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Organisational Learning

'Organisational learning' in this section is being interpreted as learning that occurs in organisations seen primarily from the perspective of what it means for the organisation. The resources on 'organisational learning' presented here comprise three types:

  • key findings from TLRP projects
  • video case study material illustrating different approaches to organisational learning
  • links to other resources on organisational learning.

There are complex relationships between organisational learning, design of work, workplace learning and organisational performance: for example, issues could include how job and task design are orientated towards workplace learning, how organisations and systems accommodate new tools, how organisations are managed as environments for learning by enhancing productivity through knowledge development. Some key issues for organisational learning and work redesign are:

  • relationships/ culture
  • flows of people and work
  • experiences and engagement (of individuals and groups)
  • organisational policies and influences
  • couplings between learning and work
  • 360 degree learning
  • learning as an organisation
  • roles and influence of tools and technology.

One problem here may be that many of the key issues inter-relate, and we will exemplify these inter-relationships through the work of a number of TLRP projects.

Key findings on 'organisational learning' from TLRP projects: 

One key issue for organisational learning concerns how this contributes to organisational performance. From this perspective a discussion of what constitutes high performance management may be apposite. The TLRP project on 'Learning as Work: Teaching and Learning Processes in the Contemporary Work Organisation' has made important contributions in this respect. First, near the start of the project Peter Butler and colleagues (2004) conducted a literature review of High Performance Management and how those ideas may influence learning at work. At a later stage, Jason Hughes (2008) provided a review and evaluation of the high-performance paradigm. This review placed the emergence of the paradigm in the context of the alleged 'crisis of Fordism' and explores key debates within the literature as to whether high-performance working delivers 'mutual gains' for both employers and employees, or constitutes more a vehicle for workintensification and union avoidance. The Learning as Work team also sought to highlight some of the ways in which organisational cultures and subcultures can support – or inhibit – workplace learning: 'Connecting Culture and Learning in Organisations: A Review of Current Themes'. The Learning as Work team have also produced working papers of learning in organisations in a number of sectors using an approach that considers the organisation as a productive system, see, for example, 'Continuity, Change and Conflict: The Role of Learning and Knowing in Different Productive Systems'. The full list of project outputs are available from the project website, but the working papers include:

TLRP project on Learning in and for multi-agency working addresses the challenges faced by organisations and individual professionals, as new practices are developed and learned in multi-agency work settings. The study focuses primarily upon inter-professional learning across agencies but that necessarily has an organisational learning dimension too. Some key findings of the research are reported by Harry Daniels and colleagues (2007) in Learning in and for multi-agency working. The practices reported involve working responsively across professional boundaries with at-risk young people, involving on-going partnerships between professionals and service users to support young people’s pathways out of social exclusion. The project also utilised an intervention methodology that sought to help practitioners and organisations meet the learning challenges identified in a context of strategic and organisatyional change in the delivery of children’s services. Other relevant project publications on this topic from the project team and from their sister project Learning in and for Interagency Working: multiagency work in Northern Ireland include:

The TLRP Techno-mathematical Literacies in the Workplace project was another example of research that had implications for learning inorganisations. The researchers set out to characterise
and develop the Techno-mathematical Literacies needed for effective practice in modern workplaces. The focus was upon how intermediate-level employees understand and communicate the mathematical aspects of workplace artefacts, such as computer input and output and paperbased documents that contain information expressed symbolically. The aim was to elaborate the the nature of the Techno-mathematical Literacies required by such employees, and to understand how these mathematical skills are needed to reason with symbolic data, and to integrate data into decision-making and communication. In this context, what is of particular interest are the meanings that employees in industry attribute to representations of data and how the context of the industrial process is constitutive of the meaning of graphs of data derived from this process. For example, one theme was how different groups of employees react to graphs used as part of statistical process control, focusing on the meanings they ascribe to mean, variation, target, specification, trend, and scale as depicted in the graphs. Using the notion of boundary crossing, the researchers tried to characterize a method that helps employees to communicate about graphs and come to data-informed decisions. From the full list of project publications available, the following may have particular relevance:

Another TLRP project working at the interface of individual and organisational learning is Enhancing 'Skills for Life': Adult Basic Skills and Workplace Learning, which aims to develop a theoretically-informed and evidence-based analysis of both immediate and longer-term outcomes of workplace-linked interventions designed to improve adults’ basic skills. In this context what is of particular interest is the focus on the potential for increasing the productivity of workplaces and enterprises which sponsor basic skills instruction through their impact on employee behaviour, attitudes and networks. From the full list of project publications available, the following may have particular relevance:

