Highlight Symposium: The European perspective of HRD

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Subject Integrating work and learning in organisations
Context The discussion summarised below is related to the presentations in block 2 of the symposium.
Discussion Participants: Nick Boreham, Alan Brown, Leif Lahn, Martin Mulder, Barry Nyhan, Jim Stewart, Jonathan Winterton

[JW:] I haven't before conferred with Nick, but it's firstly sharing his view on the reality gap between the work place and education, or education and the work place perhaps, and secondly also similar experience in a chemicals plant. There we brought about some changes which led to a very high commitment to learning. Interestingly, these workers, also very low qualified, no qualification at all: the employer was reluctant to qualify them, for fear of loosing them, but they got qualified to VQ level 3 (operator control) and of course labour retention was much improved as a result. So it's exactly the opposite, just a kind of very similar experience.
[JiS:] I have a comment on the presentations in the form of two questions to the critics from education. The first is: what's wrong with instrumentality? The second is: Could you give some examples of non-instrumental learning?
[NB:] My reply is that university and secondary education is a lot more instrumental than training and qualifying.
[LL:] Just a comment on Barry's point on learning organisation (see contribution). I obviously agree that this will be a kind of normative model of connection between the learning organisation and developmental work. But I think also it should be attentive to other functions of these kinds of ideas and slogans. Slogans like this are also used by companies. For example, I have been looking at very traditional parts of Norwegian industry and retailing. There they also use that kind of language to attract what they call the young and bright, and of course to kick out the old. In this sense they use the learning organisation rhetoric as a way of introducing new training for apprentices and trainees, and do not look at the developmental potentialities of their own group. So I think we should look at the descriptive power of this concept.
[BNy:] I think that this whole learning organisation and all modern forms of learning have been contaminated by a lot of empty slogans and catch phrases that have been used for all sorts of reasons which are not learning related at all. But all our words can be abused. Leif used the word 'wisdom'. I think there was a technology person recently, an American talking to the European Commission on the technology people, who was saying "we are no longer selling knowledge; people now want to buy wisdom, they want experience rather than hard products; rich Americans now don't want to buy holiday in Hawaii, they want to drive a tank into the wide desert, they want wisdom, experience...". So all these words, information, knowledge, wisdom every good concept is going to be abused for different reasons.
[MM:] An important message that comes out of this discussion is that for us as HRD researchers it is very important to look at practice really within the industrial organisations; there is so much theory and slogans...
[AB:] I'd like to make a couple of mixed points about learning. I think it is less a matter for engagement with educational researchers than engagement more generally with the sort of educational systems. I've done some work on learning in organisations across supply chains, and exactly the same thing: operators teach managers and so on, fantastic amount of learning, but it is at a point at which people are interested in that. It's interesting though that the interest is coming from the Department of Trade and Industry, rather than from the Department for Education and Skills, because they still are attached to the sort of qualifications and achievement of learning tasks. One of the most interesting things about the work in the supply chains was that there is a fantastic amount of learning going on if supported by people like educational researchers or other researchers; a lot was achieved. And when it turned to what sort of use they want to make of that, in terms of vocational qualifications or credits within the formal educational system, the majority of people wanted neither because they said "I possess these skills, I had that learning, I'm recognised within my organisation". It was the educational organisations which had difficulty in coping with that: management schools and people like that saying "we've got to turn this into something". I think it is less of a challenge for us, because within educational research there is a strong element of people actually looking into this. But I think it does present far greater challenges to our educational institutions because they want to get their hands on it.

Source Recording of the symposium
Descriptors  D-LO  EP09          
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO