How many of you have asked the question the above question of your place of work? Well as learning professionals I’m sure many of you have (I’m giving you the credit even if you haven’t…I’m sure the question was just waiting to be asked); how many of your colleagues who don’t reside in your learning function do you think have asked the same or a similar question? Probably more than you think.
Fuller and Unwin’s (2004) expansive and restrictive framework provides a means of reviewing an organisations approach to, and quality of, the learning opportunities they provide to employees. By definition a restrictive approach provides limited access to, and variety of, learning opportunities; in contrast to an expansive path which “foster a wide array of formal, non-formal and informal approaches to and opportunities for learning” (Ahlgren & Tett 2010: 20). Ahlgren & Tett establish a link between the individual, the organisation’s culture and the activities employees engage in. They identify the important role that individual disposition towards learning plays in affecting the success or otherwise of learning approaches. In the UK we are all fortunate enough to have had access to formal learning experiences, but fundamentally each of us will have a different interpretation as to whether this experience was positive or negative. Research (Coetzer 2007) suggests that individuals who historically engage positively with formal education environments, view formal learning opportunities in the workplace more favourably. Those with a negative experience of formal education can be supported back into learning “by building on the tacit knowledge that people have of their workplace practices that has been gained through simply doing the job” (Ahlgren & Tett 2010: 25), in which informal and non-formal learning will play a pivotal role. The crucial point here is that all organisations are likely to have employees whose preference for formal, informal or both sit across all camps, and as such the onus is on the organisation to be aware of these differing preferences and provide a range of learning opportunities that will suit varying learner dispositions within their organisation; “the approach should not be to impose learning but to encourage it” (CLMS). An individual’s socio-historic self (Billet 2008) and their learner identity (Ahlgren & Tett 2010) are in constant flux, organisations must be aware of this and offer learning opportunities reflective of this, only then can they be said to be taking an expansive approach to learning (Fuller and Unwin 2004).
Ahlgren, A. and Tett, L. (2010) ‘Work-based Learning, Identity and Organisational Culture’, Studies in Continuing Education 32(1): 17-27.
Coetzer, A. (2007) ‘Employee Perceptions of their Workplaces as Learning Environments’, Journal of Workplace Learning 19 (7): 417-434
CLMS (2012) MSc in Human Resource Management and Development, Module 1. Leicester:
Centre for Labour Market Studies.
Fuller, A. and Unwin, L. (2004) ‘Expansive Learning Environments: Integrating Organisational and Personal Development’, in H. Rainbird, A. Fuller and A. Munro (eds.) Workplace Learning in Context, pp. 126-144. London: Routledge.