Workplace Learning and Knowledge Management

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In recent times, Human Resource Development, HRD has evolved beyond the narrow concept of training and development. Many organizations now attempt to incorporate a holistic approach that involves learning at a personal and organizational level. This is viewed as a strategy necessitating a competitive advantage. Wilson (2005) defines Human Resource Development as a method of increasing the skills, knowledge, and capacities of people in society.

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Economically, HRD identifies the amassing of human capital and its effective stake in the growth and development of the economy. Many authors on HRD topics contend that on socio-cultural aspects, the development of human resources is a springboard. It helps people to lead a full and richer life thus contributing to unlocking the doors of modernization (Wilson, 2005).

Unlike instrumental learning which focuses on; procedural learning, training, and task-oriented solving, new approaches incorporating holistic formation of an individual are essential for HRD strategy. Harris (1999) indicates incorporating new approaches to HRD development not only improves the employee’s performance but also supports the direction engulfing the modern business environment.

Of interest to new approaches in HRD is knowledge work. Many organizations have realized the contribution of knowledge work in enhancing their competitive advantage. Knowledge work strategy leverage HRD success in a contemporary, competitive environment. Also, rather than conventional learning, organizations have realized the importance of lifelong learning or simply workplace learning. They demonstrate lifelong learning casts the organization as a component of learning, facilitating managers to think in terms of how learning improves the organization and employee activities.

Consequently, the most organization views a community of practice as a link creating a positive standing among its members and fostering a learning work environment. A community of practice encourages creativity and allows organizations to gain valuable knowledge needed to achieve their goals and objectives.

Lifelong Learning/Workplace Learning

Lifelong learning or rather a workplace learning is a widespread phenomenon in modern organizations. It is a concept that binds various elements within HRD such as; organization and development, information systems, and training. It also highlights the importance of HRD practitioners as individuals with unique skills and knowledge besides contributing to the success of their professional standing. Swan et al (2002) note organizations embracing HRD are increasingly attracted to the concept of lifelong learning because of the value it brings, both at an individual and the organization level.

Swan et al term associative and cognitive learning associated with HRD policy is primarily emphasized (2002) as they encourage continuity. Associative and cognitive learning contributes to explicit knowledge and support employees in making judgments, predictions, and decisions basing on the tacit knowledge they have. Lifelong learning as a strategy in HRD strengthens workforce capacity with the necessary skills and competency. This ultimately enables an employee to successfully cope with new challenges and permanent changes in the globalized and evolving business environment (Delahaye, 2011).

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Delahaye (2011) describes lifelong learning as a means whereby employees or people working together can increase the skills and knowledge of all their members, often in an exceedingly competitive environment. Lifelong learning complements the adequacy of all members and is designed to make individuals perform to the best of their potential with less or no supervision. When an individual learns, knowledge is created. Harris (1999) points out that workplace learning contributes to tacit knowledge acquisition by an employee. The knowledge acquired is critical, specific, and difficult to communicate. It includes the way a person constructs the reality of the world, and technical capabilities, or the capacity of how to accomplish something. Tacit knowledge enhances efficacy.

Similarly, Sims 2006) alleges explicit knowledge is transmitted in a formal language and describes past events. It manifests itself as informal training and organization documentation. Sims illustrates “critical thinking” from an individual perspective is essential in enhancing HRD (2006). It demands a person to make meaningful information and then establish it as part of their knowledge bases, to be used as a basis for solving new challenges within the work context.

The concept of assessing one’s performance is viewed as a significant element of improving lifelong learning. Sims (2006) explores two methods of reflection; reflection based on action and secondly, reflection based on action. In both scenarios, the reflection occurs as a result of a surprise or the introduction of new information.

When an individual reflects in action, the person, using the current knowledge base, experiments until an appropriate solution to the challenge is found, and they integrate the new knowledge gained into the existing knowledge base. In reflection on action, a person, after finding a solution, assesses the circumstances as they are, and the process of choice. This approach enhances individual knowledge in various ways. It identifies a solution to a new problem and then develops new information about problem-solving.

In enhancing HRD, lifelong learning is valuable. Besides increasing the knowledge base for modern organizations, it increases employee performance and innovation. Unlike traditional instruments, lifelong learning casts the organization as a unit of learning. This allows the managers to incorporate shrewd perception and employees to reason in the context of how their skills impact the organization. Similarly, lifelong learning is a concept that binds (Sims, 2006). It also establishes a distinct influence and discipline within the HRD such as information systems, training, and organization development.

Knowledge Work and Management

Knowledge, unlike the concrete tenets of goods or services, is becoming the defining uniqueness of modern businesses. The influence of knowledge is critical, and a key element in almost everything the organization produces as it determines how it is produced with value. Hite (1999) in his book, Implementing HRD technology asserts, in the current information-intensive economy, competitive advantage is anchored on the use of knowledge. Hite view knowledge is dispersed around the world, and the cost of overcoming the space is decreasing rapidly for commodities such as capital, information, and goods (1999).

HRD work is not confined to traditional functions or training, performance management, staffing, and development among others. Hence; presently, the latter activities and practices have overlapped with new ones such as strategy, marketing, and finance. In the knowledge-based economy, organizations are increasingly hiring talented employees, creating and disseminating knowledge, and sharing knowledge as a key strategy for competitive advantage.

