To read this content please select one of the options below:

Context, agency and professional workplace learning: Trainee accountants in large and small practices

Daniel Bishop (Institute for Education, Bath Spa University, Bath, UK)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to investigate the ways in which organisational context and individual agency interact (co-participate) to shape the workplace learning of graduate trainee accountants, and to examine the role of firm size in conditioning this interaction.


A qualitative, comparative approach was used, involving interviews with 20 respondents across two large and three small accountancy firms in England.


Differences in individual learner biographies and trajectories generate divergent dispositions with regard to workplace learning. In turn, these dispositions influence the extent to which the generally less formal learning environment of the small firm is interpreted either positively or negatively.

Research limitations/implications

Further research is needed on processes of agency/context interaction across a wider range of organisational and professional environments.

Practical implications

Individual dispositions play an important role in determining the optimal approach towards professional development in practice.


The paper offers a novel insight into how variations in both context and agency – and the relationship between them – can generate significant divergences in the professional learning process.



The research on which this paper is based was supported by the British Academy and Leverhulme (Grant Number SG120862). The author is grateful for their support.


Bishop, D. (2017), "Context, agency and professional workplace learning: Trainee accountants in large and small practices", Education + Training, Vol. 59 No. 5, pp. 516-533.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles