As part of my research planning and development, I need to have a theoretical framework that underpins the research. The purpose of the theoretical framework is to support the research study and to help justify why the research should be done. Normally, the theoretical framework would originate from the PhD discipline you are studying, however, my PhD is slightly different. My theoretical framework will differ from those in the normal information science domain (as mine is a PhD in information science) as it will encompass all aspects of the research – both information science and not. Although my PhD lies predominantly within the information science domain, it is highly multi-disciplinary. This can be seen by my supervisory team – an expert in the information science domain and an expert in the work and employment domains (often referred to as organisational studies domain). As my research crosses many disciplines form information science and organisational studies to psychology, I knew it would be a challenge to develop a theoretical framework. I am not yet at the sage where my theoretical framework is set, but I am going to share some of the things I have encountered from literature I have explored over the last 10 months.
I have decided to explore some of the theories that I thought might be relevant and tell you about reasons why this is not the case. As my research has covered a lot of literature so far, I am only going to focus mainly on the learning theories as I am studying workplace learning. However I might mention other theories along the way, some mentioned in the literature that caught my eye but would not do my research justice as the theoretical framework yet.
So what does it mean to learn and how can I develop a theoretical framework that encompasses learning in the workplace? Well, that was my challenge indeed. As I am studying how workplace learning can be used to enhance innovation, I thought the most obvious place to start would be the learning theories, however, quite soon into my research I discovered that some theories just do not cut it for my research and I am now going to tell you why.
Firstly, I found out that there are two main theories of leaning – classical conditioning and operant conditioning. This was great for me as I had studied these during my BSc and MSc degrees and knew them inside and out. Classical conditioning has roots in behaviourism as it is how we learn by association. For example, if we associate a positive behaviour with a certain stimulus we are more likely to repeat this behaviour again. The two stimuli / responses are linked together and we soon realise the link, hoping for a replication in the behaviour intended. You can see great example of this in a study by Ian Pavolv when he conditioned dogs to salivate when hearing a bell. To this end, the dogs then learned they were going to get food every time they heard the bell and salivated in anticipation of such food. However, operant conditioning sees something different. This is where we learn by reinforcement. For example, if a behaviour is carried out and has negative consequences it acts as a deterrent for that behaviour. But if the behaviour if has positive consequences it will encourage such behaviour. Another good example of this is the Skinnerbox by a psychologist called Frederick Skinner who helped rats learn behaviours by association. By means of repeating behaviours, the rats learned pulling a lever would result in food being dropped into their cages, therefore positively reinforcing behaviours presented. However, I soon realised that neither of these theories would help my research.
This is because each theory is directed to learning certain behaviours and does not take into account any social factors involves. Although both clearly show how people (and animals) can learn, for me, workplace learning was not so simple and something needing further exploration. At work, we won’t always have time to keep repeating behaviours to see if they work, nor do we have resources to be constantly reinforced (by others or supervisors) and to be quite honest, managers might not have the time full stop. We do, however, have lots of support and social interactions which is something these theories do not consider and something I feel is important with consideration to my research.
I then moved onto some learning theories that encompass social interaction and contextual factors, and for me this was what I was looking for (or so I thought!).This was Kolb’s experiential learning model. The idea of experiential learning was first developed by Kolb (1984) and later explored in terms of learning in the workplace (Kolb, 2015). Experiential learning suggests people learn by gaining concrete experience and then taking time to reflect upon that experience. Reflection is then followed by the generation of rules describing the experience and the application of theories known to this. From the abstract conceptualisation, individuals are then able to modify the next experience based upon previous similar experiences and reflection on these (Kolb, Boyatzis & Mainemelis, 2001, p.229). I found this model to be heading in the direction of my research, but it had too much focus on reflection. It also did not explain much of the social interaction or the role the environment plays in learning so to me it was not applicable in underpinning my whole research.