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Kandula (2005) argues the HRD knowledge base increase in the organization because of the emphasis placed on learning, and encouragement for continuous learning, managing knowledge, and data. Additionally, HRD has strategies that determine reward programs for knowledge acquisition and sharing and advocates for change of behavior with new knowledge. Change of employee’s behavior as a result of acquiring new knowledge provides a source of innovation to an organization.

HRD enhance relationship building, which facilitates knowledge sharing. In contemporary business society and a turbulent environment, more emphasis is anchored on the relationship established and sustained among employees within and across organizations.

Developing partnerships create intense collaborations out of the organization’s rivals. In relationship building, the HRM establishes practices and programs that allow employees to nourish, encourage, facilitate, and sustain relationships among themselves, suppliers, customers, and at a time rivals. The relationship ultimately creates synergy within the organization. Agile combinations of employees who have embraced relationship networks create value for the organization than mere individual contributions.

Delahaye (2011) contends knowledge work is vital for HRD. It forms a unique resource that differentiates one organization from the other thus providing a competitive advantage. An organization; which, accumulates concentrates, conserve, and complement and recover the collective skills and abilities within organizations forms a basis for a competitive advantage. Kandula (2005) illustrates knowledge work in an organization aims at keeping talents among employees hence; the Human resource manages to develop a bond between the organization and employees. This allows an organization to lead without dominating and facilitates employees without controlling. Hence, this trend creates stewardship which enhances self-responsibility and contributions to an organization’s success.

Community of Practice

A community of practice is an increasing term embraced by modern organizations. The concept was developed to acknowledge the fact that learning also occurs in a social relationship rather than through books and teaching. In the present business environment, a community of practice is a mainstream of knowledge management in most organizations. Swan et al (2002) note, a community of practice comprises a team or group of individuals who interact with each other within an organization, across organizational units, or beyond organizational boundaries. Communities of practice possess a common interest or field of application in certain work-related tasks and share their knowledge regularly (Swan et al., 2002).

The community of practice in an organization act as a forum for sharing knowledge by practitioners of a given discipline; this is because members share a common objective and are internally motivated as opposed to having some external driver. Its importance in HRD is evident. It serves as an avenue where members value different kinds of knowledge that transpires within a community. The community of practice in an organization is a joint venture.

It has its own identity, which is continually renegotiated by its members, and individuals become members through shared practices and involvement in common ways. As the members form relationships, trust is generated, thus contributing to long term orientation on knowledge creation and sharing. Swan et al argue (2002) the structure of members provides broad access to experts and peers who share innovative ideas and experiences and are not limited by traditional hierarchical structures.

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A community of practice members learns and supports one another to create, capture, spread, retain, and apply knowledge relevant to the organization. Through this process, the community of practice emerges as a significant instrument for collaboration and knowledge sharing across conventional organizational boundaries. Traditionally, communities were established to share insights, ideas, solve problems, and to explore their discipline or practice area (Verburg and Andrissen, 2006).

These communities were not obvious in the organizational structure, and organizations did remarkably little to nurture, encourage, or sponsor them. However, in recent times, most organizations are more attention to the role communities play in helping to drive the organization’s competitive advantage and performance. The HRD practitioners are advocating for the formation of communities, aligning communities with formal organizational objectives, and supporting communities with resources and training. This is because there is increasing evidence suggesting that organizations, workgroups, and individual practitioners benefit from participation in communities of practice (Verburg & Andrissen, 2006).


The assessment of skills and dedication needed to support HRD practices has been a long-standing challenge in most organizations. Despite this, HRD has continued to integrate instrumental practices with new trends shaping modern businesses. By embracing new strategies, HRD enhances an employee’s knowledge, abilities, experience, and skills forming a unique resource distinguishable from other organizations. This consequently leverages the organization with its competitors in the contemporary context.

As aforementioned, compared to instrumental learning, most modern organizations perceive lifelong learning, a community of practice, and knowledge work as the solution to their HRD. The HRD effectively equips employees with self-cantered skills necessary in today’s era of globalization. Besides, compared to instrumental learning, which is focused on procedural training and task-oriented training, new approaches are making the organization develop talents and assist in organizational growth.

The community of practice, lifelong learning, and knowledge work concepts, will continue to play a significant factor in modern business organizations. These approaches are employee-focused. They help stimulate creativity on the side of the employee, the stimulation leads to self-discovery, which ultimately, add new skills and knowledge to an employee. An employee, in turn, translates this knowledge of the organization’s works, assisting it to achieve a competitive advantage.


Bratton, J & Gold, J 2001, Human Resource Management: Theory and Practice. 2nd Ed, Routledge, New York.

Delahaye, B 2011, Human Resource Development: Managing Learning and Knowledge Capital, Tilde Publishing, Victoria.

Harris, P R 1999, New work culture: HRD transformational management strategies, Human Resource Development, Massachusetts.

Hite, J A 1999, Implementing HRD technology, American Society for Training and Development, New York.

Kandula, S R 2005, Hrd In Competitive Business Environment – Realities, Challenges And Practices, ICFAI Books, New Delhi.

Sims, R R 2006, Human resource development: today and tomorrow, IAP, North Carolina.

Swan, J A, Scarbrough, H & Robertson, M 2002, The construction of communities of practice in the management of innovation. Management Learning, Vol. 33 no. 4, pp. 477-497.

Verburg, R & Andrissen, J 2006, The assessment of communities of practice. Knowledge and Process Management, Vol.13 no. 1, pp. 13-25.

Wilson, J P 2005, Human resource development: learning & training for individuals & organizations, Kogan Page Publishers, London.

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