Learning from errors at work [Elektronische Ressource] : studies on nurses
130 Pages
English
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Learning from errors at work [Elektronische Ressource] : studies on nurses' engagement in error-related learning activities / vorgelegt von Johannes Bauer

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130 Pages
English

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Learning from Errors at WorkStudies on Nurses’ Engagement in Error-RelatedLearning Activitiesvorgelegt vonDipl.-Pad. Johannes BauerRegensburg2008Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwurde der Philosophischen Fakultat II (Psychologie, Padagogik und Sportwissenschaft) der Universitat Regensburg Erstgutachter: Prof. Dr. Regina H. MulderZweitgutachter: Prof. Dr. Hans GruberContents1. Learning from errors at work: Bene t from potentially adverse events 32. Theoretical framework of learning from errors at work 83. Overview of the empirical studies 484. Study 1: Error cases and learning activities 545. Study 2: Development of research instruments 656. Study 3: Testing and advancing the research model 737. General discussion and outlook on further research issues 102References 108A. Appendices 1231. Learning from errors at work: Bene t from potentiallyadverse eventsMany people would probably agree that it is desirable to learn from one’s errors. It ispart of conventional wisdom that errors { although undesirable events { bear the potentialto improve and to gain new insights. Popper (1968, 1992) built his philosophy on theidea that errors are the only way to approach truth as well as a functional mechanism forsocietal development.

