The study that my talk is based on forms a part of a major two year action research partnership between the Caledonian Academy and Shell Learning, the corporate learning centre of the company. This is a two-way partnership that involves a number of different initiatives and research projects. My colleagues Allison Littlejohn, Colin Milligan and I are Shell Researchers leading this partnership. The aim of the partnership is to develop innovative approaches and tools to support knowledge workers in learning in the workplace. In particular, we are exploring the role of self-regulated learning during transition from education to work, focusing on processes and systems that can decrease time to competence of novices by improving knowledge flow, both within and beyond the organisation. These are the other four co-authors of the paper, of which only Allison Littlejohn is in the audience today.
The overall theme I will argue is that The ability to self-regulate one’s learning and development is a key capability for individuals in contemporary workplaces. Many post-industrial societies have been going through socio-political and technological changes that have necessitated reconceptualisation of production towards knowledge driven work processes. Where in industrial age the means of production in the form of factory equipment, machinery and raw materials were in the hands of organisations, now knowledge rather than machines is the means of production – and its largely created and owned by individuals. Some of the current sentiment about what this means for individual workers is captured in this quote from Michelle Martin, who runs an interesting blog called The Bamboo Project.
We have been seeing emergence of new forms of work practices referred to as “bricolage” or patchworking – the localisation, selection and combination in a novel context of both artefacts (eg information, tools, software) and of other people and what they know or are able to do to bear upon problems in the workplace. Individuals increasingly find themselves operating in distributed, dynamically-changing and technologically- mediated, complex environments. To function effectively in such conditions requires individuals to develop capabilities and dispositions in self-regulation; mindsets and self-efficacy beliefs to operate in ill-defined, non-hierarchical environments within expanding geographical horizons. To develop and maintain networks with peers and expert communities and collaborate in culturally diverse teams
These changes in the nature of work practices have been exacerbated by the rapid development of social technologies. These are not just new tools, they are underpinned by a philosophy that is radically different to that of the industrial age systems: decentralisation of authority in knowledge creation and technology ownership; emphasis on user-generated, user-controlled and remixable content and data; and the centrality of the notion of “architecture of participation” that harnesses distributed cognition and the wisdom of the crowds. The social technologies enable open, self-organised and collective creation and sharing of knowledge through personal web publishing, social bookmarking, webfeed aggregation, wiki authoring, and other pactices. The emergent technologies make it possible, at least in principle, for everyone to take control of their own learning.
But can we presume all individuals in the workplace have the capabilities and mindsets required to be in charge of their learning and development? Do all workers have the dispositions to self-regulate their learning? Do they have learning literacies, information literacies needed to engage with and benefit from the opportunities created by the emergent work practices and technologies? It has traditionally been assumed that all these skills and dispositions are developed by individuals during their schooling and higher education But with what degree of confidence can we say that our educational institutions are preparing graduates to function effectively in these shifting workplace contexts? What about the experienced people? The experts – how well prepared are they to face the emergent challenges?
Nader Chokr in his recent book “Unlearning or How not to be Governed?” outlines the concept of “unlearning” as a key capability in the conditions that we are confronted with today.
He goes on to define unlearning as ..... What does this concept of unlearning mean and what questions does it invite in light of my main theme - self-regulation as a critical capability for the workplace? In realising such capability it is important that individuals not only promote appropriate development of their internal powers and dispositions but also prepare the environment so that it is favourable for the exercise of these capabilities. Self-regulated learning may be individually-driven or individually-initiated, but I would argue it is never an individualistic learning process. So it is important that individuals both draw upon and contribute to the collective in the process of self-regulated learning. The collective – by which I mean the aggregation of knowledge that is possessed by people, groups, communities, but also that is contained in practices, artefacts and machines - can act as a resource for learning, a social model, or a set of constraints for learning.
Self-regulatory skills underpin conscious deliberate practice, which has been recognised by theories of expertise development as a core component of expert performance in general. Properties of deliberate practice include task analysis, goal setting, strategy selection, self-monitoring, self-evaluation and adaptation. Barry Zimmerman’s model of self-regulated learning is one of the most influential ones in this area. Zimmerman’s model posits that self-regulation is a cyclical process comprised of 3 phases and a range of sub-phases. This model has limitations: Firstly, it implies that goal actuation is linear, but there is a growing body of evidence in the literature that in the workplace, adults learn through transformations with open objectives in which goals and motivations are continually reviewed. Secondly, although the socio-cognitive theories of self-regulated learning of which Zimmerman’s model is part, recognise the role of the social context in learning, its impact is often assumed to be inferior to individually-based components . This contradicts the nature of the workplace, where work and learning are shaped by complex interdependencies with others.
