Learning takes place when new or changed knowledge or skills have been acquired or developed which can be put to use permanently or atleast over extended period of time. Learning can be achieved through:
Education- the increase of knowledge through systematic instruction or self- development, drawing out latent abilities and developing mental powers.
Training- the systematic modification of behavior and development of skills through instruction, working and planned experience.
Experience-the development of skills and capabilities through action, reflection and personal observation.
Practice-putting something we have learned into effect until it has been fully absorbed and is part of our regular behavior and performance.
Thus, learning has to be standardized, it should be guided and then feedback taken. Thus, a set procedure is followed and is called a learning theory.
Kolb proposed a four-stage learning process with a model that is often referred to in describing experiential learning. The process can begin at any of the stages and is continuous, i.e. there is no limit to the number of cycles you can make in a learning situation. This theory asserts that without reflection we would simply continue to repeat our mistakes. The experiential learning cycle:Kolb’s research found that people learn in four ways with the likelihood of developing one mode of learning more than another. As shown in the ‘experiential learning cycle’ model above, learning is:
Through concrete experience
Through observation and reflection
Through abstract conceptualization
Through active experimentation
Action Learning is the approach that links the world of learning with the world of action through a reflective process within small cooperative learning groups known as ‘action learning sets’. The ‘sets’ meet regularly to work on individual members’ real-life issues with the aim of learning with and from each other. The ‘father’ of Action Learning, Reg Revans, has said that there can be no learning without action and no (sober and deliberate) action without learning.
Revans argued that learning could be shown by the following equation, where L is learning; P is programmed knowledge (e.g. traditional instruction) and Q is questioning insight.
L = P + Q
Revans, along with many others who have used, researched and taught about this approach, argued that Action Learning is ideal for finding solutions to problems that do not have a ‘right’ answer because the necessary questioning insight can be facilitated by people learning with and from each other in action learning ‘sets’.
Adult Learning (Andragogy)
Malcolm Knowles (1978, 1990) is the theorist who brought the concept of adult learning to the fore. He has argued that adulthood has arrived when people behave in adult ways and believe themselves to be adults. Then they should be treated as adults. He taught that adult learning was special in a number of ways. For example:
Adult learners bring a great deal of experience to the learning environment. Educators can use this as a resource.
Adults expect to have a high degree of influence on what they are to be educated for, and how they are to be educated.
The active participation of learners should be encouraged in designing and implementing educational programs.
Adults need to be able to see applications for new learning.
Adult learners expect to have a high degree of influence on how learning will be evaluated.
Adults expect their responses to be acted upon when asked for feedback on the progress of the program.
THE LEARNING PROCESS
There are different schools of learning theory which explain and describe how people learn.
Behaviourist psychology concentrated on the relationship between stimuli (input through the senses) and responses to those stimuli. ‘Learning’ is the formation of new connections between stimulus and response, on the basis of conditioning. We modify our responses in future according to whether the results of our behaviour in the past have been good or bad.
The cognitive approach argues that the human mind takes sensory -information and imposes organization and meaning on it: we interpret and rationalize. We use feedback information on the results of past behaviour make rational decisions about whether to maintain successful behaviours or modify unsuccessful behaviours in future, according to our goals and our plans for reaching them.
Lessons from learning theories:
Training efforts must invariably follow certain learning-oriented guidelines:
Modelling is simply copying someone else’s behaviour. Passive class- room learning does not leave any room for modelling. If we want to change people, it would be a good idea to have videotapes of people showing the desired behaviour.
For learning to take place, intention to learn is important. When the employee is motivated, he pays attention to what is being said, done and presented. Motivation to learn is influenced by the answers to questions such as: How important is my job to me? How important is the information? Will learning help me progress in the company? People learn more quickly when the material is important and relevant to them.
If a behaviour is rewarded, it probably will be repeated. Positive reinforcement consists of rewarding desired behaviours. People avoid certain behaviours that invite criticism and punishment.
To be effective, the trainer must reward desired behaviours only. If he rewards poor performance, the results may be disastrous: good performers may quit in frustration, accidents may go up, productivity may suffer. The reinforcement principle is also based on the premise that punishment is less effective in learning than reward.
People learn best if reinforcement is given as soon as possible after training. Positive feedback (showing the trainee the right way of doing things) is to be preferred to negative feedback (telling the trainee that he is not correct) when we want to change behaviour.
5. Spaced Practice
Learning takes place easily if the practice sessions are spread over a period of time. New employees learn better if the orientation programme is spread over a two or three day period, instead of covering it all in one day.
6. Whole Learning
The concept of whole learning suggests that employees learn better if the job information is explained as an entire logical process, ,so that they can see how the various actions fit together into the ‘big picture’.
7. Active Practice
Learning is enhanced when trainees are provided ample opportunities to repeat the task. For maximum benefit, practice sessions should be distributed over time.
8. Applicability of Training
Training should be as real as possible so that trainees can successfully transfer the new knowledge to their jobs.
Finally, environment plays a major role in training. It is natural that workers, who are exposed to training in comfortable environments with adequate, well spaced rest periods are more likely to learn than employees whose training conditions are less than ideal.