Workplaces are often seen as environments where learning is applied, extended and augmented.Taking this view, learning is seen to be mainly through formal education and training. Nevertheless, recent studies have evidenced that deep and powerful learning occurs at work (Eraut, Billettetc).Some even argued that more learning takes place in the workplace than in educational settings (Tynjala; Stenstroem). Despite the increasing research in this area, learning through work remains an under-theorised field.Questions such as how and who professionals learn with have, to date, been relatively well investigated.However, what is learned through work – the types of knowledge, skills and dispositions developed through work– is much less well understood. In addition, limited existing research of what is learned through work does not make comparisons between novice, experienced and midcareer professionals. Yet it is plausible that employees at different stages of experience may be learning different things.So we wanted to contribute to filling this gap by designing a study to address two key questions: What do professionals learn through work?What are the similarities and differences in what experienced, novice and midcareer professionals learn?
Extant taxonomies of knowledge can be broadly split into conceptual and empirically-based ones
In terms of the first group, psychological literature suggests that four broad types of knowledge are central to learning:Conceptual knowledge – know what and know why -relates to concepts, propositions and principles.Deep conceptual knowledge is important for complex problem-solving in the workplace in that it enables understanding of the nature of the problem and its relationship with associated problems.Procedural knowledge – know how-relates to skills and techniques that enable an individual to enact conceptual knowledge. Procedural knowledge is a core component of expert performance in the workplace.Locative knowledge –know who and know where-is a form of meta-knowledge about the location of relevant knowledge, such as resources, people, and tools, which can be used to build one’s conceptual and procedural knowledge. In the workplace, knowing who to draw upon or where to find relevant resources when completing a new task is an important capability.Dispositions comprise attitudes, values, emotions, interests, and personal motivations.Dispositions have three dimensions: individual values, beliefs and attitudes; dispositions characteristic to a vocation;and particular values extant in work practices, for example organisational and cultural values.
Other categorisations proposed in the literature include Eraut’s (2007) who outlines three types of knowledge: The former refers to explicit, received knowledge such as knowledge published in textbooks, while the latter two types refer to tacit understandings and meanings, either those inherent in the work practice itself (cultural knowledge) or the personal capabilities that individuals bring into the work practices (personal knowledge).Eraut’s taxonomy usefully distinguishes between tacit and explicit knowledge, which are important dimensions in theorising epistemology of practice and which are implied but not explicitly articulated in the four main types outlined earlier.
An alternative categorisation has been proposed by Bereiter (2002). His taxonomy includes 6 categories of knowledge…
Complementary to these largely theoretically-based conceptualisations, recent studies have produced empirically-based typologies of knowledge, skills and dispositions that professionals develop through work.Le Maistre and Pare’s (2006) typology of novice learning comprises two broad types of knowledge – professional and personal- and five sub-types:
Taking a different perspective, Boud and Middleton (2003) identified three “areas of learning” (p. 198) that individuals develop through work:mastery of organisational processes;negotiating the political, that is relationships with others, strategic positioning of oneself; anddealing with the atypical, problems and tasks for which there are no set procedures or processes.
Another empirically-based categorisation is Carbert’s typology of novices’ learning at work which surfaced three broad categories:- identity development;- role performance- interpreting the role.
Finally, Eraut’s typology of early-career learning includes eight categoriesof knowledge, skills and dispositions acquired through work.These empirical studies have contributed to improving our understanding of professional learning in the workplace, by surfacing and systematising what professionals learn through work.However, they did not compare the differences and similarities in what professionals at different stages of their careers learn, although many of them focused on novices in particular.Examining what knowledge, skills and dispositions professionals of various experience level develop through everyday work would help refine the understanding of professional learning in the workplace and is a relevant vista for research in this area.
