The SAGE Handbook of Workplace Learning


Edited by: Margaret Malloch, Len Cairns, Karen Evans & Bridget N. O'Connor

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    About the Editors

    Margaret Malloch, PhD, is a Reader in the Cass School of Education, University of East London. She is an Executive Committee Member and past Chair of the Workplace Learning Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association and a member of the VETNET Board for the European Educational Research Association. Margaret's research encompasses the NCVER projects: Capable Organisation: Implications for Vocational Education and Research and Getting the job done: How employers use and value accredited training leading to a qualification. This Handbook was initiated whilst Margaret coordinated postgraduate education programs emphasising workplace learning at Victoria University, Australia.

    Len Cairns, PhD, is Associate Professor and Associate Dean (Development) in the Faculty of Education at Monash University, Australia. He also holds an ongoing Visiting Professor position in the Institute of Work-Based Learning at Middlesex University in London. He teaches in the Master of Organisational Leadership and Master of School Leadership programmes at Monash, and is researching and writing in the fields of Workplace Learning, Capability and Leadership. Recent published studies have focused on developing capability through leadership, intercultural capability in management education and the impact of NVQs (and related competency-based qualifications) on learning in organisations. A recent volume with Professor John Stephenson is, Capable Workplace Learning. Len has recently completed a four-year research and development programme on Educational Leaders with Professor Peter Gronn funded by the Australian and Victorian State governments. Len is a past Chair of the Workplace Learning Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.

    Karen Evans, PhD, is Chair in Education (Lifelong Learning) at the Institute of Education, University of London; Co-Director of the Centre for Excellence in Work-Based Learning for Education Professionals; and past Head of the School of Lifelong Education and International Development. She has directed numerous international research studies on workplace learning and on learning in life and work transitions. Her previous books include Learning, Work and Social Responsibility (Springer, 2009); Improving Workplace Learning (Routledge, 2006); Reconnection: Countering Social Exclusion through Situated Learning (Springer, 2004); Working to Learn: Transforming Learning in the Workplace (Routledge, 2002) and Learning and Work in the Risk Society (Palgrave, 2000). Her international interests are also reflected in her editorship of the journal of international and comparative education COMPARE, between 2004 and 2009.

    Bridget N. O'Connor, PhD, is Professor of Higher Education and Business Education at New York University. She is the co-author of Learning at Work (HRD Press, 2007), End-user Information Systems: Implementing Individual and Group Technologies (Prentice Hall, 2002), and Training for Organizations (South-Western, 2002). She is a past president of the Organizational Systems Research Association and was Chair of its two national model curriculum projects and editor of its journal, Information Technology, Learning and Performance Journal. She is a Past Chair of the American Educational Research Association's Special Interest Group, Workplace Learning. She is also a past Chairperson of the New York University Faculty Senators Council. In 2006, she was a Fulbright Senior Specialist at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia.

    Notes on Contributors

    Amy Lui Abel is Director of Leadership Development, Morgan Stanley University, specializing in organizational needs assessment, leadership and competency development, performance improvement, design and delivery of learning programmes, and change management. Her New New York University doctoral dissertation won the 2009 AERA SIG Workplace Learning Outstanding Dissertation Award. She serves on the Board of the New York City Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

    Nicholas M. Allix lectures and researches in organisational leadership, capability, and learning at Monash University Faculty of Education, Australia. Nicholas has worked in the commercial, public and private health and vocational sectors in general business management and administration, corporate human resource management and development; educational administration, and knowledge management.

    Brenda R. Beatty researches and teaches at the University of Melbourne on the emotions of leadership, leadership development, school improvement, collaborative cultures, organisational change, student connectedness with school and the use of interactive web-based technologies to support development of professional learning communities. Leading with Teacher Emotions in Mind, with Leithwood, was recently published by Corwin Press.

    Stephen Billett (Professor, Griffith University, Australia) investigates learning through and for work. He publishes in journals, sole authored books (Learning Through Work: Strategies for Effective Practice; Work, Change and Workers) and edited volumes (Work, Subjectivity and Learning, Emerging Perspectives of Work and Learning, and is Editor in Chief of Vocations and Learning.

    Curtis J. Bonk is a former accountant and CPA who received his Master's and PhD degrees in educational psychology from the University of Wisconsin. Dr Bonk is currently Professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University and adjunct in the School of Informatics. Curt is President of CourseShare and SurveyShare.

