How can we introduce learning as an organizational property that extends to all managers? The answer lies in making learning arise from the work itself. Learning has to become natural, even fun. Unfortunately, we have become conditioned to a classroom model hat separates theory from practice, making learning seem impractical, irrelevant, and boring. But what if we make our worksite a perfectly acceptable location for learning?
This is where work-based learning comes in. Work-based learning expressly merges theory with practice, knowledge with experience. It recognizes that the workplace offers as many opportunities for learning as the classroom. Such learning, however, needs to be centered around reflection on work practices. It needs to offer managers faced with the relentless pace of pervasive change an opportunity to overcome time pressures by reflecting upon and learning from the artistry of their action. It is no longer acceptable to offer the rationale, “We don’t have a minute to think.”
Work-based learning, then, differs from conventional training in that it involves conscious reflection on actual experience. Fundamental to the process is the concept of metacognition which means that one constantly thinks about one’s problem-solving processes. It is not enough just to ask, “what did we learn”; we must also ask, “what does it mean or how does it square with what we already know?” Work-based learning, then, is mindful and situated learning in the sense that it does not view preexisting knowledge as fixed but rather as provisional until tried out in a given context or in practice. Further, it recognizes that learning can occur spontaneously in a given situation.
The following items describe the key elements of work-based learning:
• It is self-directed. The learner has substantial control over the purpose, content, form, pace, and evaluation of the learning.
• It is creative. There is no preset goal, nor are there preset methods in work-based learning. The learner is asked to create on the spot to find and solve problems.
• It is expressive. Learning occurs in the process of doing it and expressing it. All nuances of the experience, especially tacit performance, are engaged. Unlike classroom learning and even in some experiential learning, we do not know what will happen at the conclusion of our practice. Learning occurs in conjunction with experience, perhaps a little before, as long as we theorize about what we are about to do and compare our experience to it. Learning also occurs during and after the experience as we improve our often tacit behavior by reflecting on what we did, through peer advisement, or from instruction.
• It involves feeling. Work-based learning entails emotional involvement in the context itself. We care about what we do and what we have accomplished. We feel the learning as well as possess it intellectually.
• It is continual. Once work-based learning becomes natural to the learner, it becomes a never-ending process. We are always open to surprises, to new ways of doing things. Change is accepted as a given in life; hence, learning becomes part of our very being.
• It is reflective. We become not just more aware of our own learning processes, but also more aware of (and more interested in publicly commenting on) the processes of others.