No Organisation Is An Island

No organisation sits in isolation, each will to some extent impact on and be impacted by wider external forces. Each workplace forming part of a wider ‘productive system’ within which varying “bureaucratic regulations, partnership agreements, financial contracts, ideological commitments” (Felstead et al., 2009: 23) will exert an influence over what, when and how learning takes place within an organisation. Fuller et al. (2003) similarly agree that externally imposed performance measures have a considerable effect on learning. The notion here is that no organisation is an island, and as such organisations need to be aware and responsive to the relationships that reside in their ‘productive system’ (Felstead et al. 2009), capitalising on opportunities to refine how they learn in order to improve/increase/develop how they produce and supply their commodities and services.

For an organisation to be able to respond to the demands of such a system, there is a need to offer flexible ‘expansive’ (Fuller and Unwin; 2004) learning opportunities, that support and promote agile business practices. An example of the impact that wider contextual pressures can place on an organisations’ learning can be seen within the Social Housing Sector. Welfare reforms in the UK have seen many social housing providers developing unique learning opportunities to navigate their localised challenges. These learning challenges are not just applicable to the housing provider’s employees; they also impact their customers who may be faced with under occupancy problems or increasing debt. The impact of welfare reform is of course an extreme example, but the underlying factor is that businesses need to understand what learning approach works for their organisation and customer base to enable both to adapt and learn; by providing and promoting ‘expansive’ (Fuller and Unwin 2004) learning opportunities, organisations are more likely to be able to demonstrate the agility required to be successful, as opposed to those that rigidly promote one learning approach to the detriment of the other (EG fomal versus informal learning).

Now, more so that ever, it is worth considering all learning the learning options you have available for your colleagues, how do they tie in and support each other? How does one programme feed into the next (both same group development or cross cohort/function/role development)? Think of your business as a whole, each part contributing and impacting the next; include your customers and suppliers in your thoughts – what can they do to support and help your learning interventions? Holistic thinking such as this takes time, but pays back far greater rewards with a well prepared, well informed and agile workforce.


Felstead, A., Fuller, A., Jewson, N. and Unwin, L. (2009) Improving Working as Learning: ‘Mapping the Working as Learning Framework’, pp. 17-36. Abingdon: Routledge

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.

Fuller, A., Ashton, D., Felstead. A., Unwin, L., Walters, S. and Quinn, M (2003) The Impact of Informal Learning at Work on Business Productivity. London: Department for Trade and Industry.