    David Boud is Professor of Adult Education at the University of Technology, Sydney. His research in recent years has been on learning in workplaces, particularly informal learning and the many ways learning has been taken up in organisational practices.

    Robert G. Brookshire is Professor and Director of the Technology Support and Training Management Program at the University of South Carolina. He holds qualifications from the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and a PhD from Emory University. He is editor of the Information Technology, Learning, and Performance Journal.

    Jingli Cheng is an instructional designer and learning programme manager at Executive and Leadership Development, Hewlett-Packard Company, while completing his PhD degree in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University Bloomington. His research interests include work place learning, knowledge management, organisational behaviour and strategic management.

    Colin Chisholm, Emeritus Professor, Glasgow Caledonian University, led the establishment of a multilevel postgraduate Framework in Work-Based Learning. In research and publications he applies work-based learning concepts to Lifeplace learning and environments. He has worked with the UNESCO International Centre for Engineering Education, Monash University, Australia, for innovative engineering education.

    Sang-Duk Choi is the Director, Office of HRD and Lifelong Education Research, Korean Educational Development Institute. His main research interest is lifelong learning policies in higher education. He is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and contributed to the Presidential Commission on Education Innovation.

    Allie Clemans is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Monash University in Australia. Her research programme focuses on adult education practices in a range of learning spaces such as workplaces and communities. Her research work invites a critical reading of contemporary adult learning and development approaches.

    Carol Costley is Professor and head of the Work-Based Learning Research Centre at Middlesex University. She has developed the Work-Based Learning and Doctorate in Professional Studies programmes. Her research interests are on work-based learning and issues of trans-disciplinarity, equity, ethics and the insider as researcher. Carol convenes the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning, Work-Based Learning network.

    Chester Delaney worked for 24 years in New York's Financial District, starting as a programmer at the Federal Reserve and ending as a manager of technology training and Human Resources at Chase Manhattan. He published widely in the fields of technical and management training. Now retired, he resides in Massachusetts. He is the co-author of Learning at Work (HRD Press, 2007).

    John M. Dirkx is Professor of Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education at Michigan State University. He is co-author of A Guide to Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults: A Theme-Based Approach, the editor of Adult Learning and the Emotional Self, and is the editor for the Journal of Transformative Education.

    Per-Erik Ellström, MA, MSc, PhD, is Professor of Education at Linköping University, Sweden. He is also Director of the HELIX Excellence Centre ( at the same university. His research interests include studies of workplace learning, adult education, vocational education and training, practice-based innovation, and interactive research.

    Yrjö Engeström is Professor of Adult Education and Director of the Center for Research on Activity, Development and Learning, University of Helsinki. His theory of expansive learning and interventionist methodology of developmental work research is well known. From Teams to Knots: Activity-Theoretical Studies of Collaboration and Learning at Work, was published in 2008.

    Michael Eraut's interest in workplace learning developed in the 1980s and stretches across a wide range of professional and vocational sectors: business, education, engineering, healthcare and management. He has researched work placements in degree courses, early career learning and mid-career learning, and the nature and epistemology of practice.

    Tara Fenwick is a Professor of Professional Education at the Stirling Institute of Education, University of Stirling, Scotland. Her recent research focuses on professional knowledge and learning, with particular interest in issues of materiality, identity, and transition.

    Alison Fuller is Professor of Education and Work and Head of the Post-compulsory Education and Training Research Centre in the School of Education, University of Southampton. Research interests include changing patterns of participation in education, training and work; education — work transitions; apprenticeship; and workplace learning. She has recently (with Felstead, Unwin and Jewson) published Improving Working as Learning.

    Hans Gruber is Professor of Educational Science at the University of Regensburg (Germany). Main research interests are professional learning, expertise, workplace learning, social network analysis, higher education. He is a member of the Review Board “Education Sciences”, of the German Research Foundation and of the Executive Committee of the EARLI.

    David Guile, Reader in Education, Institute of Education, University of London, is a founding member of the Education and Social Research Centre for Learning and Lifechances in the Knowledge Economy/Society. Research interests include Professional, Vocational and Workplace Learning. David's book The Learning Challenge of the Knowledge Economy is in press.

    Judith Gulikers, PhD, is researcher at the chair group of Education and Competence studies at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Her expertise is on competence-based or authentic assessment at pre-vocational, vocational and higher education.

    Paul Hager is Professor of Education at University of Technology, Sydney. His main scholarly interest is the emerging field of philosophy of adult and vocational education. His work centres on topics such as informal workplace learning, professional practice, and the role of generic skills in work.

