Learning and development HR Management

From birth, humans, like all animals, learn and develop: learning is a natural process in which we all engage. It is not just a cognitive activity, and it affects the person as a whole. This learning and development lead to skilful and effective adaptation to and manipulation of the environment, which is one element in a much-quoted definition of intelligence (Wechsler, 1958, in Ribeaux and Poppleton, 1978: 189).

People continue learning throughout life, whether encouraged or not, whether formally taught or not, whether the outcomes are valued or not. Moreover, the process of their learning knows no boundaries: learning in one domain, such as employment, hobbies or maintenance of home and car, cross-fertilises that in another and thereby achieves a wider understanding and more finely honed skills.

Deep down, we are all learners. No one has to teach an infant to learn. In fact, no one has to teach infants anything. They are intrinsically inquisitive, masterful learners who learn to walk, speak . . . Learning organizations are possible because not only is it our nature to learn but we love to learn. (Senge, 1990: 4) Most of us have learned a good deal more out of school than in it. We have learned from our families, our work, our friends.

We have learned from problems resolved and tasks achieved but also from mistakes confronted and illusions unmasked. Intentionally or not, we have learned from the dilemmas our lives hand us daily. (Daloz, 1986: 1) Society fosters and facilitates these activities of its members, but also channels and controls them through socialisation and education so that they yield outcomes that contribute to and are acceptable to it.

However, although individuals have a lifetime’s experience of being learners, some of their experiences (especially those in formal educational settings) might not have been happy ones, as some of those who responded to the Declaration of Learning (Honey, 1998) illustrated (Honey, 1999). They might be experienced learners, but not necessarily competent or confident learners.

Lifelong learning means continuous adaptation. Increased knowledge and improved skills enlarge the individual’s capacities to adapt to the environment and to change that environment. As the systems model in Chapter implies, such external changes will lead on to further internal changes, allowing new possibilities for the individual to emerge. Moreover, these changes feed the individual’s self-esteem and confidence, and enhance social status.

Hence learning generates potentially far-reaching changes in the individual: learning promotes development. In his very warm-hearted and insightful book on ‘the transformational power of adult learning experiences’, Daloz (1986) draws on mythology to convey the nature of this development: The outcomes of a person’s learning and development are the way they think, feel and interpret their world (their cognition, affect, attitudes, overall philosophy of life); the way they see themselves, their self-concept and self-esteem; and their ability to respond to and make their way in their particular environment (their perceptual-motor, intellectual, social, and interpersonal skills). Some of the transformational impact of learning can be seen in Daloz’s description above of the journey of development.

Learning and development are therefore significant experiences for individuals and for organisations. Following from this, it should also be noted, the facilitation of another’s learning is a moral project: it has the potential to promote changes that may have a profound effect in the other’s life. This, too, has implications for the debate about the ownership of learning, one of the controversial issues at the end of the chapter.

Learning and development are processes that we all experience, active processes in which we all engage: we do not have learning and development done to us. However, we rarely pay conscious attention to them and so might not fully understand them. This chapter therefore addresses you, the reader, directly, and here and throughout this chapter invites you to draw upon your own experience in order to understand and make use of the issues that are discussed.

Your very reading of this book might itself entail some of these issues. Before proceeding further, therefore, it makes sense to identify and reflect on them so that you will then have ready in your mind the ‘hooks’ on to which to hang the information this chapter will give you. In the language of a learning theory to be noted later, you will be ready to ‘decode’ these new ‘signals’.The journey tale begins with an old world, generally simple and uncomplicated, more often than not, home . . .

The middle portion, beginning with departure from home, is characterized by confusion, adventure, great highs and lows, struggle, uncertainty. The ways of the old world no longer hold, and the hero’s task is to find a way through this strange middle land, generally in search of something lying at its heart. At the deepest point, the nadir of the descent, a transformation occurs, and the traveler moves out of the darkness toward a new world that often bears an ironic resemblance to the old.

