By Peter Jones
Many commentators now argue that workplace learning has become increasingly crucial to the on-going success of an organisation responding to external rapid change (Coetzer 2006, p. 1). However, workplace learning is not in the current vernacular of the Australian Army. In theory, adult learning, normally as expressed by the Army in terms of training, is generally seen as a deliberate, structured, and formal process through which individuals and groups acquire the skills, knowledge, and attitudes, necessary for individuals, small and large groups to carry-out their functions. However, in practice the learning environment within the Army is somewhat different. Not surprisingly, like their civilian counterparts, Army men and women acquire much of their professional understanding while in their normal place of work: in offices, workshops, the field training, on operational deployments and other workplaces. Whether the Army acknowledges it or not, workplace learning is becoming an increasingly more desirable and necessary component of learning and education in the 21st Century.
A number of approaches to creating a taxonomy of forms of learning and knowledge have emerged within the discipline of androgogy. This paper will focus on following forms of work-place learning: experiential learning; collaborative inquiry, and work-based improvement initiative. Each of these approaches are used increasingly within the Army; but; as yet are under-utilised. These forms of learning will be discussed; through using the experiences of the writer; and in each case the forms of knowledge as outcomes of these forms of workplace learning will be identified. The situations in which the learning occurs will be examined to highlight positive and negative aspects from a human resource development (HRD) perspective and more detailed comments on HRD issues will be discussed later in the paper. Outcomes of learning—knowledge—will be expressed in the conceptual, procedural, and dispositional forms (Billett 2001, p. 50-51); that draw on a cognitive structure that “represents a form of organisation in memory, and accessing memory.” (Smith 2001a, p.2)
Experiential Based Learning
In recent years the Australian Army has followed the lead of the US and several dozen Western armies in establishing a Combat Training Centre for the conduct of instrumented, force-on-force, realistic experiential-based training. Experiential-based learning has become increasing popular as an approach to field and command-post based training and is now seen as a crucial part of workplace learning for the operational forces. The writer’s colleagues were exposed to this approach to workplace learning in June 2006 during a decision-making workshop conducted for a Headquarters. The activity was run over a seven day period and was designed to provide hands-on experience for 30 officers in order to improve their leadership and decision making skills.
The forms of knowledge the writer sees as outcomes of this experiential-based learning activity as an understanding of procedures, roles, and the ability to apply specific knowledge and processes (Heldberg Et Al, 2002, p. 3) or in summary procedural knowledge. Indeed, the writer sees the aggregated outcomes as significantly improving intuitive decision making through the ability of those who participated in this workshop to undertake like tasks in a more capable and timely manner.
The five steps involved in experiential learning: experiencing, publishing, processing, generalising, and applying (Long 1990 p.54); are well suited to way Army conducts activities and, with a little fine-tuning, these steps can be readily applied to many workplace learning situations. Indeed, the experiential learning approach that sees that “…knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and...