A relational re-view of collective learning : concerts, condiments and corrections

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Work in organisations is a shared and joint endeavour often accomplished by groups, teams or other collectives. Yet groups at work do not always learn at work, limiting an organisation’s capability to thrive in knowledge economies. Research investigating collective learning at work continues to place the analytic focus on entities or abstractions representing the collective. For example, culture, power, group membership, group structure, group communications, motivations and skills are often examined to explain why groups learn or not in organisations. In contrast, this thesis investigates what it means to learn together when people act, talk and judge at work through their relational and responsive interactions. This relational orientation conceptualises learning as emerging from patterns of interactions that are responsive to local contexts and shaped by practical sensemaking that occurs in the everyday practice of work life. Specifically in the case study interpretive tradition, I investigate the relational practices of dyads and small groups in three disparate organisational contexts and professions. The organisational, group and individual characteristics differ widely for musicians in an orchestra, apprentice chefs in a commercial kitchen and rehabilitation staff in a corrections centre. Yet these three groups shared relational similarities in learning how to weave ways of acting, talking and judging together to make their work ‘work’. Such weaving together is enabled by shifting conceptually from notions of context as descriptive setting or situatedness to the notion of groups contextualising together. This thesis contributes to collective learning research by highlighting the significance of patterns of interactions and the dynamics of practice. The findings enhance existing collective learning theory by including spatio-temporal concepts from theories of organisational change and complexity. The findings have implications for guiding the learning of commencing practitioners into professions as well as for generating modes of transdisciplinary learning across professions. Re-viewing collective learning in relational ways recognises that learning is an emergent phenomenon, each time practised anew from interactions between people and the possibilities that lie within. The Latin prefix con means with. It seems appropriate that concerts performed by musicians, condiments added to dishes by chefs and the consequences of behaviours by corrections staff across diverse contexts of work can provide practical insights for better understanding how groups learn collectively at work.
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