Learning Occupational Practice in the Absence of Expert Guidance: The Agentic Action of Australian Home Care Workers

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Agency at Work: An Agentic Perspective on Professional Learning and Development, 2017, pp. 271 - 289 (18)
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Many kinds of workers need to both work and learn in socially isolated circumstances (i.e. in the absence of others who can provide guidance and support). Such circumstances require particular kinds of agency and agentic action by these worker-learners, and they might be described as requiring particularly agentic personal epistemologies. These epistemologies are essential for workers such as home care workers (HCWs), who, after a perfunctory classroom training, are expected to work alone in clients’ homes providing a range of support, such as mobility and hygiene assistance. This chapter draws on a recent investigation into the work and learning of a small cohort of such HCWs and maps how they exercise agency in their work practice, work-related learning and development. These workers deployed, in different ways, their past personal experiences (e.g. work, life, education), the classroom training provided, opportunities to engage with other HCWs and support from other informed sources in learning the requirements for their role. Moreover, these workers exercised agentic action by “personalising” their scaffolding or learning supports. That is, they constructed, engaged with and subsequently relinquished scaffolding as personally necessitated, rather than relying on “experts” to decide how and when these forms of learning support should be enacted and withdrawn. What is important here is how these workers’ subjectivities are found to include actions and monitoring of performance, not just ideas and dispositions. Through an account of how this particular cohort exercised agentic action, some conclusions are drawn and recommendations made for the best ways of progressing the learning and development of such socially isolated workers.
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