Workplace and Adult Education

In this week, we will examine adult and workplace education. While these two forms comprise a small proportion of post-secondary education, they nonetheless impact many adults at least once in their lifetime.

Learning objectives: Jarvis
1. What is the learning society, and how do adults fit in?
2. What are the different ways that adults learn?
3. How does learning fit into the life of many adults?

Learning objectives: Pare & Le Maistre
1. What is the induction process?
2. Which conditions are most conducive to effective induction of new employees?
3. How do organizations benefit by induction?
4. What should the role of inductees be?

Learning objectives: Jacobs & Park
1. How is the nature of work changing?
2. What are the implications of these changes for managing employee competence?
3. What is the difference between learning at work and learning in work?
4. What is the difference between formal and informal workplace learning
5. What are the 3 components of their conceptual framework and how do they interrelate?

SH contributed:

Before we consider how best to conduct adult education in the workplace we need first to examine why adults need workplace education. Jarvis (2004) describes learning as a basic human need and education the tool used to meet that need. In the context of an increasingly globalised society, a rapidly changing landscape requires that individuals are also able to rapidly change to keep pace with it. While change has been a constant over the history of humanity, the rate of change since the industrial revolution and more so since the advent of information technologies has been so rapid and endemic that over the course of an average worker’s life ongoing education is required to remain successful and productive (Jarvis, 2004). Education, in this context, may be a tool of both social change and social control, producing those workers who are most useful to the interests of corporations and not necessarily to the interests of the individual (Jarvis, 2004). Despite Jarvis’ (2004) assertion that an educated populace is more able to engage with democracy in an active and intelligent way, it may be that this is antithetical to the corporate interest, which lies more in obtaining a more efficient tool.

Regardless of whatever darker corporate motivations may underpin the need for adult workplace education, it remains a fact of life for those of us engaged in work. The questions that then remain are, how do we best transition students into effective workers, and once they are workers, how do we best organise and deliver education to them to keep them engaged and current in their practice and able to meet the needs of the organisation? Lave and Wenger (in Pare and Le Maistre, 2006) describe the induction process for new practitioners as a period of “legitimate peripheral participation” where students undergoing practicum, or indeed graduates transitioning to practice learn the activity of work and hopefully, learn to apply their education in a practical way. Pare and le Maistre (2006) emphasise the difference between the activity of learning and the activity of working and recommend structured induction process to bridge the gap. It is also important for beginning practitioners and students to be able to experience the everyday unstructured milieu of the workplace and to feel included in it (Pare & Le Maistre, 2006).

Once students have transitioned to practitioners, the task is not over. Even as workers become competent with their current tasks, work changes and continues to change and so workplace education must be provided to facilitate this (Jacobs & Park, 2009). The optimal organisation of workplace learning has been the subject of much debate but Jacobs and Park (2009) propose a framework for analysing and discussing it, as a first step to understanding it in a rational way. The framework identifies three variables: the location of the learning; the extent of planning for it; and the role of the trainer or facilitator in its delivery (Jacobs & Park, 2009). Aspects of the framework include concepts also identified by Pare and Le Maistre (2006), particularly in the emphasis on socialisation into a community of practice. It is not only the tasks required by the workplace that the new staff member must learn, but also the culture of the workplace; how their department interacts with other departments, how their profession interacts with other professions, and what is expected of them in terms of communication, demeanour and professionalism.


If, as Jarvis (2004) states, self-education is under-recognised and under-valued, should the education sector be acting to address this, and if so how should this be undertaken?

Pare and Le Maistre’s (2006) article concentrates almost entirely on the experiences and needs of students undertaking a practicum. Do you see any differences in the needs of new staff members when transitioning to a workplace? How does this differ for staff of different levels of experience?

Jacobs and Park’s (2009) conceptual framework does not make mention of the many factors which may restrict or prevent access to formal workplace education, such as discrimination, lack of resources or unwillingness on the part of employers. Can informal workplace learning be an adequate substitute for formal education?


