Monthly Archives: January 2011

Workplace learning versus learning

As usual, it’s been a while between posts. The main reason for this is a major relocation on my part. I’ve moved to Germany for my husband’s work. In theory it should also allow me more time to work on my PhD…in practice so far it’s given me the chance to catch up on my reading and DVD watching while sitting inside avoiding the snow. Now that 2011 is upon us I feel ready to resume my work and that has led me down some interesting paths.

I was reading an excellent article by Tara Fenwick entitled Rethinking the “thing” (2010, Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol.22, Issue 1/2). Among a number of good points made in the article one really stood out for me. Is it possible to separate “workplace learning” from learning more generally in an individual’s life? I find this an interesting question in the course of my professional practice as well as my research as my focus has always been on workplace and organisational learning. The point here is a good one, even at work we are still dealing with whole people who have lives and interests outside of work. The emotional intelligence movement o er the past 10-15 years has been very good at pointing out that people do not become mindless automatons when they enter the workplace and adult learning theories have always talked about the fact that adults bring their own experiences and values with them to the learning context. Why then do we try to only look at learning at work?

I think one of the main reasons is that it is far easier to compartmentalise this way, also, is it really the role of the organisational learning team to help people learn or to learn what they need for work? This is a complicated question and one that I can’t possibly answer here but an interesting question nonetheless. Given that my research uses complexity theory as a framework I obviously have a bias here which I am happy to declare. In a complex system there is no way to separate out the different “parts” – that’s the point. I have always argued that the role of organisational learning should be to shift from “traditional” content-based training approaches towards more of an informal learning approach that actually helps develop people as learners rather than trying to impart knowledge. Perhaps in trying to label learning as “for work” and “not for work” we are missing out on an opportunity to really make a difference to learners, not just at work, but in all aspects of their lives.

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