Towards an emergent view of learning work

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Lifelong Education, 2010, 29 (3), pp. 359 - 372
Issue Date:
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The purpose of this paper is to challenge models of workplace learning that seek to isolate or manipulate a limited set of features to increase the probability of learning. Such models typically attribute learning (or its absence) to individual engagement, manager expectations or organizational affordances and are therefore at least implicitly causative. In contrast, we discuss the contributions of complexity theory principles such as emergence and novelty that suggest that learning work is more a creative and opportunistic process that emerges from contextualized interactional understandings among actors. Using qualitative case study methods, we discuss the experiences of workers in two organizations asked to 'act up' in their managers' role to ensure work continuity. We believe the differences in how workers take up these opportunities result from a complex combination of situational factors that generate invitational patterns signalled from and by various understandings and interactions among actors doing collective work. Rather than a deficit view of learning that needs fixing, an emergent model of learning work suggests that learning develops as a collective generative endeavour from changing patterns of interactional understandings with others. This re-positioning recognizes that although invitational qualities cannot be deterministically predicted, paying attention to the patterns of cues and signals created from actors interacting together can condition ways of understandings to expand what is possible when work practices also become learning practices. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.
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