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Learning amongst Norwegian fire‐fighters

Morten Sommer (Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Industrial Economics, Risk Management and Planning, University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway)
Ove Njå (Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Industrial Economics, Risk Management and Planning, University of Stavanger, Stavanger, Norway)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 13 September 2011




The purpose of this study is to reveal and analyse dominant learning processes in emergency response work from the fire‐fighters' point of view, and how fire‐fighters develop their competence.


This study adopted an explorative approach using participant observation. The objective of this open‐minded approach was to discover how, when and where learning took place.


There are several areas for learning that contribute to fire‐fighters' development of competence: training, exercises, responses to incidents, storytelling, discussions, lectures, courses, introduction of new technology/knowledge and reading of articles/literature. However, learning to act appropriately in emergency situations is mainly a result of the embodiment of skills and knowledge (getting the feel of it, or “getting it in the finger” as the Norwegian idiom puts it), personal experience and interpersonal sharing of stories.

Research limitations/implications

The study concludes that learning amongst fire‐fighters follows a process of legitimate peripheral participation, as well as learning being a personal development for the individual fire‐fighter. A combination of a socio‐cultural approach to learning and an individual cognitive approach is thus needed to fully understand learning processes.

Practical implications

Learning can be improved by actors becoming more reflexive practitioners, where responses are critically evaluated and established knowledge and practice are questioned. Efforts to improve learning amongst fire‐fighters should accordingly include systematic sharing of experiences and development of more challenging exercises which will help to enhance bodily experience of new knowledge.


This study extends current understanding of learning and competence development in emergency work. It presents essential learning activities, in addition to the dominant learning mechanism in personal development. The study clarifies the potential for learning through planned learning processes as opposed to the contribution from informal, ad hoc, socio‐cultural means of learning.



Sommer, M. and Njå, O. (2011), "Learning amongst Norwegian fire‐fighters", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 23 No. 7, pp. 435-455.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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