Saturday, January 22, 2011

Workplace Learning and Developmental Theories

When I was in the graduate school we were given some fairly interesting models for understanding adult learning and instructional design. It just so happens that concurrently, I was assuming HRD responsibilities at the company where I have worked in Human Resources for 13 years.

Two of the developmental models that were of greatest interest to me where labeled as: 1) development as emergent; 2) development as a voyage. Emergent development allows room for the learners to influence the direction of their learning experiences and to create their own meaning collectively. While development as a voyage has an emphasis upon the individuals' determination of meaning and the choices they make. The development as voyage is similar to the hero's journey that we find throughout classical literature.

The two models can and likely do overlap with one another in any given group learning experience, as the individual learners are entering into the experience from different perspectives, with different motivations and expected outcomes and at different stages in adult life. To facilitate such an environment requires flexibility on the part of the learning sponsor and facilitator. One of my favorite professors from the HR Management program at Nova had reinforced for me the role balance plays as a leader. As with the example of different models of development, HRD itself, as a professional discipline, is often striving towards balance between at least two terminal objectives. The first being to enhance and benefit the organization sponsoring learning and the second aimed at individual learning and the benefits that can be attributed to that learning.

Making these tensions explicit by establishing anticipated learning outcomes at three levels is one of the strategies being used in a 12 month management training and leadership development program being hosted for the management team of one of our business units. So at the end of the program, learners will have focused on the following:
1. Individual learning
2. Improved group/team performance
3. Enhanced organizational efficiency and effectiveness

From these, each learner can spell out with their manager individual learning and development initiatives and set individual goals that can be measured along the way. One of the tangible benefits of managers doing IDPs accompanied by learning contracts is that they are engaged in an activity that they then can be replicated in the development of the individuals reporting to them. The individual, the leader and the organization will then be able to balance the variety of acquired knowledge and skills among these three general outcomes.