People have tried to come up with many learning theories for a very long time to know how people learn and to use this knowledge to bring about better learning outcomes be it in schools or in organisations. While they have been many important theories through out history, this paper will focus on the work of three important scholars including Yrjo Engestrom (2011), Jean Lave (1991) and Barry Zimmerman (2000) who focus on “expansive learning theory”, “situational learning theory” and theory of “self efficacy beliefs” respectively.
This paper will compare the theories proposed by the three scholars and then link the findings to the needs of modern day human resource management. Body Engestrom (2001) writes about the theory of “expansive learning”. This theory suggests that people do not learn one dimensionally like a student sitting in a classroom and listening to the teacher, but instead learns in a dynamic environment in many different ways through a series of interactions and collaborations.
This theory is informed by the theory of expansive learning first proposed by Bateson (1972). Bateson writes that students learn in three different ways: they learn from the environment; they learn from the ways of dealing with the environment; and thirdly they learn from questioning the ways of learning from the existing environment. Engestrom proposes that true learning comes about only by looking beyond what is already known.
As an example, Engestrom gives the case of a health care centre in Helsinki providing health care for children. It was observed by the Doctors and other health care providers that the health care provided by the system was inadequate when it concerned children who suffered from many problems and had to consult many different Doctors and go to many different hospitals. Engestrom writes that the Doctors could not provide adequate care because one did not know what the other was doing and therefore could not provide a holistic treatment.
The doctors and other health care providers came up with the “boundary crossing laboratory” which required all of them to come together and collaborate with each other to know what they were doing with the patient and to share the knowledge about the patient so that they could individually and collectively provide better treatment. This meant that each Doctor had to reconcile to the fact that he or she did not know everything and work with others beyond their own hospital to solve a common problem.
The second theory was proposed by Jean Lave (1991) and was called “situational learning. ” In this concept the person does not learn by going beyond the boundary but learns by entering a situation. This theory suggests that when people are exposed to a pre-existing learning situation where the final end situation is already known they can go through a series of steps where they engage with the community around them in various informal social situations to achieve the final goal.
Lave gives the examples of “midwifery” or “alcoholics anonymous” and relates to this form of learning as a form or apprenticeship without any formal process of learning. This theory suggests that a person enters a learning situation and is exposed to a series of small jobs which he learns to master over time under the guidance of the master and interactions with the community including the elders, the customers and other eventually reaches a stage of mastery.
This theory suggests that by allowing a person to actively participate in this learning community, one is able to provide an opportunity to identify with the community and also the goal and self direct himself. This theory unlike the expansive learning theory looks inwards rather than outwards and assumes that the master knows everything and the ultimate goal is to become the master. However in the previous case the learning theory assumed that what the master (Doctor) knew was insufficient.
Lave suggests that modern day educational practices are unsuitable for learning as the final end goal is unknown and the students are instead put through a series of steps like divided labour without any providing them a view of the future. The third theory that the paper considers is the theory of “self-efficacy. ” In this theory, Zimmermann (2000) proposes that students learn best when they believe in themselves. The theory that he proposes is called the theory of “self efficacy”.
This theory suggests that students can be made to become better learners by improving their self-efficacy beliefs. What this means is that if a person believes he can achieve something he or she is more likely to perform the task better. This implies that each person or students has a different level of self efficacy and by tapping the threshold of self efficacy for each student and by giving small tasks that are within the self efficacy zone of that student, one can make the students perform better.
This implies that one yardstick cannot be used for all people. Comparing this theory to the above two theories, one can understand that this is less to do with learning from the environment be it external or internal, and more to do with learning about oneself and one’s own potential. Analysis of the theories and implications for Human Resource Management Basised on the research, Modern day business environments are characterized by globalization, rapid changes in the external environment .
Modern day business environments also require frequent organizational changes (Kyle, 1993). Thirdly modern day work environments are also characterized by need for higher levels of skills, education and competence. All these mean that modern day environments need human resource management that is informed by all the above three theories. For example the fact the businesses today are globalised means that what one knows about a consumer in one country does not necessarily mean the same thing in another country.
This means that when a business expands into another country, people from one country need to understand how to sell a product in the new country, for which they have to often partner with a local partner who knows the conditions of that country. This creates a problem similar to the childcare service centre in Helsinki. This means that managers form the two joint venture partners have to learn to collaborate with each other and expand beyond their own boundaries of knowledge to sell the product in the new market.
This means that human resource management is about managing this collaborative learning environment through an agreement to learn. This relates to the expansive learning theory proposed by Engestrom. Secondly most businesses today are big corporations, which have multiple activities and have a distinctive corporate culture. Examples of such corporations are plenty with the likes of Microsoft or Coca Cola. These companies make big investments in their internal resources including plant and machinery, technologies and human resources and have to protect their investments.
Based on the resource-based view of the firm human resources are unique resources that can bring considerable advantages (Hamel and Prahlad 1994). This means that by providing a person entering the company a proper environment for learning and growing as described by the situational learning theory (opportunities for simulated informal social engagement and self directed learning through participation), and by providing an end view of what he or she could grow up to, an organization could hope to protect ts human resources and manage employees better through identity formation and development of mastery. The third aspect about modern day companies is that they ore often characterized by organizational change. Organisational change is a well-researched topic and it has been observed that employees within organizations go through a period of denial, stress, loss of hope and motivation etc during periods of change (Kyle, 1993). This requires that employees have to be motivated by making them believe in their own abilities through self-efficacy training.
As an example, a salesman who is good selling product A realizes that he now has to sell product B that he is uncomfortable doing. This means that by understanding his strengths and weaknesses, training him and informing about the new product and by setting small goals that are achievable, increasing the goals in increments, one can improve the self efficacy beliefs of the salesman and motivate him/her through the change process over time. This relates to the third theory of self self-efficacy proposed by Zimmermann. Summary and conclusions
It is clear from the above three theories discussed by Engestrom, Lave and Zimmermann in their respective papers that one theory focuses on collaborative learning or boundary spanning learning, one deals with situational learning or informal learning based on a view of the end goal and the last one deals with the concept of learning through learning about one’s own potential. It is also clear from the understanding of modern day businesses that all three theories have to be applied to bring about overall success in human resource management.
This is because employees have to be not only allowed to gain mastery over their field in order to grow and excel and be developed into unique inimitable resources, but also trained in way that they can collaborate with other across other countries and other companies to share knowledge and work together towards common goals; and lastly trained in way that they believe in themselves and their own abilities during periods of change. Therefore human resource managers would do well to incorporate all three theories in their human resource training strategies. References Bateson, G, 1972.
Steps to ecology of the mind (New York, ballentine Books) Engestrom, Y, 2001. Expansive learning at work: Toward an activity based theoretical reconceptualisation, Journal of Education and Work, Vol 14, No 1 Hamel, G & Prahlad, C, 1994. Competing for the future. Harvard Business Review. Vol 72, no 4 122-129. Kyle, N, 1993. Staying with the flow of change. Journal for Quality and Participation. Vol. 16. No. 4 p 34-42 Lave, J, 1991. Situational Learning in communities of practice Zimmerman, B, 2000. Self-Efficacy: An essential motive to learn. Contemporary Educational Psychology, Vol 25, 82-91