    Judy Harris is Learning Adviser in the Centre for Learning and Teaching at Bishop Grosseteste University College, Lincoln. Research interests are recognition of prior learning, work-based learning and widening participation in higher education, particularly curricular and pedagogic implications. Judy has roles with the Open University, England and Thompson Rivers University, Canada.

    Margaret Harris is a Senior Teaching Fellow at the University of Aberdeen. Her research area is adult lifelong learning, including work-based and lifeplace learning. She publishes extensively in these areas. She holds a Doctorate and Masters in Education and Learning and qualifications in research, management and teaching in tertiary education.

    Christian Harteis holds a senior researcher position at the Institute of Educational Science of the Regensburg University (Germany). His research field is on workplace learning and professional development. He has conducted several German and international research projects on individual and organizational features of work-related learning.

    Knud Illeris is Professor of Lifelong Learning at The Danish University of Education (part of Aarhus University). He is internationally known for his comprehensive theory of learning, published in the book How We Learn (Routledge 2007), and recently edited Contemporary Theories of Education and International Perspectives on Competence Development (Routledge, 2009).

    Craig E. Johnson is Professor of Leadership Studies and director of the Doctor of Management Program at George Fox University, Oregon, teaching leadership, management and ethics courses. Research interests include leadership ethics, organisational ethics, and leadership education with several publications. Extensive international projects with nonprofit organisations have been undertaken.

    Lynn B. Keane is Director of the Business Education Program at the University of South Carolina. She previously taught business education, computer applications, and information technology courses at Lehman College (1999—2005), Pace University (1992—2006), and New York University. She has authored four books in the John Wiley Getting Started series.

    Natasha Kersh, Research Officer at the Faculty of Policy and Society, Institute of Education, University of London, researches workplace learning, employability and post-compulsory education and adult literacy. She is a member of the Economic and Social Research Council Centre for Research into Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies.

    Richard D. Lakes is Professor of Educational Policy Studies at Georgia State University, Atlanta. He researches the impact of globalisation on education for work, and writes about neoliberal policy formulations in vocational education. He recently co-authored “Disciplining the Working Classes: Neoliberal Designs in Vocational Education,” in Pedagogies: An International Journal.

    Kara M. Lybarger is a graduate student at the University of South Carolina-Columbia for her MA in Art History. She holds a graduate assistantship with the Department of Technology Support and Training Management and is the Assistant Editor of the Information Technology, Learning, and Performance Journal.

    Doug Lynch is Vice Dean, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania. Current research, teaching and activities focus on learning in the context of educational innovation and entrepreneurship. Building on a career of innovation and prestigious awards, Doug serves on the American Enterprise Institute's Future of Education Project and the International Standard's Organization.

    Victoria J. Marsick is Professor of Adult Learning and Leadership and Co-Director of the J.M. Huber Institute for Learning in Organisations in the Organisation and Leadership Department of Teachers College, Columbia University. Her teaching, research and consulting focus on informal and transformative learning at the individual, group and organisational levels.

    Martin Mulder, PhD, is Full Professor and Head of the Department of Education and Competence Studies at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. He leads a research programme on competence development and published over 400 articles, chapters and books with his co-workers. He is editor, chairman, and member of various peer reviewed journals.

    Gerhard Naegele, Professor and Director of the Institute of Gerontology, Dortmund University, conducts qualitative and quantitative research into socio-political issues and policies of ageing, older workers, labour market, pensions, caring and life-course developments. He is a member of the German Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics and the Gerontological Society, America.

    Elizabeth Regan is Professor and Chair of the Information Systems Department at Morehead State University. She also chairs the Northeast Kentucky Regional Health Information Organisation Board of Directors. She has 16 years of industry management experience. Current research interests include IT innovation and health systems transformation. She is co-author of End-User Information Systems (Prentice Hall 2002).

    Peter Rushbrook is Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Charles Sturt University, Australia, Wagga Wagga campus. Before beginning a career as a university academic he worked for twenty-five years in Victorian junior technical schools, Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutes and a range of adult learning centres.

    Darlene Russ-Eft, PhD, is Professor and Chair of Adult Education and Higher Education Leadership at Oregon State University. Her research and publications focus on evaluation, learning, development, and competency. She is president-elect of the Academy of Human Resource Development and director of the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance, and Instruction.

