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Some key concepts and their implications

If we look at the writing of socio-cultural theorists like Wenger (1997), Lave and Wenger (2003), Billett (2002) and those who have argued for greater attention to these models of learning (such as Bleakley, 2002 and 2005; and Swanwick, 2005) it is possible to draw out some key ideas and their implications for those who support workplace-based learning.

1 Learning is part of everyday social practice.

Implication: we need to make learning opportunities more explicit to ourselves and to our learners. We also need to make explicit specific workplace cultures and practices to help students and trainees ‘make sense’ of what they see, hear, sense and do.

2 Teams are ‘communities of practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 2003) identified and defined by their shared expertise, e.g. in managing patients or teaching students.

Implication: we need to involve the whole team in supporting student/trainee learning.

3 Novices become experts through participation in these communities of practice.

Implication: we need to consider the ways in which we can meaningfully involve our students and trainees in workplace activity.

4 Workplaces don’t always readily invite learners in and don’t always offer equal opportunities to all learners (Billett, 2002).

Implication: we need to consider how we create the right conditions for learning to take place in our workplace and to ensure certain students or groups of students/trainees are not inadvertently disadvantaged.

5 Horizontal learning is as important as vertical learning in the workplace (Griffiths and Guile, 1999).

Implication: we need to help trainees take what they know already and use it to make sense of what they see, hear, sense and do.

6 ‘Talk’ is a central part of practice – learners need to ‘learn to talk their way into expertise’ rather than just learn from the talk of an expert (Lave and Wenger, 2003).

Implication: we need to find strategies to help our students and trainees talk themselves into the expertise, by using techniques such as ‘thinking aloud’ and case-based discussion.

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