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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Eureka moments : pivotal learning experiences in the workplace Carbert, Hana


This study aims to illuminate the content and structure of workplace learning by novice managers. Combining cognitive and humanist learning theory concepts, it explores the relationship between learning content and learning structure. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with ten early-career managers, in a retrospective look at specific workplace experiences, which resulted in significant learning. The learning deemed valuable comprised of formulating a subjective meaning of the management role, adapting to human and organizational dynamics, and forming their own identity as managers and individuals. These processes intersected and occurred simultaneously. The structure most commonly found started with some ’hard learning’, when the novices experienced failure or surprise. The learning was dramatic, rather than gradual, and emotions along with high stakes played a role in mobilizing the learning effort and willingness to adapt. Stakes were largely internal, defined in terms of self-esteem or self-perception. Reflection, following the experience, was very much in evidence and much of the learning occurred in the movement between adaptation or experimentation and reflection. Learning was strengthened through repeat experiences, sometimes from different perspectives, and confirmed through successes. New perspectives and insights emerged some time after the triggering incident, usually through reflection. Experiences triggered an examination and transformation of assumptions and values. Dispositional learning therefore occurred through an experiential, discovery process. These transformations led to experimentation with different ways of acting (procedural learning) and often led the novices to seek guidance. Dispositional learning thus emerged as the leading variable. Guidance played a role in prepositional and procedural learning, and expanded the learners’ horizons. Guidance did not precede the engagement with a situation, but was valued and sought from by the participants from a variety of individuals in response to specific workplace problems. The learners saw themselves playing the leading role, and factors internal to the learner exceeded external factors in importance. Self-confidence, self-efficacy, and the ability to reflect were most evident, and allowed the respondents to face new challenges, having developed an ability to treat task failures objectively, without impacting their sense of identity.

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