SOME THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES OF LEARNING AND CREATIVITY AT WORK

We regard action learning as an opportunity to stimulate reflective learning from critical inquiry into the organisation. Four components—conceptualisation, experi­mentation, experience, and reflection—accord with standard models of learning (for example, Schon, 1982; Kolb, 1984; Raelin, 1997). One such model (Raelin, 1997) is shown in Figure 11.2.

Conceptualization

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Experimentation

I

1

Reflection <

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— Experience

KNOWLEDGE

Explicit Tacit

Theory

Practice

FIGURE 11.2 A model of the learning process. (Raelin, 1997, p. 565. With permission.)

The Raelin (1997) model shows two axes: knowledge and learning. Knowledge is explicit or tacit. Tacit knowledge is the knowledge (know-how, but not know-why) possessed by an individual. Such knowledge is often difficult to explain, to codify, or to set down in media that is accessible by others. Conversely, explicit knowl­edge can be captured (codified) in databases, instruction manuals, and handbooks. Codified knowledge is available to more people than the people who had the original knowledge. The other dimension of this model is learning, which has theoretical and practical components.

Learning needs to balance between theoretical knowledge (how processes are ideally executed) and practical knowledge (how processes are in fact executed by the people who carry them out as part of their job). The resulting 2×2 matrix has four cells. Conceptualisation is explicit knowledge processed through theory. Experi­mentation is the application of theory into tacit knowledge. Experience is the practi­cal application of tacit knowledge. Reflection is the practical application of explicit knowledge. Progressing through the four-stage learning process (as show by the arrows in Figure 11.2) completes the learning cycle. Peer groups are important to learning. Peer groups provide inputs through evaluation of the work of other people, and offer advice, criticism, and support. In a work group, the inputs from peers aid discussion and encourage mutual learning through constructive criticism, trial and error, and discovery of how others work. A key feature of work groups is the possi­bility of members learning from each other. In the real world of ‘practice’ and ‘expe­rience’, ‘tacit knowledge’ overlaps with practical experience of ‘explicit knowledge’. Practice learning of explicit knowledge is not only from processes of ‘reflection’; in reality, reflection is a part of an iterative process with its focus on learning in the area of explicit practice. As presented, the model is cyclical and systematic. This is helpful as an exemplar of the stages in the learning process. However, to facilitate creativity it is helpful to take a more ad hoc approach to these stages, for example, by backwards, forwards, and random ‘leap-frogging’ mental processing of the four different parts of the matrix.

In the work environment of the control room, this model of learning helps to encourage and develop employee-generated learning. Through the efforts of their employees, organisations can develop by learning about learning. Traditionally, organisations that encourage and facilitate employees to learn from themselves and each other have a means of self-generating new knowledge. The knowledge and skills of employees themselves provide the engine for generating new ways of working and thinking about work. Peer-group learning also has a great potential to facilitate creative and innovative work by the operators, who have valid insights into their workplace. If the organisational and workplace environments are supportive, a mutual learning process could encourage creativity.

However, this potential is only effective if employees are allowed to propose solutions to work-based problems. Through their everyday work roles and tasks, employees have valid insights into their workplace. Organisations have opportunities to establish processes of learning that encourage the development of these insights. One example is via processes of collaborative inquiry with others. A key factor in this process is collaborative reflection so that shared learning and shared knowl­edge generates new knowledge. Collaboration and reflection can transform insights into strategies for action. Workplace teams are able to create and share knowledge among the team’s members. These encompass the individual members of the team, the team as a collective unit, and other colleagues who may be members of other similar teams. This in itself might also limit their ability for creative out-of-the-box thinking. Traditional ways of thinking and paradigms will easily limit the scope of thinking. It is necessary to break this barrier. The process of action research must include an approach that allows ways of proposing new ideas and new thinking. The phrase ‘high ceilings’ is used to describe environments that have a high tolerance for ideas and concepts that at first might look outlandish. This also requires mutual trust among co-workers. It also demands that leaders and managers adopt a more consultative role. To be avoided is the ‘I know best’ mentality, as this precludes constructive dialogue.