Contributions of training and situated learning to Cabin crew competence

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Mavin, Timothy J.

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Hodge, Steven M.

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This study explores how formal training and situated learning combine to shape the competence of airlines’ cabin crew. The purpose of this study is to broaden the understanding of cabin crew learning by incorporating a ‘social practice’ approach. Cabin crew learning, still little explored in the literature, provides insights into a complex social practice context. Traditionally, cabin crew learning has been conceptualised in terms of initial training; they are trained and evaluated from a predominantly behavioural competency-based perspective, away from actual work contexts. At work, cabin crew engage in complex interactions with various people (colleagues, passengers, pilots), undertake different duties (e.g., customer service, safety-related tasks), in diverse situations (i.e. from routine flying to abnormal situations and emergencies). At the same time, they are committed to high standards of safety and passenger service enforced by airlines and flight safety authorities. The learning from these experiences has not been part of the thinking of airline training departments and therefore the question arises of how it relates to or combines with the outcomes of formal training regimes. Building on contemporary perspectives of learning, particularly those informed by situated learning theory (Lave & Wenger, 1991), it is argued that cabin crew members develop knowledgeable skills for participation in a social practice constituted by the confined, intimate environment of the cabin. However, competence as such is seen to arise in a negotiation between this practice and the knowledge and values fostered in training. The concept of ‘social practice’ as a complex interaction of knowledge, skills, context, social relationships, and identity in a historically unfolding setting suggests that potentially, in the case of cabin crew, both the workplace and formal training experiences constitute two social practices – each with its own perspectives on the work of cabin crew – and that cabin crew member learning in fact spans the different sources of learning and identity. The argument developed through the thesis is based on modified ethnographic research into the training and work environment of the cabin crew of one airline operating regional flights. The findings of the project contribute to the situated learning literature by suggesting not only that significantly different ‘situations’ shape cabin crew learning, but that formal training programs can themselves be regarded as a social practice rather than something to be written off as an inauthentic precursor to real learning. The study thus aligns with findings of situated learning researchers like Østerlund (1996) who argue that contemporary workplace learning can be seen as a process of crossing between differed situations or practices, and is critical of the tendency of researchers, such as Lave and Wenger (1991), who have not recognised formal training contexts as a social practice. These findings advance our knowledge of cabin crews’ work practices and their learning processes, potentially contributing to the improvement of the current training regimes. Further, this study emphasises the importance of qualitative exploration of situated learning in cabin crew contexts, which may inform possible solutions to contemporary concerns about training effectiveness in aviation. It might also contribute to better understand learning in other areas that combine intense formal training with a highly social work context, such as hospitality or healthcare.

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Thesis (Masters)

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Master of Education and Professional Studies Research (MEdProfStRes)


School of Education and Professional Studies

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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Situated learning

cabin crew training

formal training

learning at work

competency-based education

social practice

aviation training

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