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LL Theory Camp preparation takes off – Part Three: Reviewing the heritage of Work Process Knowledge network

March 23rd, 2014 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posts I have informed how that preparations of the Learning Layers (LL)  Theory Camp started as a Central Initiative (Part One) and as our local measures (Part Two). In this post I will have a closer look at one of the themes we have been working with – reviewing the heritage of the Work Process Knowledge network. As our gDrive folder (see https://drive.google.com/#folders/0B02cXf0hbQH0UDl1bmlJdjdhc2c) contains a lot of documents I will make only some introductory remarks to the theme and to the different working documents. At the end I will summarise some conclusions for the LL  project.

 1. Starting point

The more recent theories and conceptual constructs indicated in the LL deliverables  refer to certain aspects of learning or knowledge processes. However, there is also a need to review more comprehensive approaches to learning in workplace contexts that date back to earlier years. In this respect the ITB team in the LL project has taken the task to review the interdisciplinary research on Work Process Knowledge (WPK) and Organisational Learning. In this way the ITB team seeks to build a link to European research that was funded under the FP4 (Targeted Socio- Economic Research) and FP5 (Improving Human Potential).

The WPK network represented a Europe-wide effort to develop a comprehensive and interdisciplinary research agenda. In this context particular disciplines and national research traditions were contributing to shared knowledge development on work processes. The WPK network and the follow-up project analysed the introduction of  ICT at an early stage of innovations. At that time the solutions to be developed and studied were mainly domain-specific and organisational innovations. Also, at that time the possibilities for user-involvement and participative design processes were seen in narrower contexts.

2. Interim products

So far we have produced the following commentaries  or overviews  on the approach and the work of the WPK network (see the sub-folder for Working Documents https://drive.google.com/#folders/0B02cXf0hbQH0VjB6ckRyTGd2ZTA):

a) Commentary I on theoretical foundations of Work Process Knowledge – interim synthesis MF-NB: This document gives a picture on the emergence of the concept ‘work process knowledge’ in different studies, on changes in working life. It also makes transparent the critique that the network presented on allegedly one-sided approaches to socio-technical innovations. Finally it gives a picture on the positioning of the network regarding the role of vocational education and training (VET) as contributor to innovations in working life. (The reference text of this document is the synthesis article of M. Fischer and N. Boreham, 2004.)

 b) Commentary II on empirical studies of Work Process Knowledge – interim synthesis MF-NB: This document gives a picture on empirical and co-shaping studies carried out by the network. The range of studies is from ‘basic research’ on informal learning and learning potentials on workplace to programmatic and development-oriented studies based on the concept ‘vocational professionalism’ (Beruflichkeit). (The reference text of this document is the synthesis article of M. Fischer and N. Boreham, 2004.)

c) Overview: Conceptualising Work Process Knowledge – Implications for VET: This document draws upon the two above mentioned commentaries. It brings into conclusion different threads that were followed in the two commentaries and makes more explicit the conclusions for the LL project.

3. Lessons learned

The importance of the contribution of the Work Process Knowledge Network for the LL project: can be characterised as follows

a) Specifying the relations between informal learning and formal education/training

A key feature in the critique of the Work Process Knowledge network vis-à-vis the alternative positions was that the latter ones either

a) reduced vocational and work-related learning into proceduralised and popularised version of codified expert knowledge or

b) overemphasised the situated and intra-organisational character of such knowledge and learning (without taking into account ‘external’ and long-term influences).

b) Linking the role of ‘social’ and ‘technical’ in socio-technical innovations

Another key feature in the critique of the Work Process Knowledge was that the alternative positions either

a) reduced technical innovations in working life into mere implementation (technology-push) of the allegedly innovative technologies or

b) narrowed down the role participative co-shaping (by skilled workers) as activities of the (immediate) communities of practice in intra-organisational contexts.

c) Specifying the role of research in participative design & implementation processes

The theoretical and methodological discussions in the Work Process Knowledge network paved the way for research designs and modes of conceptualisation that both

a) required co-participative and co-shaping involvement of researchers in processes that promoted technical and/or organisational changes (with the support of skilled workers) and

b) enabled the documentation and conceptualisation of critical incidents, eventual tensions, turning points and eventual reorientations without losing the overview on the process.

d) Making use of a holistic view on work process knowledge and workplace learning

The critique of the Work Process Knowledge network vis-à-vis the alternative approaches has not been merely a matter of academic perfectionism but a challenge to get a holistic view that

a) gives an adequate interpretation of the acquisition of work process knowledge (and of the role of workplace learning as integral part of sustainable innovations in working life;

b) gives guidance for promoting organisational learning with relevant tools, arrangements and facilitation that make it possible to transfer and scale up the innovations.

 I guess this is enough of this theme for the moment. There are still some contributions on the pipeline.

More posts to come …

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