Nice work


I’m at the Eden 2008 conference in Lisbon. Alan Tait, our Pro Vice Chancellor, for Curriculum and Awards gave a thought provoking keynote yesterday at the Eden Conference in Lisbon, focusing on the relationship between education and work. Steve Wheeler has also blogged about this on the conference blog. Alan adopted a broad notion of the concept of work – beyond simply the formal, paid work context, citing parenting, caring for the elderly, and voluntary work activities as examples. alan tait His central theme was the interconnectedness of learning and work. He posed the question “Where do we learn and how do we learn?” Arguing for the importance and indeed centrality of learning at, through and in work. He argued forcibly and convincingly that work was central to human experience, to our core identity and that it defines our relationship with our environment. Given this stance he argued that the focus on ‘training’ with respect to learning in the workplace was an inadequate perspective, and that although the development of skills and competences were clearly important, it was important to adopt a more person-centred, holistic approach to learning at work. He described the current developments in this area in the UK and in particular the shift in recent years towards more of a focus on “Employer engagement”; a shift which now requires a qualitatively different relationship between universities and employers. This engagement will require universities to work more actively with employers to understand who they are and what they want and similarly for employers to work more in partnership with universities. One of the core policy documents in relation to this agenda is the much quoted and far sighted Leith review of skills, which includes ambitious targets for realising this vision - including a target of 40% of working population to have under graduate qualifications by 2020. He suggested that distance education and elearning has much to offer in terms of facilitating this process – enabling learning to occur in situ, in the workplace, rather than being seen as a set of isolated, separate activities. 

Alan drew on the work of Richard Sennett quoting from his recent book “The craftsman” (Sennett, 2008), in which Sennett takes the concept of craftsman and puts it in modern context. Alan drew out five main themes from Sennett:

    • The importance of tacit knowledge in the workplace
    • The notion of “workshop” as a metaphor
    • That skills and crafts are about more than the skills agenda
    • Support of the craft as opportunity and obligation for education
    • The false opposition of physical and mental work

David LodgeHe then talked about one of my favourite books! “Nice work” by David Lodge, which is absolutely hilarious. The book beautifully draws out the clash between the world of education and the workplace. It focuses on two characters - a feminist university lecturer and a tough Northern factory manager - who are forced, through some misguided government scheme, to enter each others’ worlds. Of course misunderstanding and stereotyping is rife throughout the book, but it also makes some more subtle points about human nature and different cultural contexts. Alan concluded by arguing that elearning can and should provide a bridge between these two worlds and gave some examples of how the Open University is addressing this.


2 Responses to “Nice work”

  1. Sarah Stewart Says:

    Thanks for this post. It has taken my own thinking about workplace learning one step further. I have been thinking about my so-called PLE and thinking that I don’t have separate work and other learning or activities, that they are all interconnected now. Where I run into problems, is working with health professionals to engage with social networking as a means of learning. And they don’t like to ‘learn’ or rather taker part in work-related activites (like read a blog by a nurse/midwife) outside work hours.

  2. Gráinne Says:

    Hi Sarah nice to hear from you - yes i agree i thought it was a thought provoking talk and a good way of thinking about things. It fits much more with the reality of modern existence and i think the idea of closer genuine partnership between different stakeholders is key.

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