Alison Fuller and Lorna Unwin in an earlier TLRP project, which was part of a network on Improving Learning in the Workplace, had developed their ideas about expansive and restrictive learning environments and how these might influence approaches to workforce development. Expansive features include the opportunity for employees to: engage with multiple communities of practice; gain broad experience across the organisation; pursue knowledge-based as well as competence-based qualifications; learn off-the-job as well as on-the-job; have a recognised status as a learner; and have access to career progression and extended job roles. Restrictive features represent the flip side of these attributes. In companies that have adopted a restrictive approach, apprentices struggle to make progress in terms of achieving formal qualifications and have limited opportunities available for progression and development. An expansive learning environment develops a broad range of 'key skills', by encouraging employees to cross boundaries and experience different work-related contexts. The framework illuminates those organisational dimensions which impact on the creation of workplace learning environments. For more on these ideas, including how they have been further developed in the 'Learning as Work: Teaching and Learning Processes in the Contemporary Work Organisation' project, see:

One final TLRP project with major implications for organisational learning concerns the Early Career Learning at Work project. This longitudinal study observed the workplace learning of 92 professional accountants, engineers and nurses during their first three years of full-time employment. Its main focus was on informal learning and short semi-formal learning episodes. In the three professions studied by LiNEA, it turns out that formal training events and sessions are comparatively unimportant in early career development. Much more significant is the learning that people get from their managers and others around them. An overview of findings are given in Early career learning at work: Insights into professional development during the first job, but a number of other project and linked publications are relevant in any consideration of organisational learning: 

Video case study material illustrating different approaches to organisational learning 

One way we thought might be helpful for those using this site is to try to ground some of these issues by showing some organisational contexts in the video clips that appear in ths section so as give some insight into some maufacturing processes. The examples are mainly drawn from the ACORN project, a European EQUAL project, in which the University of Warwick Institute for Employment Research participated.  

Learning following computersiation.

This illustration of workplace learning in practice and the value of the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) is actually drawn from a Dutch bakery in the Netherlands. The study was originally part of a European EQUAL project (ACORN), but the video material has been re-edited to demonstrate how APL can build on substantive learning achievements generated in the course of workplace activity, particularly as in this case if there is a major change that highlights the value of what workers know and can do.

This case study of a Dutch bakery demonstrates different aspects of the organisation of work before and after the introduction of computerised control of one of the company's bread-making lines and how the company's modernisation strategy also includes recognising the skills, knowledge and experience that workers have developed through work.

Before computerisation:

The relationship between suppliers and retailers

This clip discusses the relationship between bakery suppliers and the bakery retailers; transport, location, timing, network and power issues are all considered.

The value of network suppliers

Google Site    1 min 7 sec 
This clip discusses the response of the Small-Medium-Sized Enterprise (SMEs) bakery suppliers to the power of the large retail chains: strength in numbers. Also considered is how the response is in fact a symbiotic one, and what other benefits there are to the formation of this network, such as improved purchasing and marketing for the suppliers.

The first phase of the bread manufacturing process - dough making

Google Site    1 min 30 sec 
This clip provides a detailed description and demonstration of the first phase of the bread manufacturing process: dough making. Particular reference is made to the variety of dough, the necessarily small scale and the automation of aspects of the process.

The second phase of the bread manufacturing process - bread making

Google Site    42 sec 
This clip provides a detailed description and demonstration of the second phase of the bread manufacturing process: bread making. Particular reference is made to the humidity and temperature, the repeated raising and knocking down of the dough, the holing of the bread and the size of the bread.

The third phase of the bread manufacturing process - baking process

Google Site    2 min 20 sec 
This clip provides a detailed description and demonstration of the third phase of the bread manufacturing process: the baking. Particular reference is made to the time and temperature of the baking, the unavoidable length of cooling, the removal of the loaves, the packaging, the labelling, the slicing, the crating, the order picking, the scale of customer assortment, the specialisation to individual customers, the loading, the transport, and the total time and scale of the whole production.

After computerisation:

Computerised robot on a bunline in action

Google Site    32 sec 
This clip hopefully provides a relatively interesting and entertaining interlude; showing robots from the bakery in action set to stirring music.

