Functioning at the edge of knowledge

Marianne Döös (National Institute for Working Life, Stockholm, Sweden(E‐mail:; (E‐mail:;(E‐mail:
Lena Wilhelmson (National Institute for Working Life, Stockholm, Sweden(E‐mail:; (E‐mail:;(E‐mail:
Thomas Backlund (National Institute for Working Life, Stockholm, Sweden(E‐mail:; (E‐mail:;(E‐mail:
Nancy Dixon (George Washington University and Common Knowledge, Washington, DC, USA(E‐mail:

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Publication date: 1 December 2005



In the telecommunication industry, companies gain a competitive edge through the competence of their employees, making issues of learning critical. The study aims to identify specific learning processes necessary when working at the edge both of one's own knowledge and of that of the branch.


This research draws on theories of learning through experience and interaction, and looks at software development engineers working at the interface between tele‐ and datacom within one company, Ericsson, Sweden. Data were collected in 2000 in four software‐engineering teams, through semi‐structured interviews, reflection groups and observations. Data were analyzed in an interplay between empirical findings and theoretical concepts.


The research identified three kinds of learning processes in which employees engage to accomplish their tasks: learning basic knowledge; co‐creating new knowledge; and learning changing‐knowledge. Learning basic knowledge was a frequent returning to a state of knowing nothing among skilled workers. The co‐creation of new knowledge implied close interaction processes in the midst of carrying out difficult work tasks. Learning changing‐knowledge questioned hitherto acquired knowledge through the necessity of taking in new facts and aspects in relation to already existing deep and extensive knowing.

Practical implications

Differentiating these learning processes has theoretical implications and a practical significance for organizations wanting to focus on competence and learning issues.


When organizing for learning it is of crucial importance to be aware of the kind of actual learning processes that are ongoing and need support and infrastructure.



Döös, M., Wilhelmson, L., Backlund, T. and Dixon, N. (2005), "Functioning at the edge of knowledge", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 17 No. 8, pp. 481-492.

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Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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