Helen Palmer (nice_cup_of_tea) wrote,
Helen Palmer

Supportive and Inhibiting Factors

Hurrah! Another section finished. Just the Elias section to edit and then I can send off the literature review :-)

Supportive and Inhibiting Factors
Having examined theoretical frameworks of induction, this section examines the factors which support or inhibit the newcomer on their path to full community membership. Lave & Wenger argue that learning is the inevitable result of participation in a community, whilst Elias explores the power chances and tension within groups of interdependent people. It is not surprising that there is " (…) conflict between the forces that support processes of learning and those that work against them" (Lave and Wenger 1991: 57). The factors discussed are my conceptualisations of the supporting and inhibiting forces present in the literature.

There appears to be three major enabling factors: direct guidance from colleagues, indirect workplace guidance and language. Guidance from workplace members can be formalised in the role of the master, or may be support from other workplace participants. The traditional apprentice and master relationship provides newcomers with access to a workplace and its associated learning opportunities. Apprentices learn by doing, practising skills within the workplace and using the master as a role model (Guile and Young 1998: 77). There is no automatic access to formalised teaching or assessment (Jordan 1989: 934) and the apprentice must learn to get 'teaching' from the master or other experienced journeymen (Becker 1972: 96). Within the community of practice, the master grants legitimate access to the community of practice, but does not actively instruct newcomers. "If masters don't teach, they embody practice at its fullest in the community of practice" (Lave and Wenger 1991: 85). The master supports learning by acting as role model and gatekeeper to the community.

Outside the apprenticeship model, the master’s role is taken by workplace experts (Billett 2001a: 112). These experts direct the learner to the appropriate level of task, guard them against inappropriate or dangerous knowledge, and grant them access to 'hidden' knowledge, such as tricks of the trade. Learning from co-workers often occurs indirectly. Newcomers listen to and observe experienced workers in order to understand the goals and processes of workplace tasks (ibid: 32, 80). Learning from colleagues is partly dependant on the culture of the workplace. The art and history departments in Hodkinson and Hodkinson's secondary school study (2003a and 2003b) were characterised by their stability and co-operative atmospheres. The colloborative working culture of these "communities of practice" enabled teachers, novice and experienced, to support and learn from each other.

The workplace provides indirect guidance for learning in two ways, firstly by providing a completed template as a visual goal for learners (Billett 2001a: 36). The 'higher height formal suit' (Lave and Wenger 1991: 71) represented the goal for the tailors’ apprentices. Their learning tasks and skills led towards producing such a garment, whilst the finished example provided a quality check for their own work (Billett 2001a: 36). Secondly, visual and contextual clues are apparent in many workplaces. A warehouse worker used her workplace as a library of pallet packing combinations. Faced with a difficult packing task, her environment enabled her to find a solution (Billett 2001a: 36).

Language is as an enabling factor, used as both a signal of identity and as a reflexive tool. Cain (in Lave and Wenger 1991: 82) argues that language is used within Alcoholics Anonymous to construct life stories. These stories help participants to rebuild their identities as recovering alcoholics. Learning a new identity not only involves learning to talk as full participant but also learning when to be silent within the community (Jordan 1989 in Lave and Wenger 1991: 105). This is relevant to Samaritan volunteers who learn to support callers thorugh listening rather than talking.

Language allows participants to reflect on their learning (Weick and Westley 1995 in Richter 1998: 303). Stories or narratives become "packages of situated knowledge" (Lave and Wenger 1991: 108) which participants share with each other, thereby extending their understanding of the practice. James' 1997 study of tradespeople retraining as teachers, featured a story about an individual in the midst of a career transition. The narrative became a mediating technology on the process of becoming a teacher (James 1997: 206) and helped participants to tell their stories and to reflect critically on their career transitions. As for the recovering alcoholics, these stories helped participants to develop their identities as teachers and to signal their participation within a new community of practice (James 1997: 207).

Whilst Lave and Wenger promote legitimate peripherality as a path to more intensive participation within the community, they also accept also that the reverse is true. Peripherality can dis-empower by denying access (Lave and Wenger 1991: 36). Learning is not inevitable and can be adversely affected by inhibiting factors internal and external to the work context. These factors include organisational pressures, inequality of participation and co-workers.

Becker (1972: 97-99) argues that organisational constraints affected apprentices' access to the full range of activities necessary to learn the job. The butcher apprentices (Marshall 1972) were prevented from learning meat-cutting skills because commercial pressures restricted them to simple, unskilled tasks such as wrapping meat. They were physically removed them from the activities of the community of practice and prevented them from watching and learning from other experienced workers.
The commoditization of labor can transform apprentices into a cheap source of unskilled labour, put to work in ways that deny them access to activities in the arena of mature practice (Lave and Wenger 1991: 76).

Lave and Wenger take a traditional Marxist view of labour relations. Apprentices are denied access to learning because capital, in the form of the enterprise, values their present day unskilled labour over their future skilled ability. Fuller, Hodkinson, Hodkinson and Unwin's 2005 study of modern apprenticeships in three companies support this contention. The steel polishing apprentices (Company B) experienced "restrictive participation" in their workplace (Fuller and Unwin 2003). They were denied access to other communities of practice and their apprenticeship was short lived and narrow in focus. The apprentices' learning was inhibited by the company's need to transform them into productive workers as quickly as possible.

Barriers to learning are not just apparent in the capital labour conflict, but are also evident in the conflict between workers. Billett (2001a, 2001b) argues that the workplace environment consists of conflictual relationships between groups of workers: old-timers versus newcomers, full-time versus part-time, workers versus management for example (2001b: 24). Although learning at work is inevitable and ongoing, it is selective and contested (ibid: 20). Factors of gender, race and employment status contribute to the unequal distribution of learning amongst workers.

Furthermore, members of the workplace may actively or passively prevent co-workers from learning. Participation with experienced workers in the workplace does not guarantee that 'correct' learning will take place. "Learning that might be considered undesirable and inappropriate is not quarantined in some way in the workplace" (Billett 2001a: 84). Learning from others has the potential to transmit incorrect or incomplete knowledge. Co-workers may transmit unsafe working practices or show newcomers the quickest, rather than the correct, way to do a task (Billett 2001a: 84). Furthermore, experienced co-workers may not wish to share their knowledge through fear of displacement by the newcomer (Lave & Wenger 1991).

Finally, barriers to learning can occur within the individual, between their identity and participation. Hodges (1998: 289) argues that legitimate peripheral participation can entail the loss of certain identities, particularly if the learner's membership of multiple communities contains tension. Conflict between Hodge's professional identity and her sexuality caused 'dis-participation', a rift between her activities and relations of participation in the community (1998: 273). Given the close links between learning, identity and membership, dis-participation inhibits the individuals’s ability and desire to learn within that community of practice.

Many of the factors analysed both inhibit and support the learning of newcomers. Participation within a group enables members to observe the work of others and to access the community's resources, but can also cause a loss of personal identity. Co-workers can provide expert guidance, but they may also share incorrect learning or decide to withhold knowledge. The ambiguity inherent in these supportive and inhibiting factors is reflected in the unusual nature of the Samaritan workplace.

Tags: research

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