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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Workplace Learning, Volume 24, Issue 7/8
About the Guest Editors
Dr Jian Huang is a Professor of Human Resource Development and Adult Education and the Deputy Director of the Institute of Vocational and Adult Education in East China Normal University, Shanghai, China. She is also the President (2011-2015) of the Academic Committee for Adult Higher Education in China.
Henning Salling Olesen is a Professor, based at the Graduate School of Lifelong Learning, Roskilde University, Denmark. He is Chair of European Society for Research in the Education of Adults (ESREA) and has published books and articles in several languages about workplace learning, professions and professional identities, biography and life history methodology. More information can be found at: www.ruc.dk/~hso – www.esrea.org – www.rela.ep.liu.se
The International Conference on Researching Work and Learning started in 1999 in the UK. Its latest 7th conference was successfully held in East China Normal University, Shanghai, in December 2011. During the past 12 years, the conference has evolved from a small circle of intellectuals coming from major commonwealth countries such as UK, Canada, and Australia, to a newly established academic field with fast growing influences. To organize the conference in Shanghai was a new step in establishing a global dialogue in this research field. It is too early to celebrate the arrival at this goal. The conference is still very much related to discussions in the commonwealth countries and Anglophone research. But a continuing strong engagement from Nordic countries, a few but important contributions from the European continent, and the encouraging involvement and research potential from Africa and Asia countries, especially China, seem to confirm the potentials for research collaboration across societal differences in work organization, cultural differences and not least widely different research traditions.
The 7th RWL conference received papers and proposals within a wide range of subjects covering workplace learning, and issues related to work and workers. A total of 205 papers and proposals were submitted in English, not including those in Chinese from local scholars, which were in the first place reviewed in Chinese. After a thorough review procedure, 142 papers in English presented at the conference, which represents scholars from 22 nations and regions. These papers mainly focused on the following topics: professional learning and development; vocational/professional subjectivity; organizational change and learning; and career transition and general career skills, etc. In addition, some researches also involve studies on particular groups of workers, such as low skilled senior workers, hospital porters, immigrant women professionals, and homemaker’s unpaid housework, etc.
All these researches showed that workplace learning is attracting more and more scholars and intellectuals with multiple disciplinary and theoretical backgrounds to participate in such a globalizing but multiple contexts. Such efforts not only create different theoretical resources, bring about different methodologies and tools, but also show that abundant research results created by scholars with diverse backgrounds are making major changes to traditional formal education and learning concepts. Together with the more general recognition of the need for lifelong learning integrated in everyday life arenas it will play a very valuable role in forming the new education concepts and learning theories for the twenty-first century.
The two key notions “Work and Learning” which constitute the field are only loosely related, allowing for different ways of conceptualizing each of them in relation to each other. Today, workplace is not only referring to the specific location and spatial organization of work, but to the wider context of work, and not only paid work but also those other forms of work in family or civil society that are also of social importance. And learning does not only mean simple grasp of vocational knowledge and skills, preparing for work in a narrow sense, but a wide range of creative and innovative human practices which are triggered by or preparing for work; which means that learning will be centered around subjective vocational experiences and living needs. The framework of researching work and learning is increasingly recognizing that learning for work is an integral aspect of human life and identity. Such a learning perspective helps accomplish working tasks, improving working experiences, and even create job opportunities. It could also eventually improve people’s vocational lives, and promote development for individual and organizations. Therefore, the focus has already shifted from standardized vocational knowledge and skills to a more profound individual wisdom and organizational culture. Further, learning nowadays are not only focused on individual and subjective practice and reflective learning in the daily work routine, but also organizational change-oriented peer and collective learning, participative learning, transformative learning, etc. On learning activities, it is not an independent process separated from working activities, but a rather important form of human practice and it integrates with work seamlessly. Such new ways of workplace learning completely overthrow the traditional closed and controlled classroom-based learning environment. They however demonstrate a living environment that is real, open, uncertain, and complex. With this sense, we believe that researching work and learning has brought about a transition of epistemology and ontology of human learning.
All the eight papers in this volume give an impression of the many important directions of research. They are carefully selected, based on a quite appropriate research designs, and we think they are thought-provoking and interest-arousing. Even though it is hard to have all of them complying to the same academic standards or even language quality, we have paid primary attention to theme selection, theory orientation, target selection, research perspective, author origin, etc, to ensure that each of them give a good representation of one of the important research developments. In addition, these papers were all written on the basis of quite rich empirical data and methodologies. Lastly, in the process of selection, we also tried to make efforts to foster young scholars.
For example, two out of the eight papers are the selection of the best student papers by the conference. One of them is “Struggling with involuntary expressive behaviours: Chinese doctors’ professional learning in working context”, written by the doctor candidate whose name is Songge Ma. This paper analyzes with Erving Goffman’s theatrical theory and demonstrates doctors’ professional learning combined with professional identification problems in concurrent China’s dramatic medical reform.
Another paper themed “Who am I supposed to let down? The caring work and emotional practices of vocational educational training teachers working with potential drop-out students” is from PhD candidate Lena Lippke of University of Aalborg. She mainly applied qualitative inquiry to explore the notion of care of teachers’ daily work as socially situated within the vocational educational system. She presents how emotional labor is a central component of vocational educational teachers’ work and discusses the implications of an institutionalization and professionalization of human care.
A third paper from Yan Yang, originating from ECNU, Shanghai, who just acquired her PhD in Roskilde, Denmark, is a study of software engineering in China with a focus on the subjective or identity aspect of professions, discussing to which extent a traditional sociological notion of professionalism applies to China.
Globalization is the common important backdrop of some papers in this selection. After the financial crisis, many companies have to downsize their organizations. Maria Gustavsson’s paper investigates individuals’ learning and propensity for changing job in such a downsized Swedish organization. Hanna Toiviainen and her colleagues analyze emergent learning practices of globalizing work. The case of a Finnish technology consulting firm shows that, in the face of the change from local to global, the conceptualizations of work create conditions for learning.
Winnie Ng’s paper on “Pedagogy of solidarity”, redefine a traditional framework from the labor movement to the new multicultural situation (in Canada). We think this way of redefining issues that have mostly been related to relatively homogenous working is extremely important in a period of migration and cultural heterogeneity, not only for political processes, but also for more embracing theoretical concepts.
Beside this paper there were of course several papers dealing with labor education, but surprisingly few taking up the issues about the different situation of trade unions and worker organization in different parts of the world. One interesting paper however, by Austrian Rudolf Eggers, “The wider benefits of negotiations” deals with the learning of trade union activists and officers, in the present phase of organized labor in the “learning society”.
The study by Herman Baert and and Natalie Govaerts in the public employment service of Flanders in Belgium aims to expand the provisional typology of learning patterns and explore the strategic relevance of these learning patterns in the light of a strategic HRD policy.
Last but not least, with this volume, we hope not only to present some of the latest research findings in the already emerging field of researching in work and learning, but also to provide a window review of the focuses and hot topics of the 7th RWL conference. Meanwhile, we hope that through this publication, we can all stay keen on the future research trends of workplace learning.
Jian Huang, Henning Salling Olesen