Next, I learned about situated learning, a term not head before starting my PhD. Situated learning is the theory which explains ‘learning by doing’ and that people (such as students) learn by participating in activities relating to what needs to be learned (Lave, 1990). This theory of learning helps people create meaning from the activities they take part in in relation to real activities of daily living. More importantly, the person is situated in the learning experience and knowledge acquisition is part of that learning experience, the context is situated in and the culture it is bound by. I thought this theory was fab! It encompasses how people learn in certain situations, such as in the workplace and explained how the situation can be influenced by culture an context, an important aspect of y study. However, one thing it did not take into account is the individual themselves, their thoughts and feelings on the learning process and how their individual characteristics can influence their learning overall. For me, the individual is at the heart of learning and the learning experience so a theory which ignores individual characteristics is something I feel is unsuitable and
I then looked a little further at the organisational learning literature to see what was there. I knew organisational learning differed from my research as it is the creation and use of knowledge on the organisational level rather than the individual level, but I decided to take a look and see. This is where I came across organisational learning loops by Argrys and Schön (1996). They explained that single loop learning was addressing a problem head on and looking for a solution to fix the problem. It is one of the most basic principles in learning and aims to address a problem quickly and efficiently. Double loop learning adds depth to this by adding in another ‘loop’. This loop serves to question the function and purpose of the work being done to see if the problem is suitable for the organisational itself. However, as with the organisational learning literature, neither considers the role of the individual in depth and focus primarily on how organisations learn. Therefore, once again, I side-lined this theory in the hope of finding something better.
It was then I decided to give up for a while and concentrate on other literature stuff. I still wanted to find a theory that could encompass all aspects of my work – learning, context and the individual but also one relevant to my information sciences degree. It was when I stopped looking, and started seeing what others had used in their own work that I found the theory that is very likely to underpin my research – The Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1986).
The Social Cognitive is a psychological theory to explain how we lean. It encompasses aspects of the individual characteristics of a person, the environment they are in and also the behaviours they wish to present. This is called Triadic Reciprocal Causation (or triadic reciprocal determinism) as it explaines how such factors can not be separated or determined by one alone. Either way, it incorporates all of what I was looking for. Now you might remember a while back when I talked about this during my trip to Firbush with the other PhD students, well… this is the theory I was talking about and the theory that won me joint first prize place!!
So why am I thinking of using this theory as the basis of my research? Well, there are quite a few reasons:
- It has not yet been used in workplace learning, only in educational learning;
- It incorporates all aspects of learning that I am exploring – the individual characteristics, the environment (or context) and also the behaviours in learning;
- It focuses a lot on motivations in learning, such as self-efficacy where people believe they can achieved a given task. This is particularly useful in skill development (such as learning to innovate) as people are more likely to achieve the goal if they believe they can.
- It has been used within the information science domain a lot, a lot more than what I thought which will please my supervisors to know this.
You can read a really good chapter on the Social Cognitive Theory by Pálsdóttir (2013) in Theory in information behaviour by Wilson (reference below) and it explaines the uses of the theory in the information science domain too. I was really surprised to see that is has been used in the application of different information models such as the Model of Information Behaviour (Wilson, 1996) and also by Kurbanoglu, Akkoyunlu & Umay (2006) who developed an information literacy scale in relation to self-efficacy in the Social Cognitive theory. More importantly, it has been seen to bridge the gap between information science theory and psychology theory which is something my research might do due to its multidisciplinary basis and research areas.
Now there are various other reasons for me wanting to use this theory, most of which I won’t go into just yet. However I do know that this theory (at a later date) will be supplemented with others to reflect the diverse nature of my research, spread out across the multiple disciplines it encompasses.
Argrys, C., & Schön, D. (1996). Organizational learning II: Theory, method and practice, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.
Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Kolb, A. D. (2015). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (2nd Ed). Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.
Kolb, D.A., Boyatzis, R.E., & Mainemelis, C. (2001). Experiential Learning Theory: Previous Research and New Directions. In R.J. Steinberg, & L.F. Zhang. Perspectives on thinking, learning and cognitive styles (pp. 22). Matiwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.
Kurbanoglu, S. S., Akkoyunlu, B. & Umay, A. (2006). Developing the information literacy self-efficacy scale. Journal of Documentation, 62(6), 730-743.
Lave, J. (1990). The Culture of Acquisition and Practice of Understanding. In D. Kirshner, & J.A. Whitson (Eds), Situated Cognition. Social, Semiotic, and Psychological Perspectives (pp. 17-X). London, England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Pálsdóttir, A. (2013). Social cognitive theory. In Wilson, T. D. (Ed.). Theory in information behaviour research. Sheffield, UK: Eiconics Ltd. [E-book] ISBN 978-0-9574957-0-8.
Wilson, T. D. & Walsh, C. (1996). Information behaviour: An interdisciplinary perspective. Sheffield: University of Sheffield Department of Information Studies. Retrieved 24th July 2016, from http://informationr.net/tdw/publ/infbehav/cont.html (Archived by WebCiteR at http://www.webcitation.org/6BGeZER3i)