Workplace Learning

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We live in times of unprecedented technological and social change that have profound implications for the nature of work, the workplace and our working lives. Adaptability to shifting circumstances and readiness to learn new workrelated knowledge and skills have become almost more important than competence at the tasks for which we were hired. Workers must now be able to deal not just with issues for which they were trained, but also to tackle unique problems that have never been faced before. This has major implications for educational institutions, for employers and for workers, and has led to calls for an emphasis on lifelong and life-wide learning. The idea that we continue to learn throughout our lives, in all facets of our lives, and from a wide range of resources, not just at school or university or in formal courses. This paper explores the different ways we learn in and from work and the factors that influence our effectiveness as lifelong learners. It is argued that lifelong learning in the workplace is a mutual responsibility shared by educational institutions, workers and employers.


istorically we have made rather clear distinctions between places where people learn (schools, universities) and those where we earn our living. The notion of special places for learning is deeply rooted in nearly all cultures, and the creation of the formal school is the first of Ashby’s four educational “revolutions” that transformed our ability to learn and produce great advances in civilisation (Carnegie Foundation, 1972)1. Yet human beings learn throughout their lives and in almost all situations - at home, in their leisure activities and at work. We start learning even before birth, and we continue until senility. Some of this learning is incidental and largely unconscious (for example finding out about our spouse’s idiosyncrasies, or discovering a new route to work), but a large amount of learning is planned and purposive (Tough, 1971). This is what is meant by the notion of lifelong and life-wide learning.

SECTION 4: Workplace Learning

Christopher Knapper Director Instructional Development Centre Professor of Psychology Queen’s University, Canada

1 The other three of Ashby’s revolutions were the invention of writing, printing and the wide availability of books, and (more controversially) the use of technology to enhance learning.


Lifelong Learning in the Workplace

THE CONCEPT OF LIFELONG LEARNING The term lifelong learning was first used 30 years ago by Edgar Faure in his seminal work for Unesco, Learning To Be (Faure et al, 1972). When my colleague Arthur Cropley and I first began writing about lifelong learning in the 1980s (Cropley and Knapper, 1983) the term was not widely known. By 2001 it has become a ubiquitous slogan that appears in government position papers, university mission statements and advertising literature for all manner of educational products and services. It is an expression that has come to mean whatever its users want it to mean, with little understanding of the original concept articulated by Faure, or knowledge of the underlying factors that caused Unesco to put forward the notion of lifelong learning as a blueprint for universal education.

The Need for Lifelong Learning
Why was this blueprint thought to be needed? Its origins were in fact quite idealistic and reflect goals for education that stressed the need for democracy, equal opportunity, and individual selffulfilment, which would only be possible if the tools for learning were available to all, and not restricted to a privileged elite. A second impetus for lifelong and life-wide learning came from the increasing complexity of people’s lives and the rapid pace of change, both social and technological. Such change is both profound and rapid, and its pace has accelerated as we enter the third millennium. For example, Homer-Dixon comments that although...
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