project-based management, which focuses learning in outcome-driven ways, where there is an urgent requirement to achieve those outcomes before the sunset of the project; this drives the reliance on 'hot action' simultaneously with an integrative purpose.

3. Competency structures for professionals, which are most effective when breadth of judgment is recognized as a vital component of the performance indicators. Such judgment is best understood as an integrative experience, because in the midst of hot action companies bring to bear upon their decisions a wide range of relevant considerations, focused however on the appropriate response.

An integration of project-based and competency structures therefore provides a useful starting point for companies searching for a viable workplace learning approach. A study by Turner and Crawford (1998) determined that specific capabilities tend to contribute to a reformulation or shift in operational effectiveness of all types of organizations today. These researchers maintain that three fundamental operational capabilities, business technology, market responsiveness, and performance management, are the foundation of effective organizational performance (Turner & Crawford, 1998). Besides performance management, two additional core capabilities, engagement of the workforce and employee development, represent key factors for helping companies become more efficient in their operations. These discrete capabilities consist of several competencies and the development of these capabilities represents the goal of workplace learning (Turner & Crawford, 1998). As an extension of this line of reasoning, Gunasekara (2003) suggests that a capability approach to workplace learning provides a useful framework in which to provide employees with the workplace learning they need to become more productive and to help the organization achieve its strategic goals. According to Gunasekara, "While the capability approach potentially offers a way to link strategic and operational imperatives in a learning frame, the means of doing so is not well developed. The capability approach requires the development and implementation of new techniques, systems, and processes" (2003, p. 38).

The capability approach which Gunasekara terms "project-based workplace learning" is geared toward specific learning objectives rather than as a pie-in-the-sky approach that may or may not provide the results needed. In many workplace training instances, learning is frequently restricted to the solution of well-defined problems. For example, Cooper (1997) advises, "Training is generally based on the underlying assumption that problems in an organization are caused by deficits in knowledge or skills that can be remedied through an orchestrated program of learning" (p. 75). This solution-based approach is also consistent with the guidance provided… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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