Nothing is different, yet all is transformed. It is seen differently . . . Our old life is still there, but its meaning has profoundly changed because we have left home, seen it from afar, and been transformed by that vision. You can’t go home again. This chapter will help you to understand the motivation for and influences on learning. It will also examine how people learn, and what helps or hinders them. By paying attention now to how you are reading this book, you can begin to understand your own processes of learning.

Later you will have the opportunity to identify who benefits from and who pays for your learning. This will help you to understand something of the problematical issues inherent in employee development.

  • Defining learning and development

To understand the processes of learning and development and use this understanding to good effect in developing people and their organisations, you have to be able to think clearly about the concepts you are using. The concepts ‘learning’ and ‘development’ are frequently used loosely and even interchangeably, so it is important to define how they are being used here. The following definitions will enable you to distinguish them and understand the relationship between them.

It is now widely recognised that intelligence is not just a cognitive capacity – note the theory of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1985, 1999), and the recent interest in emotional intelligence (Pickard, 1999b). Hence learning is not just a cognitive process that involves the assimilation of information in symbolic form (as in book learning), but also an affective and physical process (Binsted, 1980). Our emotions, nerves and muscles are involved in the process, too.

Learning leads to change, whether positive or negative for the learner. It is an experience after which an individual ‘qualitatively [changes] the way he or she conceived something’ (Burgoyne and Hodgson, 1983: 393) or experiences ‘personal transformation’ (Mezirow, 1977). Learning can be more or less effectively undertaken, and it could be more effective when it is paid conscious attention. Development, however, is the process of becoming increasingly complex, more elaborate and differentiated, by virtue of learning and maturation.

(As will be noted later, it is sometimes assumed that development connotes progression and advancement.) In an organism, greater complexity, differentiation among the parts, leads to changes in the structure of the whole and to the way in which the whole functions (Reese and Overton, 1970: 126). In the individual, this greater complexity opens up the potential for new ways of acting and responding to the environment. This leads to the need and opportunity for even further learning, and so on.

Development, whether of an organism, individual or organisation, is a process of both continuity and discontinuity. Quantitative changes lead to qualitative changes or transformations; development is irreversible, although regression to earlier phases can occur. Overall, then, learning contributes to development. It is not synonymous with it, but development cannot take place without learning of some kind.

  • Many types of learner

Much of what we know about learning and teaching derives from the study of children and young people (pedagogy). However, learners in organisations are not children, and have different needs and experiences.

  • Adult learners

Instead of a pedagogical model of learning, an androgogical model is needed to understand adult learning. According to Knowles and Associates (1984), this needs to take into account that adult learners are self-directing, and motivated by their need to be recognised, to prove something to themselves and others, to better themselves, and achieve their potential. Their learning does not take place in a vacuum.

Not only are they ready to learn when they recognise their need to know or do something, but they have experience on which to draw and to hang their new learning, and to assess its utility. Earlier (especially formal) learning experiences might have been far from effective or comfortable, so that many adults have developed poor learning habits or are apprehensive about further learning. Human resource development has to address these various needs appropriately, as will be suggested in the later section on the organisation as a context for learning.

  • Learners in the organisation

Older workers

Older people have been widely discriminated against when seeking employment and when employed (Naylor, 1987; Dennis, 1988; Laslett, 1989; Waskel, 1991). They are commonly stereotyped as having failing cognitive and physical abilities, as being inflexible, unwilling and unable to learn new ways. However, the Carnegie Inquiry into the Third Age (Trinder et al.,1992) reports:

Trinder et al. (1992) also note that performance is influenced as much by experience and skill as by age: skill development in earlier years will encourage adaptability in later life. Although older people are ‘at a disadvantage with speedy and novel (unexpected) forms of presentation’, Coleman (1990: 70–71) reports little or no decline with age in memory and learning, particularly ‘if the material is fully learned initially’.