The study described here was part of a larger research project on workplace learning, which employed a mixed-methods research approach including a questionnaire survey followed by qualitative semi-structured interviews.Here I’ll describe the findings of the qualitative phase only.Idraw on the survey in a very limited way, only to identify the experience level of the respondents.Semi-structured interviews lasting one hour on average were conducted with 29 knowledge workers from a global energy company. The interviewees included engineers, scientists (geologists, geophysicists), knowledge management, HR and procurement specialists, and learning designers. The respondents were distributed in 12 countries.Of the 29 interview respondents, 10 were novices (n), 12 were experienced (E) employees and 7 were midcareer (MC) professionals. We defined ‘experienced’ as those employees who had 11 and more years of experience and novices as those who had up to 3 years of experience in their discipline at the time of the interview. Those who had 4-10 years of experience were defined as midcareer professionals. At the start of the interview, the respondents were asked to think about their most significant learning experience in the past year - the project or task from which they had learned the most. They were prompted by the interviewer to detail what they learned through these work experiences.Interview data were analysed inductively, focusing on codes emerging from the data.
The analysis of interview responses generated a set of 19 categories of what respondents learned through work. These 19 categories were then grouped into five higher-level categories:Conceptual knowledgeProcedural knowledge Locative knowledge DispositionsEnculturation The number of novice, experienced or midcareer professionals who mentioned each particular sub-category during the interview is summarised in the table. For each group of respondents, the subcategories mentioned by the largest proportion of respondents are highlighted in bold.
It is important to emphasise that our aim here was to surface in a grounded fashion and systematise every type of knowledge, skills and dispositions that was mentioned by respondents in this sample, rather than only those types that were shown to be shared by the majority of the respondents. Therefore, even if a sub-category was mentioned by only one respondent, that sub-category was included in the final set shown in the table.
While ascertaining significant regularities is not possible given the size of the sample, some indicative patterns can be observed.Firstly, it is interesting to note the relatively large number of sub-categories within “procedural knowledge”, compared to other categories.<move to previous 2 slides>Secondly, novices appear to focus largely on acquiring core technical knowledge, procedural knowledge and developing ‘ways of being’ in an organisation, whilst midcareer professionals concentrate on conceptual knowledge, and experienced professionals focus on the development of collaboration skills.
On the basis of the interview findings, a typology of what is learned through work is proposedThe typology provides evidence of a variety of types of knowledge, skills and dispositions that individuals develop through daily engagement in work.As Gloria Dall’Alba argued in her keynote talk and as we’ve shown through this study, learning at work has both epistemological and ontological dimensions that are intertwined – the latter reflected in the Enculturation category of our typology.. Our study explored both and unpicked the complexity of these two dimensions.Some knowledge types (e.g. conceptual knowledge) are less explicitly and systematically codified and organised in the workplace than they are in the curriculum in formal educational or training settings.
We suggest that this typology, although indicative, is a useful conceptual instrument that helps systematise data about what is learned through work. The typology can be used in different ways, both by researchers and practitioners in the field of workplace learning.Firstly, it could serve as an analytical tool to guide similar studies aimed at improving the understanding of learning at and through work.Secondly, the typology can be used by those who have staff development roles in organisations (coaches, mentors, supervisors, and others) to guide the learning and development-related conversations and activities with workers, for example as part of personal development planning or annual performance review.Thirdly, professionals themselves could use this typology as a tool to support their self-reflection on their learning and development.
Future studies could apply this typology in other types of organisations and within other types of knowledge work to determine the extent to which these findings could be generalised to other contexts.Further work on similarities and differences in what novices, experienced and midcareer professionals learn through work would not only contribute to the development of a nuanced understanding of the area, but would also help organisations and individual professionals to develop better instruments and approaches to support learning and development in the workplaceFinally, a useful future line of work could be to synthesise the existing typologies, following a meta-analysis of existing empirical work, in order to systematise what we currently know with respect to what is learned through work.
What is learned through work? A typology of learning through everyday work
What is learned through work? A typology of professional learning in the workplaceAnoush Margaryan, Colin Milligan, Allison Littlejohn Glasgow Caledonian University
RQ1. What do professionals learn through work? RQ2. What are the similarities anddifferences in what experienced, novice and midcareer professionals learn?