    Peter H. Sawchuk is Professor of Sociology & Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. He specialises in the area of work, learning and social control. His books include Adult Learning and Technology in Working-Class Life (2003); Workplace Learning: A Critical Introduction (2004); Critical Perspectives on Activity (2006).

    Nicky Solomon is Professor of Education at the University of Technology, Sydney. Her research on work and learning has contributed to understandings of the worker as learner as well as the complexities in naming and managing everyday learning at work.

    Su Jin Son recently earned her PhD in Human Resource Education (HRE) at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She received an EdM in Educational Technology from Kyung Hee University in Korea. Her research interests include mentoring relationships, implementation of technology for learning, and programme evaluation in corporate settings.

    Lorna Unwin is Professor and Chair in Vocational Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, and is also Deputy Director of the ESRC-funded LLAKES Research Centre. Her recent books include: Improving Working for Learning, 2009; and Communities of Practice: Critical Perspectives, 2008, both published by Routledge.

    Edmund Waite is a researcher at the Department of Lifelong and Comparative Education, Institute of Education, London University. His research interests and publications relate to the study of adult literacy in the United Kingdom and international contexts as well as the anthropological study of education in Muslim societies.

    Alan Walker is Professor of Social Policy and Social Gerontology, University of Sheffield, UK. He currently directs the UK's largest research programme on ageing, The New Dynamics of Ageing, and the European Research Area in Ageing.

    Karen E. Watkins is Professor of Lifelong Education, Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia. Watkins is the author/co-author of an extensive number of articles, chapters and books and the organisational survey, Dimensions of the Learning Organization Questionnaire [DLOQ], which has been used in over 70 published studies worldwide.


    This SAGE Handbook provides a state-of-the art overview of the field of Workplace Learning Internationally. The assembled authors are all well-placed theoreticians, researchers and practitioners in this burgeoning field of educational endeavour which is now across higher education, vocational education and training, post-compulsory secondary schooling and lifelong education.

    The premise of the volume is that it is both timely and necessary for a broad based, yet incisive analysis of the range of theory, research and practical developments in this now prominent field of educational activity.

    This volume presents a comprehensive study of work and workplace learning in its many manifestations and contested areas. This Handbook draws together the three essential areas of Theory, Research and Practice, and Issues in the field of Workplace Learning and is structured accordingly. The final chapters focus on issues, future developments, and directions, with recommendations for further development.

    In recent years, the idea that learning in the workplace is a significant area for study, and theorisation as well as intervention in and examination of practice, has emerged strongly as world-wide interest amongst scholars and has gathered momentum. Key researchers and writers in the field have approached workplaces as the base of learning about work, that is, work-based learning. As well, there has been emerging interest in such variations of the idea as, learning about, through and at work. Many of the theoretical discussions have centred on adult learning and some on learners’ managing their own learning with emphasis on aspects such as communities of practice, activity systems and self-directed learning.

    Early work in the field was often linked to the foundations of Vocational Education and Training (VET) traditions with concerns around skills, competencies and “on the job” learning. In fact, much of the leading work in the field has been carried out by researchers and writers who have their base in either VET or Adult Learning, often in education faculties or related sections of universities and sometimes affiliated with National Vocational Research Centres or international groups in the area (e.g. Cedefop, VETNET in Europe, AERA in the United States).

    The idea that learning and workplaces had more to do with real lifelong and life-wide aspects than the traditional “training” regimen has emerged in the last decade through the untiring efforts of researchers and writers such as Jack Mezirow, Victoria Marsick in the United States, and David Boud in Australia and the UK. The field has, since the mid 1990s, grown enormously as an area of theory, research and practical work which has not only expanded the interest but more “legitimised” the area as a field of study, reflection and progress.

    Dichotomies such as “informal” versus “formal” learning and the notions surrounding learning at workplaces versus learning in formal training or vocational institutions became debatable areas of some contentiousness. Various theories associated with the nature and specificity of learning in work situations began to draw in scholars and writers to debate the very nature and conditions of what “work” was, how one learned at work and today even debates about the brave new world of work where the very essence of employment and work for remuneration as the underlying assumption about place are being questioned.

    Internationally, many USA scholars in this field either work within the adult learning or organisational development arena. Others have pursued the aspects of post-compulsory learners preparing for “work” through school-related activities. Some have sought to apply learning theories from the adult learning tradition and relate theories such as Vygotskian understandings of children learning to the new dynamics of adults learning about work. Interest in the workplace as a learning environment and an understanding of the role of work in the lifespan is another focus.

