LEARNING THEORIES APPLICABLE TO ADULT LEARNING

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CHAPTER 3: LITERATURE REVIEW – CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

INTRODUCTION

One of the objectives of this study is to describe the workplace learning that is taking place during the teaching of research methodology in the South African Police Service (SAPS), especially in the settings where the classroom teaching and assessments are done. While the focus of the previous chapter was on teaching research methodology to adult learners dealing with aspects of both formal and informal learning, this chapter will explore the themes and perspectives related to workplace learning as relates to informal learning. However, it is paramount that the way in which knowledge is constructed be discussed first as it helps to understand how the adult learner, more particularly the adult researcher, constructs or gains knowledge. This chapter will therefore represent the conceptual framework within which workplace learning will be explored, but first a brief explanation of the questions that triggered a study on workplace learning in SAPS.
An earlier study by Schwartz and Human (2012) on the low completion rate of learners who attended the SAPS Executive Development Learning Programme (EDLP), revealed several organisational challenges which the SAPS had to address to improve the successful completion of research projects. Most of the concerns or challenges were addressed shortly after the study. However, the results of consecutive programmes only showed an improvement in the number of research reports submitted for assessment, but, in terms of the organisational challenges, they had no impact on the success rate of the learning programme. This sparked the idea of a thorough study that could shed light on reasons for the poor performance of the adult learners attending the EDLP. The study invoked a few serious questions such as: Do we understand the adult learner? How do adult learners learn? Is our approach to teaching adults suitable? Does the teaching of research require a completely different approach? Is experiential learning a good practice? Finally, what have we learned in the teaching experience and how have we gained that knowledge?
The second research question of this study is: what workplace learning has taken place during the teaching of research methodology in SAPS? It is sub-divided into four separate questions. These are:

  • What were the experiences of those involved in the shaping of the Research Methodology Module of the SAPS?
  • What lessons have been learnt in the process of teaching research methodology to senior police officers?
  • What were the experiences of SAPS lecturers in supervising learners in their research?
  • What has been learned by the senior police officers who attended the research methodology module of the EDLP during their research projects?

The experiential part of the EDLP relates more to learning in the workplace than to teaching in a classroom setting, but since SAPS learners attend a structured learning phase at the SAPS Academy in Paarl, the classroom teaching phase will be regarded as learning in the workplace.
The following sections will thus focus briefly on the adult learner as a reminder of the complexity of the adult learner as outlined in Chapter 2, followed by a discussion on learning theories. I therefore approach this chapter in two sections, namely Section 1: The adult learner and learning, and Section 2: Workplace Learning Theory.
In Section 1, I provide an overview of the adult learner and some of the traditional and prominent contemporary learning theories such as experiential learning, self-directed learning and workplace learning. In the ensuing second section, I explore the themes and perspectives of theory to conceptualise workplace learning.

SECTION 1: THE ADULT LEARNER AND LEARNING

THE ADULT LEARNER

It is safe to say that in terms of interpersonal, intrapersonal and environmental characteristics, the adult learner is different to school leaving youth attending tertiary institutions on a full-time basis (Kiely, Sandman & Truluck 2004 in Laher 2007: 383). Adults also bring with them different and more varied experiences than youth do (Knowles, Swanson & Holton 2005). Silberman and Auerbach (1998) explicate that there are differences between adults and youth as far as their background, learning styles, motivation for learning, interests, needs, and ultimately their goals are concerned. Merriam (2001:5) uses Knowles’ andragogy to describe the adult learner as someone who –

  • Has an independent self-concept and who can direct his or her own learning;
  • Has accumulated a rich source of learning in a reservoir of life experiences;
  • Experiences learning needs closely associated with his/her social roles;
  • Is interested in the immediate application of knowledge and being problem-centred; and
  • Is motivated to learn by internal rather than external factors.