Introduction to the computerisation of a bun line in a bakery

Google Site    1 min 37 sec 
This clip provides an overview of the computerisation of the bakery's bunline. Particular reference is made to the increased capacity and reduced workforce, the same basic principles of bread-making being utilised, its rarity in Holland, and its limitations (usually works below capacity because need to change the variety of bread being produced). A worker is then interviewed who expresses his contentment at the changes because it has made his work easier: in principle he no longer has to touch the trays and has fewer jams with which to deal.

Explanation of the operation of computerised bun line in a bakery

Google Site    2 min 30 sec 
This clip explains aspects of the computerised bread manufacturing process (the phases following the dough making) in great detail. How different machinery and products are represented on the computer, the different robots, the procedure the different robots follow and spatio-temporal hierachies/priorities that the robots respect are all expanded upon. The explanation is interspersed with footage of the robots in action.

Rationale for introduction of, and issues surrounding, computerisation

Google Site    1 min 42 sec 
This clip describes the bakery's motivation for computerising their bun line. It is explained that they were competing in a very difficult market and thus unable to change their prices. Instead they were forced to address their costs by improving the line's "capacity per hourly employee cost"; they achieved this by computerisation which both improved the line's capacity and reduced the number of workers required on the line. Although in the short term this increased costs (in terms of money and time of implementation), in the long term they have reduced their average costs. They remain convinced it was the right idea not only in terms of costs but also because of an improved product.
There is also an interview with an employee who, once he had "learnt bit by bit" both by trial and error and from two employes that had been on a course, prefers the computerisation because it is more advanced, faster and more flexible.

Changes to work responsibilites

Google Site    2 min 7 sec 
This clip describes the changes to workers' responsibility as a consequence of the computerisation of the bakery's bun line. For example if the dough is not patterned correctly, according to the comuterised settings, on the trays, the product does not look for the customers and it slows the packaging of the bread. This slowing of packaging slows the line, and while there are buffers (resulting from the variable cooling times of the different products) which can absorb this slowing without stopping the line, they cannot do so indefinitely. At this point, production has to be halted. If it is not stopped, the ovens become overfilled and the bread burnt, and/or the proofing persists for too long and the bread is bloated. So the bakery now has workers with the responsibility of preventing this from happening, both in terms of ensuring the dough patterning is correct and watching the buffers and halting production if the buffers are too full. A worker is briefly interviewed about what the changed responsibilities are.

Investing in people too

Google Site    3 min 42 sec
This clip explains why, in spite of the computerisation of its bun line, the difficulties that brought, and its bid to cut costs in a competitive market, the bakery retained its goverment rewarded policy of promoting the Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL). The answer lies in the bakery's belief that people are its most important commodity and so should be motivated and trained all the time: 'untrained people cause a lot of waste and trouble, which results in unsatisified, and therefore the loss of, customers', whilst trained workers have a better attitude, take more pride in, and are more aware of, their work. There are also comments from the workers about how the APL is a little more generic than the learning they undertake in their own workplace and how they also receive many benefits from the accreditation. The clip also notes that some workers are a little hesitant to apply and that some who one would expect to be able to achieve an accreditation extremely easily have to in fact work hard to verbalise and structure the knowledge that makes them so able in the workplace. A worker notes that this is a result of the hectic production process which affords them little time to reflect and order whatever knowledge it is that they are learning.

More on the value of the Accreditation of Prior Learning

Google Site    1 min 9 sec 
This clip describes some of the criteira candidates have to meet to be accredited under the APL scheme. For example, they must demonstrate a good knowledge of computers through a show of competency in both regular, everyday programs, and programs specific to the computerised bun line. The underlying principles behind the specialist programs are also tested to probe their understanding of the programs and the role the programs fulfil in ensuring the efficient functioning of the line. Applicants' problem solving is also evaluated: they will be presented with equipment from the line with which they are not overly familiar, and then some aspects of it are tampered with so that when they begin production everything is not as it should be, and they have to find out what's going wrong and why. They must also perform one practical, on the job, task.

The need for support

Google Site    1 min 48 sec 
This clip explains how dependent the bakery is on its newly acquired and complex hardware and software, and how they try to temper this dependency. The bakery is so dependent on its hardware and software not breaking down because their line is almost completely serial and there is almost no room for delay within their production; their product must be fresh for every single day (in contrast with the motor industry where time can be made up with overtime over several weeks). Consequently, they require an excellent maintenance service. However, when the maintenance service is unavailable (for example holidays) or unable to help sufficiently quickly, the bakery has another contingency: it is a member of a bakery support network. This network's members are all own family-owned SME bakeries, and have agreed that whenever one of the member bakeries has a failure in its production line to the extent it is unable to produce a significant amount of its desired quantity for a given day that all the other members will step in and make good the short-fall.

