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Learning has become an important management development focus in recent times; it has been an exciting topic for so many scholars who have broadly and generously shared their different views and concepts in their different works. The concept of learning and especially learning within a complex environment has many businesses spellbound, as a result of the obvious advantages of learning and workplace learning, organizations has begun to change the ways in which they view learning,David Boud and John Garrick (1999)
David Boud and John Garrick (1999), in their book understanding learning at work shares the view that businesses that ignore learning especially workplace learning does so at their own present and future peril, also he goes further to say that employees who have reached their learning peak has very little or a nonexistent employment value, since continuous learning is the life blood" which sustains an employee. A huge characteristic of the very complex world of the workplace is continuous learning, this cannot be overemphasized, this underscores that individuals apply lessons learnt, either formally or informally in their everyday activities: business, personal and even spiritual.
Learning in an overly complex environment such as the workplace embodies different types and class of individuals with different levels and types of basic knowledge, who are nursing the need to acquire more knowledge, improve on already perfected skills while learning informally through their day to day interaction with their counterparts and facilitators, or formally through well structured graded learning programs. Vaughan(2008) asserted that every learning environment has its threats and opportunities, thus learning in the workplace can be more effective when the culture of a particular work environment is maintained by everyone involved, allowing for a better handling of all issues that may arise as learning and work progresses during the course of an organizations daily activities. Also Vaughan added that in order for learning to be thorough within and outside the working environment strict consideration must be given to the employees , their learning ability, capacity to retain knowledge acquired, their specific skill areas ,etc, these are important because every workplace allows for some level of risk taking, hence learning needs and instruments for achieving them are as important as the innovations that arise as a result of some level of risk taking . Learning is such a complex issue that most times it near impossible to ascertain how human resource development processes can positively and effectively use the "workplace as an adequate source of learning" (Stern and Sommerland, 1999). Many behaviorists define learning as that which happens spontaneously, no separate special activity is required for learning to occur, according to zuboff (1988), "Learning is the heart of productive activity, learning is a new form of labour". Futher more individual behavior towards learning and their trainers who impact the knowledge cannot be overlooked, behaviourism underscores that learning proceeds through a process of cause and effect. B.F Skinner(1973) explained this process in terms of 'operant conditioning'; that is, the idea that humans learn by the consequences of positive and negative reinforcement, a critical look at the functions of the two theories as fundamental subjects of the choice of learning procedures in the workplace from a trainer's point of view. I will argue in agreement with choice of the cognitive processes for human resource development while identifying its possible limitations.My position would be that organizations would prefer to produce logical workers who will be able to process information, adapt to changing job specification and conform positively to unplanned situations beyond the pedagogy of the trainer and his prospectus as is the case in formal learning where a written propecteus must be adhered to. In this sense, an organizations requirement aligns with creating individuals that are far advanced above the ability to perform only in response to reinforcements of rewards. Employees who work by responding to reinforcements and punishments could in fact be limiting to an organizations ability to flourish due to a lack of commitment above its responsorial ethos.Hence the positive use of cognitive platform for training, and the incorporation of behavioural elements of rewards only as a form of recognition of accomplishments.
Learning can be in two forms, informal known as "non-formal learning"(Eraut,2000), and formal learning, both come with their different advantages and disadvantages as regards learning in the workplace. Informal learning on one hand was defined by Eraut as an unplanned process that required no predetermined structure or design, despite that it being conducted to achieve specific organizational goals (Stamps 1998). Informal learning happens spontaneously within the workplace, between colleagues who one way or another give and receive knowledge from each other daily, correcting on the spot errors as they arise and finding adequate solutions to them for the same and only purpose of achieving set goals.
Learning by the informal means allows individuals the freedom needed to get fully involved in the workings of their organization, they are able to mold and create a conducive learning environment that meets their ever changing and growing needs for learning (Jay Cross, 2011). this idea of employee involvement in their organizations day to day running, underscores that informal learning is "integrated with individual and organizations daily routines" Matsick and Watkins, (1990) hence no special jolt or activity is required for this form of learning , thus it has little or no "limitations or formalized stereotyped approaches, informal learning is especially characterized by knowledge gained from trials and errors (Jay Cross 2011). Though the most prevalent type of learning recognized by many organizations today, informal form of learning is not without its limitations some of which affect its recognition and complete acceptance as a better form of learning within the workplace, hence it is the least supported form of learning (IPD 2000), theses limitation will be discussed later on in this paper.
