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Understanding transitions in professional practice and learning: Towards new questions for research

Tara Fenwick (School of Education, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 2 August 2013




Much research to date on professional transitions has focused on predicting them and then preparing individual practitioners to navigate transitions as sites of struggle. The purpose of this paper is to critically examine, within the context of professional practice and learning, diverse theoretical approaches that are currently prominent in researching transitions and to propose future directions for research.


The paper begins by describing work contexts integral with professional transitions: regulation, governance and accountability; new work structures; and knowledge development. The discussion then examines transitions research in developmental psychology, lifecourse sociology, and career studies. These perspectives are compared critically in terms of questions and approaches, contributions to understanding professional transitions, and limitations.


The implications for educators are a series of critical questions about research and education directed to support transitions in professional learning and work. Future directions and questions for research in professional transitions are suggested in the final section, along with implications for supporting professional learning in these transitions.


The paper is not intended to be comprehensive, but to identify issues for the reader's consideration in thinking about various forms of transition being experienced by professions and professionals. The discussion is theory‐based, exploratory, and indicative, rather than definitive.



Fenwick, T. (2013), "Understanding transitions in professional practice and learning: Towards new questions for research", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 25 No. 6, pp. 352-367.



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