Despite the existence of extensive body of research in this area, current understanding of self-regulated learning in the workplace has three major gaps: 1) Firstly, self-regulation processes in the workplace are not well understood since most research has taken place in formal instructional settings. 2) Secondly, the role of the collective is not well understood. Research in these area has largely taken place in laboratory settings, involving disconnected individuals carrying out decontextualised tasks, therefore the applicability of the findings for workplace contexts is not clear. 3) Thirdly, the impact of cultural and organisational context on the development of self-regulation is not well understood. We know that self-regulation is a domain-specific skill that can be impacted by the variables of the context within which it is applied. Transfer of self-regulatory skills between educational and work settings can be impacted by inherent differences in motives and goals in these settings. For example, motivation in education is problematic since students are not involved in goal setting; rewards are extrinsic, leading students away from self-regulation. Similarly, in the workplace, learning may be constrained by culture, management style, roles, hierarchy and other socio-cultural and organisational factors.
While addressing these issues requires a systematic and a comprehensive research programme, the aim of our study was exploratory, to begin to sketch self-regulatory learning practices in the workplace. The first stage of our study investigated experts’ practices. We have since collected further data from novices from other testbeds within Shell and are currently analysing and writing these data up. In the first phase we looked at: how experts self-regulate their learning how they draw upon the collective in attaining their learning goals how they perceive the impact of knowledge sharing on learning and what motives them to contribute knowledge
The small scale study was conducted in an online Community of Practice of production chemists in Shell. Members of the community are both novices and experts who use a dedicated online discussion forum to exchange knowledge and experiences and discuss problems and solutions. The study was conducted between May and August last year. The data was collected through a web-based questionnaire, followed by semi-structured interviews.
The questionnaire was posted on the community’s discussion forum. The findings that I will discuss today are from 8 interview respondents, all of whom were experts. The results of the survey are outlined in detail in the paper that is available online; I will not elaborate on this because of the time limitations.
The interview findings point to self-regulated learning being structured by and deeply integrated within work tasks and priorities as well as the performance measurement and promotion criteria. Some experts look to planning their personal learning goals, which is a formal annual process at Shell, as a away of helping them formalise their learning and gain management support and organisational recognition for the time they invest in learning. So rather extrinsically driven process, rather than mainly intrinsically motivated.
Connected to this is the finding that learning is not a clearly delineated process involving discrete stages of planning, implementation and reflection, as Zimmerman’s model suggests– instead, these stages are closely intertwined, especially planning and implementation.
Self-regulated learning is a highly iterative, rather than a linear process as the current models of self-regulation suggest. The ever-increasing complexity of workplace problems, especially in oil and gas industry, means that it may be impossible to learn everything one needs to know to solve any particular problem at hand. In these conditions, learning goals are open-ended, and are continually reviewed.
The iterative nature of learning could push workers towards short to medium term goals, rather than long term goal setting. Experts however recognise the importance of taking a longer term view, as this quote from an interviewee illustrates.
Experts in this sample, reported that they hardly ever engaged in self-reflection. We are not talking here about the tacit reflection that is one of the core mechanisms underpinning human learning and that all humans engage in. This refers to deliberate and systematic reflection on learning goals, using structured strategies – which we know from literature can enhance learning in critical ways. In the workplace, learning is driven by task and performance demands, therefore there are limited opportunities for systematic self-reflection. Where the opportunities exist, such as in project after-action reviews, they are closely linked to the immediate work task, rather than being focused on learning per se.
When faced with a new problem or a new task for which they need to gain knowledge quickly, most experts tend to draw heavily upon their personal networks of trusted peers. Over time as experts develop and strengthen their internal and external peer networks, these personal networks supersede the knowledge sharing community in terms of value to the person in terms of daily work tasks. Our data points out that experts typically use the community to seek out a “light touch peer review” rather than a solution to a specific problem. In the next stages of the study, we will explore whether or not this is the case for novices, who may not yet have developed personal networks that they can draw upon, therefore they may find that the online community offers more direct benefits.
Experts moderate their knowledge contributions by limiting them to situations where they think they have something of value to contribute, where they believe that their input is potentially applicable to a problem encountered by a peer, especially if their contribution allows them to gain a positive reputation for their expertise among peers. However, they also recognise that estimating the value is often impossible.