Formal learning is stereotyped and rigid in every aspect of its learning processes, it is a complete opposite of informal learning, though less prevalent in organizations today to its formalized and cumbersome processes, it however enjoys better support by many scholars and organizations. Formal learning involves the use of thought through programs, structured to require assessment and grading as a means of measuring individual performance. A major advantage of formal learning is that it allows for accuracy in the measurement of knowledge gained, measurement can be taken to ascertain the effect of a particular formal training program, thus allowing for improvement where employees are found lacking,(Eraut 2000) by restructuring and tailoring the formal learning programs to meet set objectives. Many scholars see this form of learning as a better than its counterpart despite that it attracts more cost than the former.
Traditionally, workplace learning is seen as an informal process of learning. This understanding borders on the historical notions of the workman apprentice which did not involve clear formal notations on how learning occurs, and in many cases was passed on by word of mouth and interaction rather than formal textbook engaged learning. Clearly because this form of learning involved individuals and work types at the lower strata of societal hierarchy they were often not formally recognized as a critical element of the industrial and production economy.Young and Guile,(1998) in their journal article, 'Apprenticeship as a conceptual basis for a learning theory, proposes a new direction of social learning that is skewed towards the reconceptualization of apprentice learning as a foundation for developing the workforce of tomorrow. In this capacity, the authors believe that the workforce of tomorrow would have to become lifelong learners and as such must be driven much more by learning through apprenticeship more than the behaviorist and individual transmission pedagogies of cognitive theorists. The article proposes a reconceptualization of apprenticeship leaning for the development of criteria for reflexive learning. The significance of apprenticeship has often been limited by perceptions that it is an aspect of socialization in the workplace more than as a process of formal learning. Therefore it has been difficult for scholars to come to unity on how learning is formed within formal and informal processes often alluded to as systems of workplace socialization. The concept of apprenticeship leaning is often derided for lack of formal theory which can enable systematic and standardized transmission of knowledge.
Apprenticeship is still viewed by many social psychologists as bounded by age-old workers of the forms of the craftsman and the teacher as 'master.' However, there are models of apprenticeship that embrace the formal and informal processes of learning advanced in the workplace. While the process of apprenticeship is often thus generalized as a form of experiential knowledge accumulated over time from the master craftsman to the learner, in reality many instances of apprenticeship involve extensive transmission of implicit knowledge. Therefore it is important that the degree of cognition required in a great variety of apprenticeship learning areas is considered in developing a learning theory that incorporates this perspective of workplace learning. The traditional concept of apprenticeship is therefore limited by the inability to appreciate that its knowledge is socially constructed, and involves reaching across different and unique areas of practice.
Additionally, the modern workplace requires learners to continuously review and relate assorted scientific concepts within the learning process. Apprenticeship learning and formal education has much more commonalities in their learning practices than has been revealed in traditional literature of learning theory. Apprenticeship just like formal education has now been known to be active within a zone of proximal development that equally creates new knowledge. Indeed a number of contradictions that limits the development of a learning theory of apprenticeship in the workplace have to be overcome. Of major significance are the limits of continuity and displacement in workplace practices and organizational changes that are linked to production for the development of formal apprenticeship based pedagogy.
The concept of workplace learning underscores the unique nature and relevance of knowledge acquired in the workplace. Ordinarily, in the past most aspects of workplace learning was considered informal and as such was left to the dynamics of organizational structure of a particular workplace, and industries. However, with the globalization of industry and knowledge particular emphasis is being accorded knowledge acquired in the workplace. This attention has provided a great variety of literature on the formal elements of workplace learning for human resource management. This is also not unrelated to the competitive nature of global industry, and the tendency to create new knowledge or repackage old ones for the bludgeoning workplace knowledge market. Lee et al. (2004) notes that within the past few years a variety of interests has given rise the surge in understanding theories of workplace learning as evidenced in concepts such as 'life long learners' and 'the learning society.'In relation to this they cite Stern and Sommerlad (1999) who note that this phenomenon reflects new thinking in the knowledge industries about the changing nature of work in the globalized economy. Thus Lee et al. (2004) aligns the requirements of examining the notion of workplace learning to the dynamics and flexibility of the modern learning environment, the advent of new technologies, the dearth of the manufacturing sector, and the advent of working at home and work on the go regimens. Fuller and Urwin (2005) note that 'learning by participation' is one concept that has been advanced in the contemporary period to understand workplace learning. According to Sawchuk (2009), the most critical element of workplace learning are the effectiveness of the formal/informal processes adopted.
