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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
This special double issue of The Journal of Workplace Learning features selected papers from “Challenges for Integrating Work and Learning”, the 4th International Conference on Researching Work and Learning, held at the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia in December 2005. This conference attracts scholars from many and diverse fields including adult and vocational education, human resource development, labour studies, gender studies, medical and health education, organisational and management studies, sociology of work, and learning theory, among others. The diversity of interests that converges under the rubric of researching work and learning is evident from the papers included in this special double issue. All of the papers have been extensively revised and have undergone further rigorous peer review before final acceptance.
The 2005 Researching Work and Learning conference was structured around a series of sub-themes:
Practices of learning at work;
Policies that impact on learning at work;
Partnerships and their influence on learning at work;
Contexts: the diversity and complexity of workplace learning contexts;
Innovations in learning at work;
Theoretical and ideological developments: new approaches to understanding work and learning.
The papers included in this special double issue illustrate and connect these themes in interesting and complex ways. “Connecting Work and Learning – Design Engineers’ Learning at Work”, by Kaija Collin, takes an ethnographic approach to investigate the learning of design engineers and product developers through their work activities. The paper argues that both individual and social practice are important for understanding such learning, though the two categories are interdependent and intertwined. Alan Bleakley’s paper, “You Are Who I Say You Are: the Rhetorical Construction of Identity in the Operating Theatre”, examines factors that enhance and obstruct learning in operating theatre teams in a large hospital. Using thematic analysis of “close-call” reports, Bleakley shows how rhetoric based on professional identity stereotypes can hinder optimal team performance. Margaret Crouch’s paper, “Contextuality and Cultural Texts: a Case Study of Workplace Learning in Call Centres”, concentrates on pedagogical practices and associated cultural texts in call centres. Reflecting the top down work structures of call centres, the pedagogical practices and texts quickly move from an initial focus on customer service to one that prioritises the bottom line.
Several papers deal with various conceptual issues that are claimed to be important for understanding learning at work. Susanna Paloniemi, in her “Experience, Competence and Workplace Learning by Practices”, argues that experience of several different kinds needs to be distinguished for purposes of analysing workplace learning. Ralph Catts and David Chamings propose, in “Recognising Current Competencies of Volunteers in Emergency Service Organisations”, emphasise that we need to appreciate how the nature of the work performed by an organisation shapes attitudes to learning and training. From their case studies of emergency services work, they suggest that organisations can be fruitfully located on an organic/mechanistic continuum as a way of understanding different types of learning and training needs. The paper by Satu Kalliola, Risto Nakari and Ilkka Pesonen, “Learning to Make Changes – Democratic Dialogue in Action”, employs a conceptual synthesis that combines organizational and learning approaches to action research interventions based on the principles of Democratic Dialogue. They offer empirical support for the value of their synthesis.
Other papers deal with changing policies and innovative practices concerning learning at work. Roger Harris and Michele Simons, in “VET Practitioners” Working with Private Enterprises: a “Third Space?”, argue that while new roles in private enterprises for VET practitioners, mandated by training policy reforms, create tensions with traditional practice, they also present opportunities. They employ learning network theory to investigate six case studies of this new “boundary crossing” by VET practitioners. Various challenges and benefits of these innovative arrangements are identified. Lena Wilhelmson, in “Transformative Learning in Joint Leadership”, studied lower and middle level managers who were in joint leadership situations in a diverse range of settings. Such arrangements are argued to greatly facilitate opportunities for transformative learning by these managers. Johannes Bauer and Regina Mulder, in “Upward Feedback and its Contribution to Employees’ Feeling of Self-Determination”, are concerned with the role of empowerment and participation for establishing an organisational climate favourable to workplace learning. Their paper highlights the beneficial effects of upward feedback for the workplace learning of the provider of the feedback, rather than the receiver. Ellen Scully-Russ’ paper “Learning to Organize: U.S. Unions, Work and Learning” approaches issues of learning and work from the perspective of organised labour. The paper is written in the context of a historic decline in American union density and a split among key unions in the strategies needed for union revival. Learning, it is argued, can be more than a service to members, it can also contribute to a broader conception of, and agenda for, the role of unions in work and labour renewal.
Overall, this special issue provides an overview of the diverse range of research interests represented at the 2005 Researching Work and Learning conference. We recommend it to readers.
About the authors
Paul Hager is Professor of Education, University of Technology, Sydney. His main ongoing scholarly interest is in the emerging field of philosophy of adult and vocational education. This centres on topics such as informal workplace learning, professional practice and the role of generic skills in work. He currently has two books in press with Springer, P. Hager and S. Holland (Eds), Graduate Attributes, Learning and Employability and P. Hager and J. Halliday, Recovering Informal Learning: Wisdom, Judgement and Community.Tony Brown is a Lecturer in Organisational Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney. Tony co-ordinated a symposium at the Researching Work and Learning Conference on trade unions, work and learning, and researches in that area.
Paul Hager, Tony BrownUniversity of Technology, Sydney, Australia