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Theoretical bases for researching learning at work

The theoretical bases outlined here is not a comprehensive listing, rather it reflects those theories that a group of TLRP researchers thought it might be helpful to look at when examining research on learning in and through work. It is also important to note the grouping of particular concepts and how concepts relate to broader perspectives, for example associated with gender. However, the task here is simply to investigate further a small number of the theoretical bases considered useful by TLRP researchers in this programme area - this is an unusual exercise in that it is more usual to focus this type of activity solely at the project level. However, we felt it may be of some value to look a variety of theoretical bases that could be used to underpin research in this area:

  • Activity theory
  • Actor network theory
  • Socio-cultural practice theory
  • Multi-lens perspective
  • Labour process theory
  • Sociol-cultural linguistics
  • Organisational learning
  • Knowledge development/management
  • Socio-psychological constructivist
  • Post-structuralist

Often projects mentioned there theoretical frameworks within publications with another substantive focus, but some TLRP projects did discuss these issues at some length. For example, Michael Eraut (2004) has produced a paper on Informal Learning in the Workplace that focused mainly on theoretical frameworks for understanding and investigating informal learning in the workplace, which have been developed through a series of large and small scale projects. Two types of framework are discussed. The first group seek to deconstruct the “key concepts” of informal learning, learning from experience, tacit knowledge, transfer of learning and intuitive practice to disclose the range of different phenomena that are embraced by these popular terms. The second group are frameworks for addressing the three central questions that pervaded the research programme; what is being learned, how is it being learned, and what are the factors that influence the level and directions of the learning effort. Alison Fuller and collegues (2005) examine 'Who Learns What at Work?' address questions of 'what' is learned and what different groups of workers need to know in order to do their jobs. Some other TLRP contributions that touch upon theoretical bases of research are given in the right column.


Pat Sikes (2007) Auto/biographical and narrative approaches.

Daniel Bishop et al. (2006) Connecting Culture and Learning in Organisations:
A Review of Current Themes
, Learning as Work Research Paper, No. 5.

Daniels, H., and Warmington P. (2007) Analysing third generation activity systems: labour-power, subject position and personal transformation, Journal of Workplace Learning Vol. 19, No. 6, pp. 377 – 391.

Daniels, H. (2006) Analysing institutional effects in Activity Theory: First steps in the development of a language of description, Outlines: Critical Social Studies, 2006 (2), 43-58.