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Learning with the intention of innovating: 11 design principles for knowledge productivity

Suzanne Verdonschot (profiel) , Paul Keursten (profiel) (2011); Bron: In R.F. Poell & M. Van Woerkom (Eds.), Supporting workplace learning: Towards evidence-based practice (pp.183-203). London: Springer.



The aim of this research is to better understand the learning processes undertaken by employees with the intention of gradual improving or radically innovating their organisations’ products, processes and services.

Central research question
The learning processes necessary for innovation cannot take place through training, nor can they occur through systematic management. Rather they are part of the daily work, during innovation and improvement processes. They are seldom deliberately planned as learning activities, but arise by organising the work environment as a learning environment in which new knowledge can be developed and used. This makes it important to learn more about the characteristics of a work environment in which learning with the intention of innovating is supported. The central question of our study, therefore, is: ”What are characteristics of a work environment in which learning for knowledge productivity is stimulated and supported?”

An inductive parallel study was carried out to learn more about the learning processes in ongoing innovation processes. Parallel research can be characterized as a prospective case study design (Bitektine, 2008). It is a form of case study research that studies ongoing processes. Along with the parallel study, an extensive literature review was conducted. The literature research was conducted in the fields of innovation, learning, and more specifically in the domain of learning to solve problems.

The parallel study in 10 ongoing pilot projects tracked down breakthroughs. These breakthroughs were expected to represent the ‘critical learning moments’ of these pilot projects. The analysis of these breakthroughs led to 11 recurring themes. These themes were compared with literature in order to better understand and interpret them. Literature in the fields of innovation and learning, and more specifically the problem-solving field of learning was used for this purpose. This resulted in a description of the themes in the form of design principles for knowledge productivity. These design principles represent the factors that were found to underlie the learning processes leading to gradual improvements and radical innovations. The design principles tended to be present in various combinations in the breakthroughs that were observed or reported by the participants.

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