Making the Most of Workplace Learning
In these next sections we will explore further the implications arising from these ideas and consider how they can help you develop your approaches to supporting workplace learning.
Creating the right conditions for workplace learning
Learners who are made to feel welcome are more likely to actively engage in the full range of learning opportunities provided and to seek to play an active role in the team. Billet (2002) suggests that the ‘invitational qualities of the workplace’ can be seen as the ways in which the workplace provides and supports learning from work activity. Billett argues that these invitational qualities or ‘affordances’ are far from benign, as they shape all opportunities to engage and are unequally distributed. Affordances can be shaped, for example, by learner prior experience, stage in training, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background and apparent differences in motivation, enthusiasm or interest. For example, male learners on obstetrics and gynaecology attachments may be afforded fewer opportunities to participate than their female peers, affecting examination performance and career choices made (see Higham and Steer, 2004). More senior learners, especially when they are coming up to examinations or final assessments, are often prioritised over more junior learners. Quieter or less assertive learners may need more help and support to identify and seize learning opportunities than their peers; learners from some professions (such as medicine) might be privileged over others, for example when ‘competing’ to undertake practical procedures.
Consider your own workplace and how ‘newcomers’ are made to feel welcome. Do you always know their preferred form of address and do you use it? Do they have somewhere to store their personal effects? Are they invited to join you for coffee or lunch? Are they given opportunities to get to know all members of the team – medical, nursing, healthcare and support staff – and to appreciate the role they play in patient care? Are you confident that your workplace affordances are equally distributed? Do you need to encourage more women or men into your profession? Do you need to find ways to engage less confident or vocal learners?