    There was also an apparent differentiation in the field in the USA where another group of writers on the “work-based” learning focused heavily on adolescent-age school children learning about the “world of work” through supervised internships and other school-to-work initiatives that help students explore careers and learn job skills and develop interpersonal relationship skills.

    In Europe, apprenticeships, models of young people better developing a sense of vocation and studies of learning by adults in different sites, appeared to dominate the area for some time. Recent theories of learning and work relations have emerged and gained considerable strength in the European scene. Some have been psychological (Illeris) others have been socio-cultural (Engeström), while others have attempted sociological explanations of wider societal trends (Beck), or adopted an industrial relations perspective on learning and human relations in workplaces. Also in the UK there has been a flurry of research activity built around work-based learning in skills and literacy aspects as well as “higher end” work on professional doctorates and the design of ways to “credit” or recognize prior work-related learning at professional levels and for part of formal qualifications.

    In Australia, New Zealand, and to some extent in Canada, writers and researchers appeared to be fascinated by the way people in workplaces got together and shared expertise and learnt about skilled practice. In addition, research on aspects such as competency-based education and training across the VET sector and the way work and learning can be mutually reinforcing as people learn through their work activities.

    In Asia and South East Asia, there has been a concern with advancing technological and manufacturing skill bases in India and China and with engaging with Western management and globalisation ideas in the former “tiger” economies. There are also moves, as shown in some of the chapters in the theory section, to translate Eastern philosophical positions on knowledge, self and learning places for Western enlightenment.

    A dominant concern across the Western world in the past twenty years, which became known as “situated learning theory” (Lave and Wenger) and its applicability across a range of work sites and types of interaction in groups or “communities of practice” features in a number of the chapters. This set of ideas became one of the major theory into practice approaches of the 1990s and into the early twenty-first century, and it is both explained and critiqued in the Handbook's chapters.

    Research in this new century has expanded to question the learning that is engaged in and the respective positions of both the organisation and the individual. Ranging across the notions of the individual bounded by the workplace, to moving beyond the workplace to cross “boundaries”, or turn at “intersections”, contrasts between formal and informal, tacit, implicit and explicit learning, generic skills and specific skills, team learning, and lifespace learning, have all been explored, theorised and examined. Each aspect (often presented in dichotomies and with metaphorical emphases as has emerged in the literature) has been explicated, with cases supporting and attacking various positions.

    Organisations are interested in return on investment in learning, in how and whether to be a ‘learning organisation.’ Governments address the skilling of a dwindling and aging population, identifying apparent skills shortages, particularly in areas traditionally regarded as ‘the trades’. At the same time there is wide concern and almost a pre-occupation with the promise or threat and effects of globalisation. These aspects, when viewed against the theories of Beck, for example, and his prediction of the emergence in the West of a “Brazilianisation” of work and the flow on from that for learning, provide a fascinating backdrop to current debates.

    This Handbook draws together a wide range of views, theoretical dispositions and assertions, and provides a leading edge presentation by key writers and researchers with insight into the field and its current state as well as a glimpse at possible futures. Many of the contributors to this Handbook, are the developers and key writers in the field as to the leading edge work on Workplace Learning, and their contributions offer a close examination of their theories and work from the proverbial ‘horse's mouth’.

    This SAGE Handbook of Workplace Learning should serve as a basic source for researchers and serious academics who are interested in the scope and breadth of the Workplace Learning area and what theory, research and practice has to offer for its understanding and creating its future.

    The first section of the Handbook explores the Theory relating to Workplace Learning. There has been a shift from a behaviourist approach to the training for specific skills in specific workplaces to a consideration of people as learners operating in workplaces and beyond. There is a questioning of what learning is engaged in and therefore a reconsideration of the positions of the organisation, the employee and the person who is learning in and through work and within and across groups at work.

    The theoretical underpinnings and models of Workplace Learning and their implications for research and practice are traced, developed, challenged and explicated in this section of the Handbook.

    Section 2 of the Handbook focuses on Research and Practice in the field and offers a range of views and practical research that explores how, where, why, and for what ends people work and learn at and through work activities. This synthesis of current and recent research and practice should provide researchers and other readers with a comprehensive examination of many of the key aspects of Workplace Learning.

    Section 3 of the Handbook examines Issues and Futures in the area of Workplace Learning in a set of chapters where key current and potential future issues and ideas abound. This section should establish a set of ideas about where the field of Workplace Learning is going over the 21st century and what issues we face now and in the future as we move forward in these exciting times.

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