What is workplace learning to me?

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So it’s time to start preparing for my progress review, in more detail it is called an RD4. This is the determination of thesis topic review so I will need to know what I am going to do and why… and then write this in a nice 5 page document to present to the ‘panel’.

As part of my RD4 proposal, the most obvious thing that I will need to do is present my literature review. This is not an easy task for me as I have not written academically for a few years, and when I have, it has always had input from someone else so it has been a collaboration. Well anyway, from October (when I started) until now, I have written something. That something is going to help me shape my literature review and they have acted as tasks to help me learn about my own writing style.

More importantly, writing literature documents this early means I can get feedback on my writing, no matter how bad it is. I don’t think my writing is horrific but my supervisor has given me some really helpful feedback in order to help adapt my writing style to make it more academic as well as give me some more practical support in terms of structure and so on. This is really important early on in research. Get as much feedback as possible so that you know where you are going wrong and can make efforts to improve it. For this, I am forever grateful to my supervisor as it is the first time that someone has sat down and mentored me on my own writing style without just correcting me.

So what does this have to do with workplace learning I hear you ask? Well, everything. I downloaded an article a few days ago that explains that doctoral courses are workplace learning, specifically in the science and research areas. Well hurrah! I have not read the article yet, but I can see it point. As a ‘trainee researcher’ I am learning about the practice of researching and also what needs to be done in order to make a piece of research your own. I need to know how it is done in an academic sense, not only to enable me to produce my 80,000 word thesis, but also allow me to strive for perfection once I am finished and are on the hunt for my first post-doctoral job. I am using the Research Degrees Framework to understand what skills and competencies are necessary and hopefully by the end of my journey I will have developed these skills through my own process of evaluation and reflection.

Anyway, my task for now is to put all of my research into the literature review plan that was written in my last supervision meeting. To me (at that time), that was a very daunting task. I did not know if I could do all that was asked and I certainly did not have any confidence in my abilities to write an actual literature review. I can honestly say, that was officially the scariest supervision meeting so far as I now have a piece of research!! However, I took my supervisor’s marking of my previous work and put this in a word document for future reference, I planned out all of my tasks, giving priority to the ones that were most immediate and set the foundations for future work. I actually scheduled time in my calendar to sit down and do certain asks and made myself a little to-do list so that I knew what I was doing. This was me accepting my supervisor’s challenge. This was me getting my crap together! Normally a task like this would have freaked me out but for some reason this one has not. Maybe it could be because I know how big the task is or maybe because I know I am working towards a goal (a 3 year goal technically), either way I found a way of coping with a lot of work and for me it is so far working *fingers crossed*.

So from my research writing today, I do have a few points to note about what workplace learning is and how this related to my own current experience:

Many researchers have different ideas and different opinions on what workplace learning is, but it does have some important themes to consider:

  • It takes place in the workplace, not in an education setting. However, this could mean that it could be in the form of an employee in their own workplace, a student on placement within an organisation or even something like an apprenticeship whereby it is a combination of work and study. For my research, I am in a workplace setting. Although I am a student, I am learning about research development and practice and simultaneously developing my own research skills for that all important end-date.
  • There are different forms of workplace learning, both formal and informal. I feel that I have both.
  • Formal workplace learning are things like training where someone demonstrates a skills or explains about a topic, then teaches this to the employees. The employees them attempt to take this on board and are sometimes examined on their learning. Aspects of formal learning could be training, formal mentoring and reviews that help employees lean the skills necessary for their role. My formal workplace learning comes in the form of scheduled training and activities that are set. The rest I feel is not so formal.
  • Informal learning is the complete opposite and involves interaction and knowledge sharing. Employees may wish to learn new things through other employees and interact in order to do this. Things like networking, coaching, mentoring and peer discussions are all forms of informal leaning and sometimes it can be unintended and not initiated by the employer. My supervisors act as mentors in that they are coaching me on what to do and what is best. I can turn to them for support, regardless of what that support could be. For me, it is that interaction that is most important. If my supervisors were not approachable, if I could not go to them with issues, if they were blank, then this would hinder my own ability to interact with them and from that all important supervisor—student relationship that many PhD students fall with.
  • The type of workplace learning depends on a) what the employee needs to learn – in my case, it is what part of the research I am addressing next, b) what the organisation does about it – the organisation means me and c) whether learning takes place at all – for me learning is currently taking place and is doing so constantly. Whether it is formal or informal, the process of reflection is key. How else are you going to know if you have learned something without going back and evaluating what the process was?

So all in all, I am on a workplace learning journey myself and this is a continuous journey involving so much more than I could have thought. I am working towards making myself a competent researcher, who has developed all of the skills needed. Each domain in the Research Development Framework is an area for progression and the only way I can progress is if I learn from my experiences and make improvements.

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