The role of work experience in successful adult learning is a recurrent topic of professional discussion. In their article, Guile and Griffiths (2001) provide the detailed review of what experience is, how it works in different work contexts, and how students learn and expand their practical knowledge through work experience.
The authors state that the two main trends of work experience and learning are being discussed in European literature: the first one discusses work experiences of younger students (14-18) as a part of full-time education; the second one is about work experiences in countries with well-developed VET systems, in which apprenticeships serve an alternative to the basic education (Guile & Griffiths 2001). Guile and Griffiths (2001) state that the time has come to reassess the relationship between education and work experience and provide a brief discussion of the concept of “context” and several models of learning through work experience.
The article contributes to the understanding of learning in work settings in several ways. First, the work context is not static but an ever evolving combination of conditions and objects (Guile & Griffiths 2001). The changes in context prioritize learning and knowledge sharing and expand the definition of skill (Guile & Griffiths 2001). Second, work contexts make it possible for individuals to learn and develop through contact with more experienced others (Guile & Griffiths 2001).
Finally, earlier approaches to workplace learning are no longer workable: the authors discuss traditional, experiental, generic, work process, and connectivity models of learning through work experience (Guile & Griffiths 2001). These models reconceptualize learning through work experience in several different ways. Guile and Griffiths (2001) suggest the last, connective model of learning through work experience be the one to provide a new curriculum framework and more effective connections between formal and informal learning.
Learning through work settings: andragogy vs. pedagogy What Guile and Griffiths (2001) discuss in their article presents a unique combination of andragogy and pedagogy. Although Guile and Griffiths (2001) do not mention the word “andragogy” and emphasize the relevance of pedagogic approaches to work experience, the features of adult learning are being present in all learning models. Guile and Griffiths (2001) discuss the models and approaches that are based on need; they are problem-centered, respective to job, collaborative, and mutual between facilitator and learner. These are the features of adult learning which Podsen (2002) discusses in her book.
Simultaneously, the process of learning through work experience is not self-directed but is linked to the curriculum, sequenced in terms of content and subject matter and designed to enhance and speed up the transmittal of skills, experience, and information (Podsen, 2002). Although learning through work experience provides students with some degree of autonomy, work experience, according to Guile and Griffiths (2001) is still a part of the academic and vocational programs, which are both directed and evaluated by teachers.
Nevertheless, work experience provides better knowledge sharing opportunities compared with the traditional pedagogic approaches to learning. Work experience and work context enable the development and maintenance of arrangements between workplaces and educational institutions (Guile & Griffiths 2001). These models do not simply allow schools and agencies to manage these arrangement more effectively but turn into a valuable extension of traditional school and college curriculums.
Unfortunately, pedagogy tends to limit resources available through work experiences and often views work contexts as stable and static. To raise the efficiency of work experiences and learning in work contexts, educational and HR professionals must be open to the benefits of adult learning, which would make learning in workplace settings more flexible, practical, and relevant. The traditional model of work experience In their article, Guile and Griffiths (2001) provide a brief discussion of the traditional model of work experience.
The legacy of traditional models of learning through work experience is evident through the prism of traditional apprenticeship programs and general education curriculums in Europe (Guile & Griffiths 2001). Until recently, the basic apprenticeship programs in workplace environments have been designed to help students mould their skills in practical contexts; as a result, the traditional model of work experience emphasized the assimilation and adaptation as the two basic features of education and training (Guile & Griffiths 2001).
Today, traditional models of work experience are fairly regarded as a form of the “launch” perspective on the interaction between learning and workplace settings – traditional models of work experience help to understand and predict what individuals will choose to do in each particular work situation (Guile & Griffiths 2001). Professionals in education and HR specialists can apply to traditional work experience models, in order to set the necessary trajectory of later learning (Guile & Griffiths 2001). Traditional models of work experience can be used to launch students into the real world of work (Guile & Griffiths 2001).
Unfortunately, the vision of work experience as the “launch” into later workplace learning leaves little or no room for determining how students will develop at the later stages of workplace learning (Guile & Griffiths 2001). Traditional models of work experience present few or no opportunities to reframe their content and to make them more flexible and adaptable to the workplace needs of students. Work experience: possible problems and barriers The lack of content reframing opportunities is not the only problem with traditional models of work experience.
In their article, Guile & Griffiths (2001) omit considerable information about what barriers students can meet in their way to learning from traditional workplace contexts. First of all, Guile and Griffiths (2001) speak about the traditional workplace model as the “launch” perspective on learning in workplace contexts. Yet, the authors do not write anything about whether students are prepared to be in workplace environments and what must they must do to integrate with the learning atmosphere in the workplace. Second, the question is in how students will adjust to the contrast between familiar school environments and workplace experiences.
Third, Kolb’s model of experiental learning could add value to the traditional model of work experience by providing teachers and HR professionals with a better understanding of students’ learning styles. Students that engage in workplace learning can be activists, reflectors, theorists, and pragmatists (Atherton, 2009). The significance of each particular learning style is in trying to help teachers and students to adjust to their personal and learning peculiarities and the features of their learning style (Atherton, 2009).
Obviously, professional negligence to learning style differences can become a major barrier to effective learning. Unfortunately, in their discussion of the traditional model of work experience Guile and Griffiths (2001) do not mention any of these potential problems. To make the traditional learning model adaptable, flexible, and workable, HR professionals must account for these personal and learning differences, to ensure that they can set the necessary trajectory of learning at later stages of work experience.
Still, the traditional model in ways Guile and Griffiths (2001) discuss it could be of value to HR professionals, who support the development of a ‘learning organization’. The traditional model of work experience and a ‘learning organization’ “A learning organization needs people who are intellectually curious about their work, who actively reflect on their experience, who develop experience-based theories of change and continuously test these in practice” (Serrat, 2009). Experience is critical for the success of all learning initiatives in organizations.
In this sense, the traditional model of work experience can set the pace and the direction of learning in organizations. HR professionals can apply to the traditional model to ‘launch’ students and to help them integrate with the new workplace environment. The traditional model can set the stage for developing experience-based theories and initiatives at the later stages of learning and to make practitioners more reflective. The traditional model can also help HR specialists learn more about students and their first successes at work, to be able to adjust their learning styles and preferences to the specific needs of the workplace.
All these actions will benefit and favor learning in organizations. The traditional model can become an invaluable source of knowledge about learning, which HR professionals will use to develop more effective learning strategies to be used in their organizations. Conclusion Work experience provides students with valuable learning opportunities. Organizations and education professionals step away from the traditional “static” vision of workplace contexts and position work as a flexible and ever-changing source of practical knowledge.
In their article, Guile and Griffiths (2001) discuss a number of work experience models. The traditional model, according to Guile and Griffiths (2001), gives education professionals a chance to set the needed learning trajectory and redirect individuals toward the desired learning goals. However, education and HR specialists must account for the learning style differences and support students, as they are trying to adjust to unfamiliar workplace environments. Otherwise, HR professionals would not be able to use the traditional model for the benefit of learning in organizations.