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Published 01 January 2008
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Learning from Errors at Work
Studies on Nurses’ Engagement in Error-Related
Learning Activities
vorgelegt von
Dipl.-Pad. Johannes Bauer
Regensburg
2008
Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung der Doktorwurde der Philosophischen Fakultat II
(Psychologie, Padagogik und Sportwissenschaft) der Universitat Regensburg Erstgutachter: Prof. Dr. Regina H. Mulder
Zweitgutachter: Prof. Dr. Hans GruberContents
1. Learning from errors at work: Bene t from potentially adverse events 3
2. Theoretical framework of learning from errors at work 8
3. Overview of the empirical studies 48
4. Study 1: Error cases and learning activities 54
5. Study 2: Development of research instruments 65
6. Study 3: Testing and advancing the research model 73
7. General discussion and outlook on further research issues 102
References 108
A. Appendices 1231. Learning from errors at work: Bene t from potentially
adverse events
Many people would probably agree that it is desirable to learn from one’s errors. It is
part of conventional wisdom that errors { although undesirable events { bear the potential
to improve and to gain new insights. Popper (1968, 1992) built his philosophy on the
idea that errors are the only way to approach truth as well as a functional mechanism for
societal development. On the individual level, research on the development of professional
expertise and workplace learning indicates that the experience of errors plays a crucial role
for the acquisition and di erentiation of exibly applicable professional knowledge (Eraut,
Alderton, Cole, & Senker, 1998; Ericsson, 2006c; Gruber, 1999a).
This thesis aims to explore under what conditions employees are able to put their errors
at work to good use by engaging in activities that aim at learning from them. This
question emerged from observations that companies and their employees often act under
particular error avoidance strategies (Tjosvold, Yu, & Hui, 2004; Van Dyck, Frese, Baer,
& Sonnentag, 2005; Zapf, Frese, & Brodbeck, 1999). But if errors are a useful source
of learning and development, why are people averse to committing errors, particularly,
if they occur in a work context (Wehner & Mehl, 2003)? On the individual level, one
reason for our dislike of errors is that they cause us distress (Zapf, 1991). They indicate
where we are de cient, where we did not pay enough attention, or misjudged the situation,
thus questioning our standing and our pride as pro cient workers. Furthermore, errors
may be dangerous and can cause undesirable things to happen (Perrow, 1984). On the
level of an organisation they can endanger the creation of economic value, but can also be
hazardous to a company’s employees or customers. The research on safety and accidents
is full of examples of minor errors leading to disastrous outcomes (Perrow, 1984; Reason,
1990). As a consequence, there is a long tradition of research on human factors and
safety management, aiming to provide approaches for estimating a system’s reliability,
evaluating the potential damage from specic errors, analysing error causes, and preventing
errors (Flanagan, 1954; Glendon, Clarke, & McKenna, 2006; Rasmussen, 1987b; Senders
& Moray, 1991; Zimolong, 1990).
However, the described error avoidance approach creates a dialectical tension: on the one
hand, companies and their employees are keen to avoid errors; on the other hand, scholars
have indicated that errors cannot be prevented completely and that too a heavy reliance
on error prevention can have detrimental e ects (Van Dyck et al., 2005; Kohn, Corrigan,
& Donaldson, 1999; Perrow, 1984; Rybowiak, Garst, Frese, & Batinic, 1999; Senders &
Moray, 1991; Volpert, 1992; Wehner, 1992; Wehner & Mehl, 2003; Zapf et al., 1999).
Examples of such detrimental e ects are that the potential occurrence of errors is insu -
ciently anticipated, that employees lose their skills in dealing with them, and that learning
opportunities are missed. For these reasons, a shift from an exclusive error prevention ap-
proach towards an error management strategy has been proposed (e.g., Zapf et al., 1999).
Error management concepts suggest, in addition to prevention, dealing with errors in an
e cient way and learning from them. This approach is based on the assumption that a
systematic analysis of occurring errors, e.g., through incident reporting databases (Barach1. Learning from errors at work: Bene t from potentially adverse events 4
& Small, 2000), can provide organisations with information about necessary adjustments
of knowledge, strategies, and behaviour. Consequently, the case has been made that learn-
ing from errors is an important technique of organisational learning (Argote & Todocara,
2007; Argyris, 1982; Cannon & Edmondson, 2001; Ellstrom, 2001; Kriegesmann, Kley, &
Schwering, 2005; Peters & Peters, 1987; Senge, 1990; Sitkin, 1992).
In contrast to the existing lines of inquiry on error prevention and organisational learning
from errors, the issue of individual learning from errors at work has received only marginal
attention in research. There are only a few scattered studies focussing explicitly on how
and under what conditions errors encountered in daily work processes can contribute to the
learning of teams and individuals (Arndt, 1996; Cannon & Edmondson, 2001; Edmondson,
1996; Meurier, Vincent, & Parmar, 1997; Tjosvold et al., 2004). A potential reason for this
gap in the literature is that studies on human error and safety typically conceive humans
as a source of unreliability that needs to be controlled by error prevention systems (Zapf
et al., 1999; Zimolong, 1990). Some authors assume that humans cannot reliably avoid
error (e.g., Reason, 1990) and focus on creating work systems that reduce the probability
of errors and are error-tolerant by restricting their possible impact. Consequently, these
perspectives have made only minor contributions to a theory of (individual) learning from
errors (Ohlsson, 1996).
However, there is evidence from studies on learning environments { in school as well as
in work contexts { indicating that the experience of errors can contribute to individuals’
learning and to the improvement of their knowledge and performance (Ellis & Davidi,
2005; Heimbeck, Frese, Sonnentag, & Keith, 2003; Keith & Frese, 2005; Klockmann, 2005;
Van Lehn, 1988; Meyer, Seidel, & Prenzel, 2006; Oser & Spychiger, 2005; Weingardt,
2004). Moreover, research on experiential learning, case-based reasoning, and learning
through work has indicated that errors are signi cant sources for professional learning
(Cseh, Watkins, & Marsick, 2000; Ellstrom, 2001; Eraut et al., 1998; Ericsson, 2006c;
Gruber, 1999a; Kolodner, 1983). However, what is missing are theoretical frameworks
explaining individual learning from errors during daily work, research instruments that
allow its measurement, as well as systematic empirical research that directly addresses the
issues of how learning from errors is related to the individual interpretation of an error
and to fostering or inhibiting conditions for learning at the workplace. To know what
conditions may enhance or constrain individual learning from errors at work is relevant
for explaining individual di erences in learning from errors and for the practical goal to
create work environments that support learning from errors. Conditions on the individual
and the contextual level of analysis have to be considered, because experiential learning
through work emerges through the engagement of individuals in activities and interactions
under the conditions of a specic workplace (Billett, 2001c). This engagement results
from an interaction of the individuals’ personal characteristics with the a ordances and
constraints the workplace provides. As for learning from errors, it has been claimed that
especially the individual interpretation of an error situation as well as the quality of social
relationships at the workplace shape individual responses to errors (Arndt, 1996; Cannon
& Edmondson, 2001; Edmondson, 1999; Ellstrom, 2001; Rybowiak et al., 1999; Tjosvold
et al., 2004). However, the few existing studies on learning from errors at work do not yet1.1. Research questions 5
underpin these claims systematically enough, as will be discussed later. A potential reason
might be that no systematic attempts have been made to derive an operationalisation for
the measurement of learning from errors from learning theory (Bauer & Mulder, in press).
1.1. Research questions
In this thesis, the aim is to contribute to closing the stated gap in research by address-
ing the question: What individual and contextual variables foster or constrain employees’
engagement in learning after the experience of an error at work? This broad question
is broken down into four intertwined, more speci c research questions that guide the in-
vestigations. The rst research question addresses prerequisites for conducting empirical
research on learning from errors, namely, the conceptualisation and measurement of learn-
ing from errors.
Research Question 1. How can learning from errors at work be conceptualised and
measured?
Research Questions 2 and 3 concern determining variables on the individual and the con-
textual level that are hypothesised to predict the individual engagement in learning from
errors. These variables are the individual interpretation of the error situation and the
perceived quality of social relationships at work.
Research Question 2. To what degree does the individual interpretation of an error
situation foster or constrain the engagement in learning from errors at work?
Research Question 3. To what degree does the perception of the social context at work
foster or constrain the engagement in learning from errors at work?
Although the main focus here is to investigate how the interpretation of an error and
the perception of the social context predict the engagement in learning from errors, the
interrelation between these predictors needs to be addressed (Research Question 4). As
stated above, learning at work is assumed to be shaped by an interaction of individual
and contextual variables (Billett, 2001c; Eraut et al., 1998).
Research Question 4. How are the variables regarding the individual interpretation of
an error and the perception of the social context at work interrelated?
1.2. Outline of the thesis
The process of answering the stated research questions requires, rstly, the development
of a theoretical framework that elaborates individual learning from errors at work. This
framework addresses the questions how ’error’ can be conceptualised, how errors that
emerge in daily work processes can contribute to individual learning, and what individual
and contextual variables may foster or constrain learning from errors at work. A clar-
i cation of these components is required in order to develop a research instrument for
learning from errors that is based on available theories on errors and learning (Research1.2. Outline of the thesis 6
Question 1), and to elaborate hypotheses about the relations among the interpretation of
an error, the perception of the social context, and learning from errors, that can be inves-
tigated empirically (Research Questions 2|4). A research model for learning from errors
at work will be developed that includes variables regarding the individual interpretation
of an error situation and the quality of social relationships at work as predictors for the
engagement in error-related learning activities.
For addressing the research questions empirically, on the basis of the theoretical framework,
three empirical studies are conducted in the domain of hospital nursing. The