Merriam and Caffarella (1991:85) explicate the intrinsic motivation of adult learners and posit that these learners use learning opportunities to build social relationships in which new associates and friendships are formed. There might also be external expectations, such as having to comply with the authoritarian prescripts of an employer for instance, that adult learners wish to satisfy. Adult learners may also experience a need to fulfil a social welfare role and will therefore develop new skills to serve people in their communities. However, they may also experience a need for personal advancement and higher status or they may simply get involved in learning activities to counter their boredom. Moreover, adults may have cognitive interests that manifest in a wish to satisfy their enquiring minds.
Walters & Koetsier (2006:99) cite Bourgeois, Duke, Guyot and Merrill (1999:3) who define ‘mature adults’ as having had ‘a significant break, with other life-and work-experience, prior to entering higher education’. It is this break and period of gaining adulthood experience that explain adults’ motivation for learning.
However, in terms of this study, the most important aspect is found in the argument of Walters and Koetsier (2006:99) that adults are less exclusively students than younger students due to their life roles at home and work and should be taught differently than children (Sipe 2001:88). Teaching adult learners therefore requires different approaches (Merriam & Caffarella 1991:306) and trainers should be careful not to rely on standardised approaches or single learning theories to facilitate learning. Indeed, as indicated in Chapter 2, educators are now being confronted by a new kind of adult learner, an impatient one that only commits to learning opportunities when the return on their efforts are clear and quickly attainable.

LEARNING THEORIES

While there are various theories that attempt to explain how learning takes place, there is little consensus about the number of theories about learning and how they should be categorised or grouped. It appears from the literature that theories are broadly clustered into how they provide insights into the adult learning process. I therefore briefly discuss the main learning theories, as a conscious reminder of the various perspectives of learning processes and their influence on the debate on learning in the workplace.
Green (2002:11) explicates that these different approaches or perspectives are categorised into the behaviouristic approach (Watson, Hull, Skinner), cognitive theories (Lewin, Piaget), humanism (Knowles), social learning (Bandura) and constructivism (Vygotsky, Piaget, Dewey). Jenkins (2011:76) referred to earlier stances towards adult education by citing the five philosophical traditions as described by Elias and Merriam (1995) that underpin adult education, referring to liberal, progressive, behaviouristic, humanistic and radical traditions. Merriam and Caffarella (1999:387-404) agree that there is no single adult learning theory and argue that those in existence can be classified into three broad categories, being those based on adult characteristics, on adults’ life situations, and those based on changes in adults’ consciousness. For Marshall and Case (2010:15), learning theories can be separated into broadly two strands comprising the individual perspective, which built on the works of Piaget, and socio-cultural perspectives that build onto the work of Vygotsky. It has also been argued that learning theories such as behavioural, cognitive, constructivist and social learning theories fall within the territory of psychological theories (Wenger 1998a), but a definite move from psychological theories of learning to focus on activity, socialisation or the organisation, has surfaced.
Other scholars like Hager (2004 in Tynjälä 2008:131) argue that the main theories about learning, with its foundations in school contexts, cannot be transferred to workplace learning (Tynjälä 2008:131). Hager (2004 in Tynjälä 2008:131) advocated for the development of workplace learning research from its own starting points. Hager (2004) differentiates between a standard paradigm and an emerging paradigm of learning. The standard paradigm is based on three assumptions, namely a focus on the mind (cognitive processes of forming and improving mental structures), interiority (separating the mental life from the outside world and the focus on learning by thinking rather than learning through action) and transparency (measurable outcomes and inferiority of non-transparent learning). The emerging paradigm is described as action in the world (Tynjälä 2008:131). The change in learning is therefore not only in the individual’s mind, but also in the individual’s environment. Learning has thus become more contextual because of the individual’s creation of new sets of relations in the environment and the workplace. (Tynjälä 2008:131). Learning in workplaces occurs on an individual level as well as in groups, communities, organisations, inter-organisational networks and regions. Due to this plurality and multi-levelness of learning in the workplace, research on workplace learning has expanded from pedagogical and psychological studies into other fields such as adult, vocational, educational and labour studies (Tynjälä 2008:132). However, a basic overview of these ‘standard’ paradigms will be offered, dealing specifically with the nature of individual learning and starting with relationship between psychology and learning perspectives.
Winn and Snyder (1996) remind us that from a psychological approach, learning takes place through representations of symbols. They add that such knowledge acquisition is entirely centred on the person and not the environment. Cognitive learning theories thus focus on internal cognitive structures and view learning as transformations of such cognitive structures (Wenger 1998a).
However, learning also takes place through processes in which learners build their own mental structures when interacting with an environment. This interaction may alter the individuals’ behaviour, hence the theory of behaviourism.

