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Subject Organisational innovation and learning: Developmental work tasks (Barry Nyhan)
Outline Developmentally challenging work tasks are a prerequisite for implementing a learning organisation. This is one of the main messages arising from a CEDEFOP project under CEDRA (CEDEFOP Research Arena). We are looking at the Europeanisation issue in the same way as in the earlier discussion. The title of this message is one of the six or seven messages which are coming out of the project. The book 'Facing up to the learning organisation challenge - Volume I: Key issues from a European perspective' will be published in the coming months.
     This concept of developmental work tasks means that work is organised in such a way that it promotes human development. In other words, it is about building work place environments in which people are motivated to think for themselves so that through their everyday work experiences they develop new competences and gain new understandings and insights. People are learning from their work, they are learning as they work. Developmental work is work which is inspiring learning, so developmental work promotes what Per-Erik Ellström has called developmental learning. The nature of the tasks is facilitating or compelling people to think. It is almost pushing people to learn. Now we realise, and this is linked to Nick's point (see contribution), that this is very complex. 
     Another aspect of learning at work which is very real, and which Per-Erik also uses in his taxonomy, is adaptive learning. Obviously a lot of work we are doing relates to routines. We are following procedures, obeying people. Maybe we often don't understand why we have to do something, but it has to be done. There is not a shared meaning across an organisation about why things are changing, so everybody starts complaining or whatever. But, there is a lot of adaptive learning, and people have to be able to cope with adaptive learning. The reality of adaptive learning means not glorifying developmental learning as the only kind of learning that takes place at work. But the key point is that if you are just merely adapting the whole time you are not creating a learning organisation in which people are developing the capacity to learn in this kind of evolutionary learning organisation.
     The main message is the link between work in organisations, how work is organised, leading to the learning organisation. These cannot be seen as separate, so there must be radical changes in work organisations and how work is organised. And it is true for all of the people in the organisation at all the levels, not just management strategic learning. It is through all people participating in this kind of collective practice of working that the developmental nature of practice will bring about developmental learning.
     The final point is about the learning organisation concept. We shouldn't have an euphoric notion of what in reality is going to come about. We are talking about an imperfect learning organisation: perhaps an organisation is learning one year, and it stops learning next year, maybe Enron was learning 10 years ago! So organisations can stop learning, although parts of organisations may continue learning. The community of practice concept is about sub-groups and informal groups learning. Basically we are talking for most cases about compromise and unfinished work and things starting off and new hopes for this kind of learning organisation reality being generated.
Reference Thesis: included in Manning 2002a; paper: Nyhan et al. 2002
Source Recording of the symposium
Descriptors D-LO    EP09        V22
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO