Understanding Relations of Indivi...
Article Management Learning Copyright �� 2008 Sage Publications Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore http://mlq.sagepub.com Vol. 39(3): 227���243 1350���5076 DOI: 10.1177/1350507608090875 Tara Fenwick University of British Columbia, Canada Understanding Relations of Individual��� Collective Learning in Work: A Review of Research Abstract A review was conducted of literature addressing learning in work, focusing on relations between individual and collective learning published in nine journals during the period 1999���2004. The journals represent three distinct fi elds of management/ organization studies, adult education and human resource development all publish material about workplace learning regularly. In total, 209 articles were selected for content analysis, containing a range of material including reports of empirical research to theoretical discussion. Eight themes of individual���collective learning were identifi ed through inductive content analysis of this literature: individual knowledge acquisition, sense-making/refl ective dialogue, levels of learning, network utility, individual human development, individuals in community, communities-of-practice and co-participation or co-emergence. The discussion highlights similar issues stated in the different journals about understanding individual���collective learning, the apparent lack of dialogue across the fi elds, the ontological and ideological differences among the themes of learning currently in circulation and the low frequency of analysis of power relations in the articles reviewed. Key Words: community-of-practice co-participation organizational learning work learning Introduction Studies in ���workplace learning���1 arguably have expanded in volume of publication and diverse perspectives in the past decade (Bratton et al., 2003). Broadly speaking, these might be described as concerned with processes of development, movement and change in knowledge and practices that occur within particular activities and organizational arrangements of paid work. A wealth of workplace learning scholarship has accumulated in the fields of organizational and management studies, sociology of work, labor studies, adult education, feminist studies, human resource development studies and vocational education research.
228 Management Learning 39(3) New understandings about the nature of learning processes appear to be emerging across these fi elds, and different issues and questions for research appear to be generating a wide range of empirical and theoretical research. Given this diversity of research, it seems timely to take stock of its issues, assumptions and fi ndings. To this end, a literature review was undertaken of workplace learning literature published in the six-year period 1999���2004. In 1999 the fi rst international cross-disciplinary Researching Work and Learning conference was held,2 bringing together scholars in organization studies, labor studies, adult learning, continuing professional education and vocational edu- cation and training. This and other recent interdisciplinary gatherings appear to be responding to converging scholarship and intensifi ed proliferation of workplace learning. The purpose of the literature review was to compare understandings of learning in and through work across fi elds. After examining all articles addressing workplace learning in the selected journals, it became apparent that a prominent topic occupying the majority of these articles concerned the relationship of indi- vidual and collective learning processes in work activities (see Table 1). The study proceeded to focus on this topic, examining particular questions about individual��� collective workplace learning relations being asked in different fi elds, different theoretical traditions informing researchers and different methodological approaches adopted to explore these questions. The researchers who worked on various portions of the review are all adult educators located in university faculties of education. Although understandings of learning varied among them, there was agreement that learning in work can involve formal or informal teaching but is practice-based and participative: em- bedded in action, not centered in an individual���s head but distributed among activities, continuous interactions and relationships of people (and tools, texts, architecture, etc.) within a system. Learning can be understood as expansion of capacity for more sophisticated, more fl exible and more creative action (Davis et al., 2000 Fenwick, 2001). From a critical educator���s standpoint, learning is also understood to enhance people���s individual and collective agency in their work activities, recognizing the contested nature of knowledge as well as the infl uence of the labor process and its related politics on learning processes and how they are understood, rewarded and controlled (Bratton et al., 2003 Livingstone and Sawchuk, 2003). In the following sections are explained the methods and materials used in this review, and the fi ndings. Contestation over terms and perspectives is evident, as are common themes. Eight specifi c theme categories are described, representing distinctions in researchers��� conceptions of the nature of individual���collective relations in learning. The fi nal discussion analyses these fi ndings to examine key contributions to workplace learning research that have emerged in the past six years of journal publication. Fundamental theoretical differences are examined as well as questions left unaddressed. Apparent schisms are highlighted along with unacknowledged commonalities among different fi elds in which workplace learning studies are being pursued. The discussion closes with implications for future research suggested by these analyses.
Fenwick: Individual���Collective Learning in Work 229 Methods The project set out to examine the literature about relations of individual and collective learning processes in and through work published in journals within the six-year period 1999���2004. This broad theme was chosen partly because it was the most pervasive among all the topics about workplace learning raised across the selected journals, suggesting strong researcher interest in the issue and the importance of this dynamic in organizations and work activities. Further, as analysis proceeded on this theme it became clear that its multi-faceted treatment in the literature embraced diverse subtopics, and refl ected important positional differences among researchers. Thus the theme appeared to be suffi ciently rich to warrant in-depth study. The frequency of the individual���collective learning theme is shown for each journal in Table 1, with the reminder that these counts are based on interpretive judgement and therefore must be considered ap- proximate. Nine scholarly journals were selected to represent audiences in diverse fi elds of workplace learning: management/organization studies, adult education and human resource development. Criteria for journal selection included that it must be refereed, international in scope and contain a high percentage of research- based articles. Potential journals for inclusion were determined by scanning authors��� reference lists in recent books and conference proceedings related to workplace learning for frequently cited journal titles. In addition, academics in management/organization studies, adult education and human resource development were informally asked to name journals that they perceived to be particularly reliable and well-used sources for workplace learning literature in their fi elds. Articles were selected in issues of the following journals published in the six-year period between 1999 and 2004 inclusive (number of articles in review sample shown in parentheses): Journal of Workplace Learning (52), Management Learning (44), Organization Studies (16), Organization (9), International Journal of Lifelong Education (8), Studies in Continuing Education (21), Studies in the Edu- cation of Adults (7), Human Resource Development International (20) and Human Resource Development Quarterly (31). Articles selected for the data set included both empirical and theoretical papers that focused on topics clearly pertaining to learning (processes, dimensions, relations) in and through work. Articles per- taining more to educational programs, policies or general work conditions were not included. From a possible total of 1745 articles published in 1999���2004 in the nine journals chosen for this study, 343 articles focused on workplace learning. Of these, a total set of 208 articles or 61.5 percent were determined to address relations of individual and collective learning processes directly. Numbers of data set articles are contrasted with the total number of articles published in these journals in Table 1. Each journal issue was initially examined through a reading of titles and abstracts to select articles that fi t the data set. The content of each selected journal article was assessed in terms of specifi c concepts about individual���collective rela- tions in learning. These concepts were analysed within other elements of each article: (1) the central research question(s) or problem guiding the study (2) the author���s overall purpose(s) or argument (3) theoretical concepts or traditions