Lee et al (2004) considers learning as an ongoing social process where the individual cannot be separated from the context of the kind of work he performs. In the same way there are different theoretical variants and approaches used to understand the differences between informal and formal learning in the workplace. Of significance to Lee et al is the significance of organizational structure and individual engagement in workplace learning. Bould and Garrick (1999) maintain that the chief goal of workplace learning is to improve productivity and efficiency by enhancing the knowledge base and skills of the employee in relation to specific work requirements. Additionally, Garavan (1997) noted that the conceptual focus on workplace learning in the modern workplace and in academic research is related to the dynamism of international completion and requirement for efficiency that has been primarily enabled by globalization. Within diverse Human resource organizations employee development roles could be grouped under individual, traditional, and organizational training regimes. These different themes also explain the implications of workplace learning for organizational employee management. The historical significance and social classification limits their consideration in the development of training and learning applications in the work lace. Garavan undercores the the Human Resource Development predilection with distinguishing the concepts of learning, education, training, and development. In many instances training implies the general developmental activities within the organization, while learning configures the impartation of skills from line managers to employees. In the consideration of job elements configured around informal workplace learning, often what is being measured is the educational attainment of workers in a specific job description, and not really the knowledge involved in the job type. Indeed informal workplace learning can be formalized under a conceptual agreement of knowledge aggregation by human resources development in various organizations. While training entails the impartation of skills, development is a lifelong process of education, and learning focus on values, attitudes, and accomplishment (Garavan 1997). Without a doubt these three aspects of workplace learning could in fact be considered to be complementary rather than different. From historical time training entailed the passage of knowledge from the master craftsman to the trainee, while education that is formal school based knowledge had classical origins, the way of viewing these two forms of knowledge acquisition has persisted in contemporary organizational management (Garavan 1997). Garavan implies with technological changes and the fast pace of worker adaptation in the workplace, the delineations between workplace training and school classroom formal learning has become increasingly blurred. So much so that colleges are increasingly attuning their curriculums to meet the demands of the workplace. None-the-less the human resource departments in organizations definitely has a lot of work cut out for them, in navigating these growing indistinct lines between workplace learning and formal classroom learning. Indeed to encourage the so called informal job types, the incorporation of the latent knowledge of their work processes is required in modern day organizational practices.Because of the early role of the industrial economy of artisans, and manufacturing industry in describing the workplace, workplace learning was considered menial as pertaining to common knowledge that could easily be acquired by anyone without critical and strenuous knowledge based mental strain. Therefore the bulk of workplace knowledge was considered informal. For instance, in the past because of the low position of clerks in the hierarchy of the workplace, the job of clerks was considered informal. And as such did not require any major formal based knowledge system. As it were the common procedure of passing on the clerk based knowledge was through informal based training of the new employee by the older one. Fearful (2005) used the concept of interpretative sociology to understudy knowledge production by clerks. Fearful states that past reports and studies on studying clerks in the work place have concentrated in stigmatization, but clerks are also involved in the production of workplace knowledge. The position of clerks was often related into, and the work considered and interpreted in derogatory terms. In fact this is an explication of the abiding human nature of social-hierarchical distances. Because their work was not considered a top job in the organizational hierarchy, the knowledge input of their job description was not given any formal reckoning. However, Fearful notes that the nonrecognition and derogatory subjection of the work of clerks limits the creativity of the human spirit. While increasing focus on workplace learning, the inherent changes involved, the implications of technological knowledge is expected to advance the appreciation and formalization of many work types that are currently underappreciated, many believe that these changes would rather lead to managerial oppression of employees. The effectiveness of these technological changes in uplifting the status of the informal knowledge areas is still subject to the vagaries of social relationships (Fuller and Unwin 2005; Forrester 2002). In fact research on the best approach of learning in the workplace is yet inconclusive.
