Knowledge production and/or learning ability as part of competence (2)

Focus on learning processes

1st revision


In the first part of this contribution I stated that workers and companies have their own and mutual responsibilities for learning and development. It is a form of responsiveness and a strategic choice[1]. Even for workers is learning and development a strategic choice[2]. If one states that the ability to learn and develop is important an explanation is necessary.

A learning and development attitude is an absolute condition if companies will survive in a dynamic environment. It’s an instrument for direction and control. First, I’ll focus on the learning and development of companies, then the mutual processes and last the learning processes and competencies of workers.

Learning and development of companies

When economic or technological developments urge companies to adapt their production and services, they start strategic learning processes. They need to seek answers about de strength of the competition, economic or technological changes and changing needs of their customers. Instruments as benchmarks, SWAT-analysis, and CRM are applied and cause rethinking of goals, products, services and structure of the company. The search is caused by the fundamental investigating attitude of the company. In my opinion learning and development are instruments for the direction of a company and also over the work to be done. These fit in the forms of direction and control earlier mentioned.

Learning and development consist of various processes:

1             Specification as condition for quality assurance. Companies and customers want guarantees about the quality of processes and outcomes. Above that, companies or departments learn by means of specification, monitoring and comes to modification in order to produce more efficient and better outcomes. This is the aim of methods as the PDA-cycle. But I doubt that this is enough. To determine the cause of inadequate performance or bad products its necessary to know the conditions of adequate production processes; the model for micromanagement can serve a frame work for analysis. This method is not a solution for all the cases. A full, detailed specification of processes and condition is only possible for predictable circumstances. Uncertainty makes a full specification and control almost impossible. In these cases it seems wise to specify the problem space, the degrees of freedom to act and the necessary expertise as a base for communication and account for the processes and outcomes. Communication about the quality is also a form of uncertainty reduction. For companies, both methods are examples of the third form of direction and control.

  2           Consolidation by standardisation is similar to descriptions of processes and outcomes. However, the goal differs. According to Bron (2012) it’s a possible response to severe competition in an environment with a stable technology, economy and customer’s needs. The motivation is keeping the competition position. Mostly, consolidation leads to awareness of habits and to think about processes and results, with, paradoxical enough, consequences as optimization and improvement. Consolidation also is an instrument for direction and control of the third kind.

3             Optimising is a learning process from the question whether processes can be more effective. Workers and managers evaluate the efficiency of each step or activity;  the implementation is the order, though the result remains the same. Optimisation rises above quality assurance: the costs of processes are scrutinized. It’s an instrument for direction and control of the third kind.

  4             Improvement also is considered as a learning process aiming  for a higher efficiency and effectiveness. Workers and managers evaluate each step with the interim outcomes and the final result. The aim is an equal product for customers and more chances for profit. Improvement is the result of description, analysis and redesign. It’s an instrument for direction and control of the first, second and third kind.

5            Innovation of the production processes and/or the results is a result of strategic learning about development of economy, technology, customers’ needs and a reflexion on the efficiency an effectiveness of the production. If the company decides to enter his markets with new products of services a new learning and development process starts. In a joint undertaking the company transits to a next level. Innovation is caused by description, analysis, and design and is an instrument for direction and control from the first, second, third and fourth kind.

Companies and workers

Knowledge production, as a term, is a construct that comprises various learning and communication processes. It leads to a better performance of the company and adaption of changes in the environment. These processes between workers and between workers and management and between business units are intended to specify, consolidate, optimize, enhance or renew the production. The management organises the knowledge production and divides these processes about business units and workers. How one organizes these learning processes, ultimately it comes down to the competence and the learning and development of employees under uncertain circumstances.

Competencies, learning and development of workers

Learning and development of workers is vital for their employability due to dynamic circumstances and unpredictable elements of the work on hand. Dynamic companies, with knowledge production as part of their strategy, need such workers. The question is which kinds of learning are necessary. I’ll present here a ideal model. It’s based on the, probably romantic, assumption, of an intrinsic attitude for learning and development, an absolute condition for labour in dynamic or uncertain situations.

Learning and development workers from falls or stands with reflection on work in progress. This means that workers look back on the course and the result of the work with the goal to improve themselves and the work efficiency. They process their experiences, develop rules of thumb for the efficient performance, enhance their problem solving skills and develop a personal practice theory or expertise. It’s a kind of reverse self-control. This reflective way of working contributes to continuing development of competence: learning at a workplace. Undoubtedly they encounter on deficits in their ability. They fill these deficiencies to communicate with colleagues during or after work per mobile or on internet forums, find additional information on the net or in reference books or communicate with suppliers. Reflection on work in progress is a kind of learning at the workplace and also direction of the forth kind.

The need for compensating these deficiencies is to be considered as a trigger for a reflection on competence and expertise. Workers wonder whether their body of knowledge is adequate for a profound performance of their work. Recent research, in the Netherlands, reveals that many believe that they are ill-equipped for their work. They find their competence inadequate and feel less employable and therefore vulnerable. Sustainable employability is an issue for workers, at least should be.

There are workers who deepen their professional competence, in addition to the supplement of deficiencies (casually). They acquire new insights, theories and designs of their field. Partly because of this they are able to structure and solve more complex problems in the technical problem space . There are also workers who broaden their professional competencies and improve their employability. It leads to widening the potential job bundle. Training we call this.

There are also workers who wish to develop outside their field. For example by social activities or actions that lead to personal development. Now it has been found that the welfare of workers partly depends on their will to develop their selves in general and to be busy outside their work. Those who do this, remain generally healthy for longer than the very passive. Employability and personal well-being evidently depends on the ability and the willingness to follow developments and to react in operational, tactical and/or strategic ways.

