Critiquing workplace learning discourses: Participation and continuity at work
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To understand further how learning through work occurs and can be best organised, necessitates setting aside some assumptions embedded in the current workplace learning discourse. It is proposed that workplaces and educational institutions merely represent different instances of social practices in which learning occurs through participation. Learning in both kinds of social practice can be understood through a consideration of their respective participatory practices. Therefore, to distinguish between the two in terms of formalisms of social practice (i.e. that one is formalised and the other informal) and propose some general consequences for learning arising from these bases is not helpful. Both these kinds of social practices are constituted historically, culturally and situationally (Billett 1998), and share a common concern with continuity of practice. The need for workplaces and educational institutions and other kinds of social institutions and practices have evolved over time and are constituted as the product of particular cultural needs (see Scribner 1985). The manifestation of the particular social practice (e.g. a particular workplace or school) is shaped by a complex of cultural needs and situational factors such as local needs, the individuals involved, and the locally-negotiated goals for the activities including bases for judgments about performance (see Engestrom & Middleton 1996, Suchman 1996). The structuring of learning experiences in workplaces is likely to be directed towards sustaining the practice (Darrah 1996, Pelissier 1991) including sustaining the interests of one or more groups in the practice. Educational institutions also share the goal of continuity. However, there are distinctive qualities in the norms, activities and goals of these two kinds of social practice. Among these differences is the likely claim that educational institutions have learning as their principal and privileged role. However, if learning is seen as something privileged by practices within educational institutions, rather than as a consequence of participation in social practices more generally, (such as those involved in the production of goods or services), this may inhibit understanding about learning generally and learning through work, in particular. However, if, on the other hand, learning is conceptualised more broadly as being the product of participation in social practice (e.g. Rogoff 1995) through individuals' engagement in its activities and access to its affordances then, it may be possible to adopt a broader view of learning experiences in workplaces and their enhancement. The widening acceptance of learning as an inter-psychological process (i.e. between individuals and social sources of knowledge) now prompts a consideration of learning as engagement with the social world, and not only through close personal interactions as Vygotsky (1978) and others propose (e.g. Rogoff 1995).
Studies in the Education of Adults
© 2002 The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education: http://www.niace.org.uk