Study in a Training Environment

A training programme based on the principles of social constructivism and focused on developing people for the future world of work: an evaluation [A paper for presentation at the Sixth Annual European Congress of Work and Organizational Psychology, Istanbul, Turkey, 12-15 May, 2005] JH Cooper, JS Basson, P Schaap

Department Human Resource Management University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


During recent years the world has experienced unprecedented technological advancements, which left indelible marks on how people live and work (Ridderstråle and Nordström 2004).

This rapid rate of change is increasing exponentially and poses challenges that the workforce never had to deal with before.

This means that the workplace that people were trained for ten years ago does not exist anymore and nor will the workplace as we know it today exist in ten years. time.

Traditional methods of education and training, however, are not regarded as being sufficient for preparing individuals for the future workplace (Senge 2000).

If these methods of education are not sufficient to prepare people for the workplace of the future how should one go about training people for a workplace that does not yet exist?

One educational methodology that is suggested as a possible solution is the social constructivist theory of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky because of its focus on interactive, contextualised learning.


The purpose of this study is to evaluate a training intervention that is based on the principles of social constructivism and that focuses on developing individuals for the future world of work.


Future workplace

People have more information available to them than ever before.

Add to this the increasing changes in societal institutions and values, and one has a totally new world of work with radically different rules (Ridderstråle and Nordström 2004).

The emphasis is moving from large corporations to smaller organisations and stronger relationships.

The organisation of the future will be nimble, quick and resilient. It will consist of extremely fluid, globally dispersed and diverse work teams and workers will work in different teams and in different roles simultaneously.

The organisation that wants to survive the future, needs to be able to embrace chaos and be radically innovative about doing everyday business.

An extremely high value will be placed on people who can create value out of knowledge and meaning out of information. Continuous training and development will become critical aspects of the workplace of the future.

Characteristics needed for success

One needs to be passionate about change.

Individuals will need the ability to creatively and innovatively seek and create opportunities as well as the risk proneness to pursue them.

The individual of the future needs to be assertive, confident and self-acceptant and needs to know him/herself and his/her strengths, weaknesses and goals, feeling competent and well-liked by others.

Characteristics such as integrity, authenticity, honesty and consistency will also gain an even higher importance in future as these are all vital ingredients for managing networks and relationships (Boyatzis 1999).

In a world where business and work will depend increasingly on relationships and the way one manages those relationships, attributes such as love, kindness and compassion will gain higher importance.

A high level of internal motivation, pro-activity and drive as well as the ability to inspire and motivate others will be needed.

Finally, in a world of abundance of information and exponential growth in knowledge, a continuous drive for learning and self-development is crucial.

The world, workplace and the successful individual of the future.



The main underlying assumption of Piaget’s cognitive constructivism is that individuals are actively involved right from birth in constructing personal meaning that is their own personal understanding from their experiences.

Social constructivism, as fathered by Vygotsky, adds another component to the learning process: social interaction. The individual’s version of truth thus needs to be tested against other individuals' versions in order for the group to arrive at a higher order version of truth.

Social constructivism emphasizes the importance of culture and context in understanding what is happening in society and constructing knowledge based on this understanding.

The relationship between the instructor and the learner is central to the learning process.

The emphasis turns away from the instructor and the content, and towards the learner and his/her context.


The intervention was a six-month full-time programme.

The programme aimed to develop individuals to be successful in the workplace of the future.

The first and main goal of the programme was to develop certain mindsets / characteristics that could form the foundation for developing the participants for the workplace of the future.

Although these characteristics were seldom explicitly focused on, the programme design and training methodology aimed to develop these characteristics as an indirect consequence of the day-to-day training interventions. The following diagram gives a schematic overview of what the programme focused on:

Curriculum building blocks (Staircase to success)

The following table gives a comparison between social constructivism and the training intervention.

Comparison between social constructivism and the training programme


A Non-equivalent Groups Design (NEGD) was followed based on a pre-test and post-test of both an experimental (36 individuals) and a control group (20 individuals).

The experimental group participated in the six-month training intervention and the control group did not.

The pre- and post- assessments were done by means of a psychometric test battery (sixteen tests from the Situation Specific Evaluation Expert (SpEEx) and Potential Index Batteries (PIB) series). Reliability (ranging between 0.58 and 0.92) and validity records (ranging between 0.70 and 0.94) of these tests are satisfactory (Schaap 2004).

The following table gives an overview of the constructs measured, and their relationships to the characteristics needed to succeed in the future workplace.

Constructs measured


Statistical analysis

The Mann-Whitney U-test was used to determine the significance of the differences between the variation that took place in the experimental group and the control group over the six-month period between the pre- and post-tests.

The statistical decision criterion was set on the level of = 0,05. Where results were statistically significant, the practical significance was also calculated. For differences between averages the practical significance level was set at d = 0,5 (medium effect size, Cohen 1988).


* Difference is statistically significant: p <= 0,05

. Difference is practically meaningful: d = 0,5 (medium effect size)

. Difference is practically meaningful: d = 0,8 (large effect size)

Table 1 shows a statistically significant difference between the pre-and post-measurements on the creativity, self-acceptance, adaptability, demonstrative and evaluative scales.

The direction of the change in the experimental group was positive in the cases of creativity, adaptability and self-acceptance and negative in the case of the evaluative social style. The differences on the adaptability (large effect size), self-acceptance (medium effect size) and creativity (medium effect size) scales are also practically meaningful.


The training intervention had a practically significant positive impact on the adaptability, creativity and self-acceptance of the experimental group in comparison to that of the control group.

Participants were also able to display higher levels of creativity and creative approaches to problem-solving than they had been prior to the intervention. The levels of confidence and acceptance of self were also significantly increased.

Although many questions regarding developing people for the future workplace still remain unanswered, this study provides a framework through which to approach training and development in organisations.

In this way the divide between learning and real life decreases and we are able to also develop “softer” characteristics such as adaptability, self-acceptance and creativity.


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