Behaviourism

Behaviourism as learning theory rests on three pillars (Green 2002:11). Firstly, it proposes that learning has taken place when there is an observable change in behaviour. The theory is therefore not focused on the internal thought process of adult learners, but rather on the manifestation of learning in the form of a different behaviour. Secondly, the elements present in the environment of the individual, and not the elements internal to the individual, determine what the adult learner internalises. Finally, the theory rests on the assumption that learning becomes more likely when events happen shortly after one another and is more likely to happen when the event repeats itself. (Green 2002:11). Merriam and Caffarella (1999:264) explicate that the focus of this orientation to learning is to influence the behaviour of the learner in a desired direction. The facilitator will, in this approach, set up or arrange the environment to elicit the desired response. Specific objectives for behavioural changes, attainment of competencies and skills will be set by the trainer.

Constructivist Perspective

Constructivism has its roots in both philosophy and psychology. The essential epistemological tenets of constructivism as argued by von Glaserfeld (1984, 1990 in Doolittle 1999) are –

  • Knowledge as the result of active cognition by the individual,
  • Cognition as an adaptive process that makes an individual’s actions more viable in a particular environment
  • Cognition that organises and makes sense of one’s experience (which does not have to correspond to reality), and
  • Knowing that originates from biological constructions, and interactions on social, cultural and language level.

The learner’s active role in the creation of his/her own knowledge and the importance of experience gained on an individual and social level, is acknowledged by constructivists. This does not mean that such knowledge should be an accurate account of reality (Doolittle 1999). The four tenets mentioned above are emphasised to different degrees and as such are labelled differently as Cognitive Constructivism, Social Constructivism and Radical Constructivism. Schwartz and Human (2012) explored these versions of constructivism in their study into low submission rates of research learners. They draw from Doolittle (1999) to summarise these below.

 Cognitive Constructivism

Cognitive Constructivism is associated with information processing and its reliance on the component processes of cognition. It maintains that knowledge is external to the individual, situated in a reality that is independent from the individual. Knowledge is therefore only knowable to the individual (Doolittle 1999 in Schwartz & Human 2012). Learning will thus be constructed by the individual being actively involved (cognising) and adapting him/herself appropriately for the acquisition of new knowledge. In this case, knowledge is based on the accurate internalisation and construction (or even reconstruction) of external reality. Differently put, knowledge is based on cognition processes and structures that accurately correspond to those of the real world (Doolittle 1999 in Schwartz & Human 2012).
Learning can be described as the internalisation and construction of external reality, by building internal models or representations of the structures in the external real world. The cognitive perspective on learning focuses on the processes of learning, the way in which what is learned is symbolised in the mind and how these representations are organised in the mind (Doolittle 1999 in Schwartz & Human 2012).

Social Constructivism

Social Constructivism advocates the social nature of knowledge. It lies somewhere between the transmission of knowledge and the construction of personal and coherent reality as seen by radical constructivists (Doolittle 1999 in Schwartz & Human 2012). In this case, the individual constructs knowledge not only through interaction within societies on a social level, but also through language usage. This knowledge is thus based on shared experience due to the social interaction with other individuals and is more specific to a particular socio-cultural context where place and time influence meaning. Social Constructivists argue that such meaning plays a more important role than structures. The truth is also to be found between individuals as a collective due to their shared experiences gained through interaction in socio-cultural activities (Doolittle 1999). All four epistemological tenets of von Glaserfeld mentioned above are emphasized by Social Constructivism (Schwartz & Human 2012).
Social constructivist and socio-cultural perspectives are similar in that the individual constructs learning in a system within which other individuals also function and that learning is fostered through interaction with others. Social constructivism and radical constructivism perspectives share the view that learning is external to the individual, centred on meaning whereas cognitive constructivists argue that learning is internal to the individual, and centred on structures.

