Tidying the territory: Questioning terms and purposes in work-learning research



Fenwick T (2006) Tidying the territory: Questioning terms and purposes in work-learning research. Journal of Workplace Learning, 18 (5), pp. 265-278.

Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to argue that foundational terms in work-learning research, specifically "learning", "work", and "workplace", are inherently complex and contested as the same as their scope has expanded in different fields to elide various conceptual categories and theoretical positions. Yet researchers often use these terms without explanation, or as generic abstractions. The article suggests rigorous questioning and more precise delineation to reveal conceptual tangles in work-learning research and build links across disciplinary languages and research traditions.Design/methodology/approach - The argument is theory-driven, and draws upon a meta-review of work-learning studies published in ten journals in the period 1999-2004. Findings - Often without clarification, the term "learning" in work is used to refer to learning as "product" (knowledge acquisition, transfer, control), as "process" (as cultural change, individual development, network dynamics, practice, collective sense-making, identity negotiations, or problem-solving), and as all conscious human experience. Work is used to refer to almost any activity, paid and unpaid. Issues of power relations in work become side-stepped with these conflations, and the conceptual categories dissolve when they cannot distinguish what is not learning. These issues blur the contribution of work-learning research (e.g. what is gained through learning studies focused on one context defined by labor relations).Practical implications - More precise definitions of terms, conceptualizations and purposes in work-learning research may help reveal conflicting positions, absences, similarities and links, towards more dialogue and rigorous theory-building across fields. Originality/value - The article intends to help researchers pause and reflect on the fundamental concepts and processes they seek to explore.

Research; Workplace learning

Journal of Workplace Learning: Volume 18, Issue 5

Publication date31/12/2006

People (1)


Professor Tara Fenwick

Professor Tara Fenwick

Emeritus Professor, Education