Jacobs, R. L., & Park, Y. (2009). A proposed conceptual framework of workplace learning: Implications for theory development and research in human resource development. Human Resource Development Review, 8(2), 133-150.

Jarvis, P. (2004). Towards a rationale for the provision of learning opportunities for adults. In Adult education and lifelong learning: Theory and practice (pp. 1-38). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Pare, A., & Le Maistre, C. (2006). Active learning in the workplace: transforming individuals and institutions. Journal of Education and Work, 19(4), 363-381.

My response

Pare and Le Maistre’s (2006) article concentrates almost entirely on the experiences and needs of students undertaking a practicum. Do you see any differences in the needs of new staff members when transitioning to a workplace? How does this differ for staff of different levels of experience?

The argument proposed by Pare and Le Maistre [1] comes from a long history of educational and learning theory which locates experience within a social context. Vygotsky, for example, famously remarked "human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them" [2]; although the reference is to 'children' given the author's pedagogical interests, it can certainly apply to any of us.

In particular however, greater attention in recent years has been drawn to integration in the workplace. Whilst their article concentrates on school to work transition, it holds true to a general principle that learning involved integration and collaboration of practises, rather than the reductionist acquisition of specific competencies [3].

Pare and Le Maistre, stating their conclusion early in the piece, concur:

"A central conclusion of our study is that proficiency is gained in the school-to-work transition is accomplished through co-participation - that is, through interaction and cooperation with others, and through the full engagement in workplace activity".

The question is raised on whether the specific example of Pare and Le Maistre, being students undertaking a practicum, would differ in terms of new staff members transitioning in the workplace and for staff members of different levels of experience. This raises a great number of potential vectors for consideration, including (a) the nature, complexity, and social interaction required of the various tasks, (b) the same, but with reference to the organisation, and (c) the attributes, and experiental skills and knowledges of the staff member in question.

The formal education process can contribute significantly to the theoretical knowledge required for work tasks, even to the extent that it can provide more advanced and up-to-date knowledges and activities that may be used an existing organisation (which is part of the reason why graduates are sought). The education process certainly can contribute to the personal attributes of the individual as well, although with the exception of those institutions which have taken the instillation of democratic values of education [4] seriously, this is perhaps less of the case in contemporary institutions. What formal education often does not do is engage in the transitional or integration of learning, education, and work.

There are some arguments that there should be stronger ties between educational and vocational activity (e.g., Gonzci, op cit), which could certainly assist in the transitional needs. However there is significant reasons for caution as well. To begin with, not everyone who takes up a course at university is doing so for vocational reasons (this is often forgotten in contemporary times). Secondly, there are significant systemtic differences between the workplace world and academia; whilst the latter is, at least in principle, is supposed to be dedicated to critical and truthful investigation the former can be utterly antithetical to the same for the purpose of positional advantage. Any degree of integration could only occur with the intellectual orientation of the academic world in the corporate setting - and perhaps the two are ultimately incompatible.

Finally there is another approach that can be considered from the perspective of the academic setting. If, as has been argued, that interaction, cooperation, integration into a normative community of practise, is what constitutes the experiential attributes for the workplace, then should not these qualities be a greater proportion of formative and summative assessment?


1] Pare, A., Le Maistre, C., (2006) "Active learning in the workplace: transforming individuals and institutions". Journal of Education and Work, 19(4), 363-381
2] Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind and society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
3] Gonczi, A. (2004). The new professional and vocational education. In G. Foley (Ed.), Dimensions of adult learning: Adult education and training in a global era (pp. 19-34). Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin
4] Dewey, J. (FP 1916). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, Macmillan.

"If, as Jarvis (2004) states, self-education is under-recognised and under-valued, should the education sector be acting to address this, and if so how should this be undertaken?"

In some ways to answer the question raised by the Jervis article, one has to read it backwards. The chapter conclusion derives from Maslow's hierarchy of needs, well recognised for being a fairly flawed model of human needs, but a useful model nevertheless. Jarvis refers to a "need to learn" which occurs throughout their hierarchy (or taxonomy). This would provide an epistemological foundation that exists a priori to the satisfaction of particular needs and wants.

