Knowledge and Training

This Chapter explores the concept of knowledge and knowledge management, discussing the issues surrounding organisational learning. The various types of knowledge are examined such as embedded knowledge, encultured knowledge, embodied knowledge and embraced knowledge which in turn supports an examination of the knowledge hierarchy (taking data, turning that into knowledge and then applying it with intelligence and judgement).

The nature of explicit and tacit knowledge is discussed, emphasising the importance of a knowledge management strategy to capture both effectively. Epistemology - the essential theory of knowledge - is also outlined in order to explore the significance of factors such as organisational culture, power structures, leadership and management on the effectiveness of knowledge transfer mechanisms.

Having set an appropriate context, the Chapter then considers learning (the capability and capacity to take action through the acquisition and application of new knowledge), discussing the importance of learning styles to the transfer of knowledge. Relevant theories are noted, including the behaviourist perspective (observable and identified changes in behaviour following learning), the cognitive perspective (understanding how people think and how that shapes understanding) and the constructivist approach (how personality and past experiences shape learning attitudes).

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Social learning theory is also discussed, considering how people can learn through observation, imitation and modelling and the potential utility of communities of practice. Kolb’s learning cycle (1974) (creating knowledge through the transformation of experience) is outlined, along with the associated importance of learning preferences highlighted by Honey & Mumford (1989). The observations and theories underpinning these models can then be used to build action learning approaches, creating a shared knowledge base by bringing together a pool of relevant subject matter experts to address problems. In doing so, considering learning styles to create balanced, more effective teams involving activists, pragmatists, theorists and reflectors is suggested.

The Chapter provides an illustration of the learning curve, outlining how people can learn differently over time whilst still (potentially) reaching the same standard demanded of the role concerned. This emphasises how learning may not be a steady, incremental process as employees will require time to reflect, absorb and master what they have learned before moving on to the next aspect of the role or task. Organisational learning approaches are also addressed, considering how knowledge is possessed by the ‘collective’ and not just managers and leaders. This requires a business to consider skill in the person (that developed through training and experience), skill in the job (meeting competency/role requirements) and skill in the setting (relating personal knowledge to corporate interests and company culture). The aim is to maximise the collective return by combining know-why (best practice), know-who (staff possessing the expertise and skills needed) and know-how (a learning environment sharing know-why and know-who). 

In discussing the challenges and opportunities surrounding organisational learning, key risks are also highlighted. These include the danger of learning and institutionalising the ‘wrong things (so called superstitious learning), the ambiguity of success (the danger of continually amending corporate targets) and competency traps (focussing on process and procedures rather than outputs).


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