• University of Edinburgh Featured PhD Programmes
  • University of Warwick Featured PhD Programmes
  • King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Featured PhD Programmes
  • University of Glasgow Featured PhD Programmes
  • University of Glasgow Featured PhD Programmes
  • University of Leeds Featured PhD Programmes
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Heidelberg) Featured PhD Programmes
Macquarie University Featured PhD Programmes
University of Leicester Featured PhD Programmes
Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
University of Warwick Featured PhD Programmes

The Psychology Of Learning & Implications For Accelerating Management Learning

This project is no longer listed in the FindAPhD
database and may not be available.

Click here to search the FindAPhD database
for PhD studentship opportunities
  • Full or part time
    Dr Whysall
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round

Project Description

Finding, developing, and managing high performers remains a major differentiator for organisations, yet the majority of top performers are considered to lack the critical attributes essential to success in future roles (Martin & Schmidt, 2010). Some claim this is underpinned by a focus of competency frameworks on current and past performance rather than future requirements (Spreitzer, McCall, & Mahoney, 1997). This has prompted a number of authors to highlight the importance of an individual’s ability to learn, which has been identified as a key predictor of future success in business (Spreitzer, McCall, & Mahoney, 1997). Therefore, a key question for practitioners and academics, is how can a better understanding of the psychology of learning, and in particular, management learning, be used to enhance management education, learning, and development?

As argued by Linderbaum and Levy (2010), “To stay competitive, organizations must to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to employee development. Organizations are challenged to understand the unique needs and motivators of each individual.” (p.1372) However, despite widespread recognition that different managerial populations need different kinds of learning opportunities, little theoretical or empirical guidance exists to help practitioners and HR personnel select or design approaches that are best suited to each group (Kark, 2011; Guillen & Ibarra, 2010). A growing body of research points to the important impact of individual differences on learning outcomes. In particular, Dweck and colleagues identified implicit theory of self and goal orientation (Dweck, 1986; Dweck & Leggett, 1988) as particularly influential.

Emanating from research with school students, Dweck discovered that students’ success is influenced not only by their ability, but also by the beliefs and goals they bring to the situation (e.g. Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007). Dweck and colleagues identified key differences in individuals’ implicit theory of self; their beliefs about talent and their ability to develop, which influence their approach to learning and subsequent performance outcomes. ‘Incrementalists’ (also termed ‘growth mindset) tend to see themselves as able to develop, compared to “entitists” (also termed ‘fixed mindset’), who tend to see themselves as having a relatively fixed level of ability. Important to development, these implicit theories create different motivational patterns and approaches to learning. The former tend to have a learning goal orientation, motivating them to seek new experiences, accept mistakes or failure as part of the learning process, and interpret critical feedback as valuable for their development. They are highly motivated to learn from on-the-job activities (Colquitt & Simmering, 1998) and likely to value experiences that foster development (VandeWalle & Cummings, 1997; VandeWalle, Ganesan, Challagalla, & Brown, 2000). Entitists, in contrast, have a performance goal orientation. They are motivated to protect their self-image by demonstrating good performance, and tend to avoid challenging situations which might result in failure and demonstrate a lack of ability (Elliott & Dweck, 1988).

Although a number of studies have provided support for the value of challenging work experiences for leadership development (e.g. McCall & Hollenbeck, 2002; McCauley, Ruderman, Ohlott, & Morrow, 1994), they have tended to overlook the impact of individual differences. Furthermore, goal orientation has also been found to influence business students’ interpretation of feedback and the saliency of different performance aspects of feedback (e.g. VandeWalle, Cron, and Slocum, 2001). Given the importance of feedback for learning and performance; a finding previously described as “well-established if not one of the best-established findings in the psychological literature” (Locke & Latham, 1990, p.173), it is important to explore the impact of individual differences such as goal orientation on the impact and consequences of feedback amongst managers. Moreover, a separate body of research has identified the specific construct of ‘feedback orientation’ (Linderbaum & Levy, 2010; London & Smither, 2002), but it unclear how the two constructs relate or interact to influence learning outcomes and performance amongst managers.

In conclusion, research combining qualitative and quantitative methods is required to promote our understanding of the psychology of learning within a management population, in order to enhance theory and provide evidence that practitioners can use to inform the design and personalisation of L&D activities. Specifically, to understand the impact of individual differences such as fixed (entity) versus growth (incrementalist) mindset, goal orientation and feedback orientation on learning outcomes within a management population, and how these individual differences promote or mitigate the value of challenging/stretching experiences, failures, and feedback on learning and performance outcomes.


Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78, 246-263.
Colquitt, J. A., & Simmering, M. J. Conscientiousness, Goal Orientation, and Motivation to Learn During the Learning Process: A Longitudinal Study, Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 654-665.
Dweck, C.S. (1986). Motivational Processes Affecting Learning. American Psychologist, 41, 1040-1048.
Dweck, C.S., & Leggett, E.L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review, 95, 256-273.
Elliott, E.S., & Dweck, C.S. (1988) Goals: An approach to motivation and achievement. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 54, 5-12.
Guillen, L., & Ibarra, H. (2010). Seasons of a leader’s development: Beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership development. INSTEAD Faculty & Research Working Paper, http://www.insead.edu/facultyresearch/research/doc.cfm?did=43958
Kark, R. (2011). Games Managers Play: Play as a Form of Leadership Development. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 10, 507–527.
Linderbaum, B.A., & Levy, P.E. (2010). The Development and Validation of the Feedback Orientation Scale (FOS). Journal of Management, 36, 1372-1405.
Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Prentice-Hall.
London, M., & Smither, J. W. (2002). Feedback orientation, feedback culture, and the longitudinal performance management process. Human Resource Management Review, 12, 81–100.
Martin, J., & Schmidt, C. (2010). How to keep your top talent. Harvard Business Review, May, 54-61.
McCall, M. W., & Hollenbeck, G.P. (2002). Developing Global Executives: The Lessons of International Experience. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
McCauley, C.D., Ruderman, M.N., Ohlott, P.J., & Morrow, J.E. (1994). Assessing the developmental components of managerial jobs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 544 –560.
Spreitzer, G.M., McCall, M.W., & Mahoney, J.D. (1997). Early identification of international executive potential. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 6-29.
VandeWalle, D., Cron, W.L., & Slocum, J.W. (2001). The role of goal orientation following performance feedback. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 629-640.
VandeWalle, D., & Cummings, L. L. (1997). A test of the influence of goal orientation on the feedback-seeking process. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 390–400.
VandeWalle, D., Ganesan, S., Challagalla, G.N., & Brown, S.P. (2000). An Integrated Model of Feedback-Seeking Behavior: Disposition, Context, and Cognition. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 996-1003.

How good is research at Nottingham Trent University in Business and Management Studies?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 23.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities
Share this page:

Cookie Policy    X