Continuing to read the chapter backwards, having 'established' (at the conclusion) a 'need to learn', Jarvis reviews the socially integrated individual and the mode of learning that has been abscribed to the institutional form, at least what was the case through much of modernity. Jarvis speaks in glowing terms of "education as leisure", noting that whilst one may think of the ivy-league environment, it also was quite democratic, involving a great number of people from working class backgrounds (the history the Mechanics Institute stands as a strong example). The Jary quote is particularly memorable for this liberal-democratic opportunity approach:

"the leisure-centredness of liberal adult education ought not be hidden or apologised for. It should be recognised and its gratification elaborated. It should be seen as a highly distinctive form of leisure."

Moving towards the beginning, the Jarvis article outlines the sort of institutional issues that are part of the contemporary education system in a knowledge society that may not always have the same sort of values that either individual learning or the "education as leisure" notion. This includes, in a positive sense, the need of reflexivity, but also of th market relations (education as commodity), and also as satisfying system integration (education as planning).

The article begins, and this review concludes, with a discussion of contemporary society as highly system-orientated operating through the use of the global market as power, which favours the wealthy: "power, inequality, and social exclusion". Self-education, with its critical spirit and leisure expeirence, is often under-recognised as both the content and the practise does not always satisfy the systematically derived objectives of what education should be.

One is tempted to suggest that either the system will colonise self-education entirely (through reducing the marginal propensity to save, for example) or the self-educated will transform the system!

SL contributed

Can informal workplace learning be an adequate substitute for formal education?

Given some of the readings from the last two weeks, I'm more inclined to ask can formal education be an adequate substitute for workplace learning? I hope that's not derailing your discussion post too much....?

Formal education, in many adult settings, has been chiselled down to only that which can contribute directly to the workplace, to productivity and to the economy. As we saw in the OECD articles (2001, 2002) and Chapman et al (2005), this has become government policy and other articles (Brown 2003, Billett 2010, Olssen 2006, and Jarvis 2004) have sought to highlight what the consequences of this are for workers, for their power relationships, and for learning itself.

In VET training packages (which would be better named assessment packages), most of the units require assessment in the workplace, or in a simulated workplace setting. In many respects, VET training is a substitute (or perhaps, an extension of) for workplace learning. As such, formal education is trying to fulfil a function that is ideally carried out in the workplace. Of course there are many practical reasons why much of this education is not carried out entirely in the workplace, but the upshot is that the kinds of deep thought, critical thinking and creativity which is largely overlooked by the OECD perspective also becomes a casualty in the VET sector. There's a great article by Michael Brown (2000) where he asks the question of VET practitioners, whether they want to be turning out 'architects' or 'bees' as in, workers that are limited to the role fundamentally as technicians (bees) or people equipped to think, challenge, build, create, improve (architects).

To move to the tertiary sector and apply that question to this course at a personal level, the formal learning that I'm getting in this Grad Dip (the concepts, ideas, perspectives etc) while very valuable to me, would never prepare me for teaching in the VET sector as I do. The last 13 years of lecturing and working with students (informal workplace learning) have actually taught me that. Similarly, I wouldn't be getting as much out of this formal learning as I am, were it not for all the informal learning that I've done. So, I guess the informal learning is what I've needed. The formal education is only useful because of it.

But ultimately, it's all the aspects of both learning and education which are devalued by such an economic view of education that concerns me the most. So to return to your question, it's formal education which can, to the extent that it's removed from economic/productitivity imperatives, provide a different type of education (and learning?) that perhaps the workplace cannot - challenging conceptions, assumptions, power dynamics, values and fostering a different type of creativity, critical analysis and reflection that is not a priority in the workplace paradigm.

Brown, M. (2000) Work-related learning and changing the nature of work, AVETRA Conference 2001 (Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association). Retrieved from 14th Aug 2013