The paper seeks to investigate design engineers' and product developers' learning through their work. The aim was to approach designers' work practice and their learning in the course of it as perceived by the designers themselves. The aim is also to examine their learning through the various individual and social processes, which take place in the workplace.
The ethnographic approach in this paper, with its use of combined and qualitative data gathering and analytical methods, was selected to approach the aim described above. Observations in two Finnish high‐tech companies and interviews with 18 designers were conducted. The observations and interviews were analysed with help of combined methods of analysis, such as phenomenographic, narrative and ethnographic analysis.
The findings in this paper suggest that in redefining designers' work and learning, four central themes are important: design practice is learning in itself; there is a close relationship between formal and practical knowledge in designers' learning at work; previous work experience plays an essential role in learning; and design practices and learning should be seen as shared, situated and contextualized.
In the paper general suggestions concerning the guidance of workplace learning are given, and the challenges of guiding and assessing workplace learning in the vocational education context are examined. There is a clear need for more effective integration between education and working life.
The paper illustrates that individual and social practice and learning in the workplace should be analysed as interdependent and intertwined.
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