Human resource practitioners in the different organizations would need to overcome diametric opinions on the usefulness of formalized learning programs in the workplace compared to informal programs (Billet 2001; Eraut et al., 2002; Beckett and Hager 2002). However, this would depend on the type, function and location of organizations. Clearly with the leverage in technology, organizations in the developed parts of the world may have less options when it comes to the requirement for formalization of workplace knowledge and learning. The evaluator changes in the road to properly leverage the knowledge areas of the informal system into the formalized workplace for the human resource department of organizations include the lack of expertise, blurred training objectives, budgetary constraints, and uncooperative senior management (Grove and Ostroff 1990).
Informal learning often acts as the base of formal learning. Though informal learning requires organized guidance to avoid the production of dysfunctional knowledge (Leinhardt et al. 1995). It is clear that formal knowledge often derives from its informal syntax. This situation clearly reflects a part of the latent challenges involved in the development of the informal knowledge industry via workplace learning and training for human resource practitioners. The human resource practitioner could give so called informal job types like clerks the opportunity to explain the knowledge dynamics of their work from their own perspective rather than from organizational structures that undermine their knowledge production capabilities. The human resource practitioner in a sense plays a mediator role between labor and capital. By understudying and formalizing the underlying knowledge behind some otherwise informal job processes in the workplace the human resource practitioner is empowering the worker, and at the same time creating a more productive learning culture and resources in the workplace. In most instances as articulated by Fearfull (2005), the skills and knowledge brought into the workplace by the lower level worker is underappreciated and as such their economic and social worth are undervalued.
The knowledge they bring into the work place is not formally detailed and aggregated into a specific knowledge based paradigm. This of course impacts the psychology of the worker, and their productivity. According to Fearful, this reflects the power and implications of the social construction of diverse skill sets and knowledge areas. It is important that human resource practitioners explain to the organizational hierarchy the implications of undermining certain skills because they appear menial and simple to the eye. It is implied that a proper assessment and coordination of these informal transmission of workplace knowledge is conducted for proper judgement of contribution of a job type to the organization, and equivalent renumerations.
The obvious preference for informal learning by both scholars and organizations does not underscore its limitations, the complex and haphazard nature of informal learning leaves it open and needing the support of formal learning to avoid unwanted and undesired results, this of course is because of its unplanned processes, lack of specialization ,plus its ever changing nature as regards an even more complex workplace environment,this leads to inadequate structures that lacks accountability, thus affecting the day to day running of an organization.
This limitation to a large extent affects the recognition of this form of learning in a workplace environment especially in the areas of job design and execution, both of which requires on the point accountability.
These lack of planning in the processes of learning o the job and the lack of laid down rules or proper means of measuring individual and organizational processes will most definitely lead to failure, and could lead to mismanagement of an organizations resources. Also informal form of learning does not encourage the use of new and innovative technology, or new trends that will or might profit the organization on a long term ,simply because technology needs a planned and programmed workplace environment in order for it to be effectively utilized in the achievement of organizational goals. Hence informal learning is seen as a backup for formal learning in many organizations, despite it being the basis for practical, it can not on its own achieve the desired learning results needed to push any organization to greater heights, hence it will be a huge task for the human resource development managers to develop a system that allows formal and informal forms of learning to complement each other positively in a workplace environment.
In conclusion,These informal perspectives on workplace learning places critical challenges for the human resources personnel in the development of learning and training programs in the modern day workplace. It also provides opportunity for the coordination of a diversity of informal knowledge into specific learning modules that can be accessed beyond a particular job category and work environment. It may not be necessary or wise to seek the total eradication of informal learning, being that it plays an important role even in formalized learning systems, moreover it is cost effective and easy to adapt into diverse work environments. It waits on the human resource personnel, academic researchers and policy makers to develop academic programs based on these knowledge forms for the modern day industry. It is thus possible to advance manufacturing industry related capabilities to the modern day needs of the services and knowledge based economy.