(The role of rehearsal and revision in memory will be examined later in this chapter.) Pickard (1999a: 30), discussing changing attitudes to the employment of older people, and the possibility of retirement age rising to the upper 70s, quotes a 72-year-old Nobel prize-winning scientist as saying: ‘You may forget where you were last week, but not the things that matter.’ Coleman (1990) goes on to cite a study in which the majority of the 80 volunteers aged 63 to 91 years learned German from scratch, and in six months reached the level of skill in reading German normally achieved by schoolchildren in five years.

Until recently, there were few examples to cite of organisations that employed older people. The do-it-yourself retail chain B&Q was a notable exception, staffing one store solely by people over the age of 50. It was ‘an overwhelming success . . . In commercial terms the store has surpassed its trading targets’ (Hogarth and Barth, 1991: 15). In this trial these older workers were found to be willing to train, although initially reluctant to use new technology, and did not require longer or different training from other workers.

Since then, as Pickard (1999a) reports, B&Q has been joined by other employers in giving employment opportunities to older people. These older workers demonstrate the ability to continue to learn through life. Their learning will be facilitated if employers adopt appropriate approaches, which will be examined in the section on the organization as a context for learning.It seems likely that in the future there will be a greater need to understand the capacity of older workers.

One response to the growing pressure on pensions provision because of the ageing population would be to scrap compulsory retirement ages so that more older people would continue in employment. Such ideas, and new appraisals of older workers, can be found on the www.agepositive.gov.uk website.

Other classes of employees

Three classes of people – women, disabled people, and individuals from cultural and ethnic minorities – are often socialised and educated in ways that do not advantage them in labour markets or organisations; they may develop correspondingly low expectations and aspirations. Negative stereotyping of them in employment is frequently discussed (Gallos, 1989; Thomas and Alderfer, 1989).

This section will briefly note some aspects of their experience that will influence them as learners in the organisation: these need to be viewed in terms of the barriers to learning referred to later. Until recently, little seemed to have been written about the training of disabled people in organisations. Moreton (1992) identified the role of the Training and Enterprise Councils in providing training programmes for them, and Arkin (1995) summarised the implications for employers of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.

Clearly, there is a wide range of disability, but in 1999 Whitehead was able to report on the employment of disabled people at Centrica, and Littlefield (1999) reported how some residents with learning disabilities accompanied staff at their community care home on training days, some achieving NVQ (see Chapter 8) level 1 qualifications.

As was noted in Chapter , there is now a considerable body of theory, including feminist critiques, that addresses the nature of women and their experiences in their own right, rather than as a subset of a supposed ‘universal’ (but often Eurocentric, middleclass male) nature. For example, Gilligan (1977: see Daloz, 1986: 134–135) argues that unlike men, who see their world as ‘a hierarchy of power’, women see theirs as ‘a web of relationships’.

The connected self interprets the environment differently, and so responds to it differently, from the separate self. These and other ways in which women may differ from men (Bartol, 1978) will influence their approach to, experience of, and outcomes from, learning. They may, indeed, advantage women in the development of some of the higher-order skills needed in organisations.

Different cultures imbue their members with different basic assumptions about the nature of reality and the values and the roles in social life. Cultural experiences differ, and hence the accumulated experience of the members will also differ. The concept of intelligence is not culture-free. Gardner (1985), who expounds a theory of multiple intelligences that include interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence, recognises that Hence some members of cultural and ethnic minorities have many ways of learning that are dissimilar to those of the dominant culture, and also different outcomes from their learning.

It is therefore important to assess such constructs as intelligence in as culturefair a manner as possible (Sternberg, 1985: 77, 309), and to seek appropriate means to facilitate learning of the skills required in organisations. Clements and Jones (2002) point to the importance of self-learning when addressing diversity. Learning through action might also be particularly appropriate. Understanding of and fluency with English are not the only language issues in organisations.

As discussed in Chapter, language is ideological and can embody racism and sexism. Similarly, the construction of knowledge is a social and ideological process. Through the very nature of language and knowledge, these learners may be internalisingconstructions of themselves that ultimately undermine their self-esteem, alienate them from self-fulfilment, and erect barriers to their effective learning.


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