There are times workers reflect, from their experiences, on their personal goals and working conditions. They wonder what the work means to them, why they do it and if it is still in line with their ambitions. This happens often around their thirtieth.



Learning and development of companies and workers depends on the interaction between both parties. The company organises, facilitates and direct these processes; workers are responsible for  the processes mentioned above: reflection on the efficiency, the personal body of knowledge, the values and goals for labour, broadening and deepening the body of knowledge and by that the (sustainable) employability and their welfare. Workers and companies both are responsible for knowledge production: consolidation, optimisation, improvement and innovation are mutual responsibilities. Companies are responsible for the strategic learning processes: learning from quality assurance, the improvement and innovation cycles and monitoring and analysing the developments in economy, technology and customer’s needs in order to respond adequately.

[1] Some companies don’t make efforts for learning and development. Instead they replace their personnel for new for new production of services. At least they have a network of flex workers as a condition for responsiveness. Building and construction is an example; the composition of the teams vary every order.

[2] Some workers choose for a professional life without learning and development, expecting this is sufficient enough. They get a rude awakening. Their competence and employability devaluate fast in a dynamic world and they will loose contact with the reality of their profession.

Knowledge production and/or learning ability as part of competence (1)

Focus on learning and development of companies and workers


Companies join changing circumstances; therefore they develop constantly. No doubt they expect their workers also develop and therefore have learning ability. Therefore, learning ability is a part of competence of companies and workers. Regularly calls sounds to put learning ability at the agenda of VET and companies. In earlier periods much attention was given to learning organisations. Now, again, calls sounds for upgrading learning ability of workers due to increasing dynamics for companies. Earlier, learning should benefit the durable employability of workers. On ‘LinkedIn’ I responded  to such a call that it concerns to functions of knowledge production so that companies and workers learn, improve or innovate their production. It’s a response that demands clarification.


This blog (in two parts) aims to initiate a discussion about approaches as regards to abilities to learn and develop as professionals. The assumption is that this is distinct from the more general abilities to learn and develop of students. Then I posit the argument that workers and companies are jointly responsible.


Learning ability in relation to a profession has a history. It is a condition proved to be the transition from a simple to a smart economy and adequate measures for connection to a dynamic environment. The history of the Dutch VET makes this clear. After World War II Dutch Vocational makes a gradual transition through consistent with the development of the economy. Characteristic changes mark the development of a broadening vision of competence.

Initially, training focus on the decisive action with a repertoire of professional activities and professional products. Then they focused on that repertoire and act systematically and methodically. The vision widens further; repertoire, systematically acting and working in the technical problem space is needed so that workers can handle variations effortlessly into production. Developments are ongoing. During the next phase the vision broadens to repertoire, acting systematically, working in the technical problem space supported by task-relevant knowledge. The traditional subject structure is abandoned, knowledge in future is job relevant. Then, the vision becomes broader with the addition of another element: repertoire, acting systematically, working in the technical and business problem space, job relevant knowledge and personal development. The expansion is accompanied by an increased focus on the development of learning abilities and career guidance as part of employability.

In brief, it means that the current vision of qualification for the Dutch vocational education focuses on: to act, to know, to be and to become. These developments obviously have implications for the curriculum and instructional design. Also this vision is an answer to the demands of a ‘smart’ economy.


Companies can behave in many ways under varying conditions; there are different learning processes. Which are appropriate will depend on the conditions. The example below, is based on the condition of competition and technological developments. In times of:

  1. stiff competition and low technological developments companies optimize or improve their production to preserve their efficiency and competitiveness.
  2. low competition and low technological development consolidation of the production to the return is sufficient.
  3. stiff competition and huge technological developments companies examine and innovate their production methods and products or services in order to strengthen their market position and entering markets with niches.
  4. little competition and huge technological developments companies improve their production in order to hold their market position.

This example does not describe the full set of factors and considerations; There are more (see Bron, 2012). The question of the consequences on the personnel should be stated directly thereafter. Companies then ask whether their workers not only now, but also durable can be employed. Continuity of the company is the starting point, a strategic consideration. All in all, companies have to make choices that all affiliated to the learning and development of the company and, of course their workers. For an overview, see the figure below.


    Technological Development
    Low Huge
  Low 2      Consolidation and optimalisation to reduce production costs. 4       Innovation of production to reduce productions costs.
Competition Stiff 1        Improvement of production.


3        Innovation by searching new possibilities for products and production.


Strategic choices under influence of competition and technological development (see: Bron: 2012)

This is just a starter for a logic. Let’s also remember that there are formal and practical laws that act as frameworks for the companies. They do almost everything to survive, to grow and uphold their profits. Workers must do as well. It is expected in the current time, that they have their opportunities to remain for the company. Apparently there are two parties, each with its own responsibilities. However, in multiple models of business configurations is the design and planning of the production or service is a matter of management and workers. Their expertise in necessary; apparently both sides can’t without each other. This means that in addition to specific responsibilities there is a shared responsibility and a common site of knowledge play a role in the continuity of the company. This means that in addition to specific responsibilities there is a shared responsibility and a common knowledge which plays a role in the continuity of the company. In this joint playing field is question of knowledge production. See the figure below.


  Learning and development  
Companies Companies and workers Workers
Varying strategic choices to respond to economic and technological development and changing demands of customers in order to maintain, to grow and enter new markets.


Learning organisation as a basic attitude.


Knowledge production by the company and its workers. Consolidate, optimize, enhance and refresh of production and develop new products.


Mutual responsibilities and cooperation as a basic attitude.

Development and/or expansion of expertise to remain in a employable in a learning and developing company.



Durable employability as a basic attitude of workers.

Responsibilities for learning and development in dynamic companies.