The dialectic of informal learning : a study of the discursive effects on the workplace learning of trainers situated within post-industrial corporate agendas

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The study critically examines definitions of "informal learning", focussing on the term's application in workplace training contexts. Drawing on Foucault, Heidegger and Habermas, it is argued that we cannot understand ourselves (and thus our informal learning) without challenging the assumptions of modernity and coming to terms with what Lyotard has termed "the postmodern condition". Industry trainers are at the forefront of implementing "designer" corporate cultures which, in the rhetoric of "work-based learning", make enterprises more innovative and competitive. This study challenges that rhetoric, showing that the implicit philosophy of contemporary workplace learning and training is framed by an economistic "human capital theory". The "stories" of industry trainers from several multinational corporations challenge assumptions about what is learnt through competency-based training and about corporate uses of informal learning. It is argued that being at work entails far more than simply performing the tasks one is required to do, which, in turn, effects the links between informal learning and formal education. The final chapters are directed towards expanding and realigning interpretations of "informal learning" away from the narrow and instrumental purposes for which the term has been appropriated. Equity, respect for the dignity of others, and a philosophy of ethics have a place in "workplace learning". Informal learning is shaped by our deepest ethical and moral responses. It does not follow that measurable tasks, what one can be observed doing at work, represent one's learning.
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