Benefits of Accreditation of Prior Learning

Google Site    1 min 32 sec 
This clip explains further benefits of the APL scheme to the bakery. It argues that it is important for the workers to be able to understand the underlying principles of the software and the machines. This is achieved by the APL scheme together with keeping the software's logic relatively simple. By having workers that understand these principles this affords the bakery workers that can overview their production line with the insight to make predictions and judgements to prevent problems from even beginning to happen. It is very difficult to get a machine to perform like this. Meanwhile, the workers believe the bakery benefits from the reassurance, to both themselves and their customers, that the machines are operated and products made by well-trained workers who can cope with their work. They also believe it improves attention, communication and consultation (for example separating the waste more thoroughly) which improves the efficiency of the line.

Value of the Accreditation of Prior Learning

Google Site    53 sec 
This clip briefly describes the change in the employees' attitudes as a consequence of the APL scheme. They are more willing and able to learn new things and to adapt themselves to changes that occur in the workplace. Equally, they are now at ease with being assessed and being asked to think about their job and why they are doing it. Finally, they are more aware of the consequences of their actions/job to their workplace and are more appreciative of, and receptive to, co-operation and communication within their workplace.

Summary: Value of APL


Reasons for introducing APL in this case are related to employer's view of level of expertise of his workers - need to look at what they currently have and then see whether could develop a tailor made programme as a way to 'give my people something': wanted to implement APL. 3 partners are involved in the success of an APL implementation. In the identification stage vocational training experts (in this case from STOAS) assess what people really need to do their work well: what makes them display enthusiasm and commitment. Is it then possible to design a custom-built system to recognise the skills that people have, bearing in mind the various standards defined by government

Summary: Value of APL

Google Site    3 min 38 sec 
The interviewee is an APL consultant explaining how APL works. APL (Assessment of Prior Learning) could also stand for a piori learning, which he describes as 'pre-education'. In co-operation with individual companies, his organisation uses APL to determine the level of expertise that each employee already has and then comes up with a personalized learning programme to develop this expertise.

He goes on to describe what he believes to be the first instance of APL implementation in a SME (small and medium sized enterprise) in the Netherlands - a bakery. The consultant states that three parties must work collaboratively in any successful APL implementation: the company, the APL consultants and the local vocational/agricultural school.
The consultants begin by finding out everything they possibly can about the firm, what motivates its employees, what they need and what skills they already have, on the shop floor, in middle management and at the top of the company. This is called the identification phase. The second phase involves the employees showing the consultants what they do on a daily basis in the factory. This is the company's input into the process. The local school's contribution is to provide national standards, which the consultants and the company together adapt to the company's specific needs.


BMW Swindon Case study

(Extracts from E846 Curriculum, learning and society, investigating practice Copyright (c) 2007 The Open University)

Chapter 1:

  • History
  • responding to change and innovation
  • BMW Swindon

Chapter 2:

  • apprenticeship assessment

Chapter 3:

  • task: quick die change
  • a range of evidence
  • move round plant
  • being an assessor

Chapter 4:

  • NVQ evidence assessment
  • replacing bearings
  • photographic evidence
  • NVQ fall in behind the work

Chapter 5

  • NVQ targets and reviews
  • targets
  • reviews
  • planning

Chapter 9

  • competence based assessment
  • proof of competence of associates
  • associates trained as assessors
  • collected SPC sheets etc
  • quality care sheets for
    • visual checks
    • measure with calipers
    • tolerances
  • ‘know by experience’ whether it is a short trim

Chapter 10

  • professional discussion
  • observation on work floor but also knowledge through professional discussion (goes onto candidates DVD)
  • visual reminders
  • use of charts
  • ‘getting out of them what they know’
  • look for patterns for shift handovers
  • quality department
  • history sheets
  • copies of portfolio

Chapter 13

  • mix of off job and on-job training.
  • PPZ:
  • recording quality checks
  • unique numbers re: welds (can look at quality over life)
  • can be traced back to a particular shift
  • off the job training plus on-job re-using the system
  • check whole panel
  • weld integrity
  • (safe: with just one spot-weld defect)
  • can help re- defect

Chapter 14

  • new worker training
  • fine art degree
  • black widow: master panel for the machine
  • red widow: to check machine working well then buddy system to help








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