Radical Constructivism

Radical Constructivism is the constructivist theory furthest removed from Cognitive Constructivism. Radical Constructivism regards knowledge construction as internal to the individual and argues that the real world is in fact unknowable to the individual. The individual may experience the real world through senses, but such experiences are so far removed from reality that the knowledge that is constructed in this way cannot be regarded as an accurate account of the reality. The knowledge cannot, as such, be regarded as an objective truth, because the internal knowledge does not match the external reality. However, this knowledge of the knower is influenced by the level of experience of the knower and is intended to improve the experience of the knower and not to please him/her or fit in with the external world (Doolittle 1999 in Schwartz & Human 2012). Radical Constructivists argue that knowledge is an adaptive process resulting from active cognising and the experience of the knower who consequently constructs his/her own meaning (Doolittle 1999 in Schwartz & Human 2012).
Radical constructivists argue that the individual learns through his/her own experience. This is a similar deduction to other perspectives such as social constructivist, variation perspective and socio-cultural perspective. Radical constructivists hold that the individual learns through his/her own interpretation and experience and that learning takes place internal to the individual. It does not necessarily mean that what is learned is the same as that regarded by the real world as the truth or knowledge. This is different to all other perspectives, hence the term radical (Schwartz & Human 2012).
Merriam and Caffarella (1999:264) posit that this theory, influenced by Dewey, Montessori, Piaget, Bruner and Vygotsky, is based on the active construction of knowledge by learners themselves as they learn through interaction with their learning environment. Active participation in the learning intervention is essential and facilitators should develop learning situations that encourage participation and solicit reflections that would help learners’ construction of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

CHAPTER: 1 ORIENTATION 
1.1 INTRODUCTION
1.2 BACKGROUND TO THE RESEARCH
1.3 PROBLEM STATEMENT
1.4 AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
1.5 RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS
1.6 CHAPTER DIVISION
1.7 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW – THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK 
2.1 INTRODUCTION
2.2 SAPS RESEARCH POLICY FRAMEWORK
2.3 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
2.4 PRIORITIES FOR EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
2.5 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 3: LITERATURE REVIEW – CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK .
3.1 INTRODUCTION
SECTION 1: THE ADULT LEARNER AND LEARNING
3.2 THE ADULT LEARNER
3.3 LEARNING THEORIES
3.4 LEARNING THEORIES APPLICABLE TO ADULT LEARNING
3.5 GROWING IMPORTANCE OF WORKPLACE LEARNING
3.6 LOCATING THE STUDY WITHIN THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES
3.7 PERSPECTIVES ON WORKPLACE LEARNING
3.8 PRIORITIES FOR EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
3.9 SUMMARY
CHAPTER 4: RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS 
4.1 INTRODUCTION
4.2 RATIONALE FOR ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCH
4.3 RESEARCH DESIGN
4.4 RESEARCH METHODS
4.5 SUMMARY
CHAPTER: 5 EMPIRICAL FINDINGS 
5.1 INTRODUCTION
5.2 RESEARCH PROCESS
5.3 DATA ANALYSIS
5.5 SUMMARY
CHAPTER: 6 DISCUSSION OF EMPIRICAL FINDINGS
6.1 INTRODUCTION
6.2 DATA INTERPRETATION
6.3 SUMMARY
6.4 TOWARDS A NEW THREE-STEP RESEARCH MODEL
6.5 CONCLUDING REMARKS .
CHAPTER 7: SUMMARY, CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
7.1 INTRODUCTION
7.2 SUMMARY OF RESEARCH FINDINGS
7.3 RESEARCH CONCLUSIONS
7.4 RECOMMENDATIONS
7.5 AVENUES FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
7.6 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY
7.7 THE ‘GOODNESS’ OF THE STUDY
7.8 CONCLUDING REMARKS
7.9 PERSONAL REFLECTIONS
8. REFERENCES
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
Workplace learning in the South African Police Service (SAPS): Themes and perspectives in teaching research methodology module

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