The limited nature of our data means that some of the early analysis and findings that I have shared with you today are a snapshot rather than the whole picture. Our further research will focus on: 1) Firstly, establishing differences and similarities in the self-regulation practices of novices and experts. 2) Secondly, developing a better understanding of the interplay of individual and the collective, ascertaining whether or not these components of self-regulation are configured differently and have different value for novices and experts . The two key questions for us are: How can self-regulation be facilitated in the workplace – so we are interested in what interventions can be devised that could enhance processes of observation, emulation, deliberate practice and social feedback loops, as well as co-regulation and alignment with collective goals rather than only individual goals. - We are also interested in looking at what tools and systems we can develop that can enable individuals to consume from and contribute knowledge to the collective why pursuing their learning goals 3) Finally, and on a more general level, we need better methodologies that will allow us to conduct robust investigations of self-regulatory learning practices in workplace settings. Of course a variety of methods and instruments currently exist, but many of these are geared towards studies in controlled, formal learning settings, and do not take into consideration the complexities of conducting research in real-world contexts.
In conclusion, going back to the question that I posed earlier, our research demonstrates that many people have self—efficacy and motivation to learn and to excel in their career, especially some of the novices, young graduates. And this is a good foundation, but we don’t yet see critical manifestations of these capabilities for self-regulation and unlearning.
Self-regulated learning and knowledge sharing in the workplace
self-regulated learning and knowledge
sharing in the workplace
Lecturer in Learning Technology, Shell Research Fellow
Caledonian Academy, Glasgow Caledonian University ,UK
This presentation is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence
Caledonian Academy – Shell Learning
action research partnership (2008/2009)
Prof. Allison Littlejohn, Shell Senior
Researcher, Director of Caledonian
Academy and Chair in Learning
Dr. Colin Milligan, Shell and
Caledonian Academy Research
Dr. Sebastian Graeb-Koenneker,
Global Deputy Head of Design &
Development, Shell Learning
Dr. Donna Hendrix, Knowledge
Management Senior Analyst,
“Now, we own the means of production--it's in our heads. It's
what we know and can do. Do we really want to turn that
over to the organization to decide? Or do we want to be the
people who say `I'm going to take charge of my own learning.
I'm going to be curious and pay attention to what's changing
and where things are going and I'm going to pro-actively
prepare myself for those things, regardless of whether or not
the organization tells me I need to learn this.` We shouldn't
be waiting to receive permission or be empowered. We
should be seizing that power and doing everything with it
that we can“
Michelle Martin, The Bamboo Project
Emergent work practices: Bricolage, patchworking
Emergent environments: Distributed, dynamically-
changing, technologically-mediated, complex or
Emergent capabilities: self-regulation, self-
organisation, operating in ill-defined domains &
across geographic boundaries, networking, peering,
Emergent technologies: social, adaptive, intuitive
Do individuals have the capabilities
and mindsets to be in charge?
“Education should above all consist in learning
how to learn independently and eventually in
unlearning. The former is arguably not even
possible in any meaningful and substantive way
without the latter, and the latter is stronger and
far more demanding that what is usually meant
by ‘critical thinking’ “
(Chokr, Unlearning or how not to be governed, 2009, p.6)
“The term which captures best what I mean by unlearning is
perhaps Foucault’s notion of se deprendre, which I believe
presupposes something like desapprendre. As a preliminary
characterisation, I would say that it consists in being moved
by the desire and wilful determination not to be taken in.
Ultimately it is about unshackling oneself. It is about
emancipating or liberating oneself from variously entrenched
and often unquestioned ways of thinking and doing by
radically questioning, criticizing and rejecting the
assumptions and premises of much of what one has learned
as part of the dominant and established system of
Problem 1: most research in SRL is in formal
Problem 2: Role of the collective in SRL not well
Problem 3: Impact of socio-cultural context not well
how experts self-regulate their learning in the
how experts draw upon the collective in attaining
their learning goals
experts’ perceptions of role of collective in learning
factors impacting experts’ motivation to share
“When I think about my learning needs I would
speak to the skill pool bosses because the oil
industry is changing and it is identifying what is
going to be needed in X number of years not
necessarily what you are having to do right
Limited opportunities for systematic
and deliberate reflection
Value to others is a motivating
“There is a part of me that thinks okay well if this person
only knew that it could save them an extra couple of days of
work and it will take me 5 minutes to write it down and send
it to them. It is almost like a value investment ratio that I am
thinking to myself”.
“estimating the value you create is almost impossible. At
best maybe one posting in ten you will get an email back
personally thanking you for it but even then you… don’t know
what the impact is”.
differences and similarities in expert and novice
patterns of self-regulation
nexus of individual and collective
methodologies and instruments to study self-
regulation in real-world contexts in the workplace
Do individuals have the capabilities
and mindsets to be in charge?