The challenges of learning in the workplace

Andrew Boswell gives an overview of critical pedagogy.

For those practising within education, the challenge of an appropriate model of design, delivery and assessment has been a long-standing one since Malcolm Knowles (1913 – 1997) promoted the alternative approach of andragogy and educationalists began to apply its principles to adult, further and higher education environments.

For those responsible for the delivery of education and training to employees however – practising within neither traditional compulsory education or optional further education – identification of an appropriate educational approach to adopt with learners remains difficult.

Originally termed by the German educationalist Alexander Kapp, Knowles recognised the learning of adults as fundamentally different to that of children, with his initial 1968 article highlighting the life experience, self-direction, and the practical, problem-based approach to education and training which younger learners may lack.

As with traditional pedagogy, it remains a seminal model continuing into the initial teacher training programmes of today. However, the very nature of workplace or organisational education will typically be functional in nature, with protocol, policy or legal statute dictating content as fact, and practical applications of performance or competence which may be non-negotiable for the employee.

For those responsible for the delivery of education and training to employees, identification of an appropriate educational approach to adopt with learners remains difficult.

In this sense, this specialist area of education and training – despite having an adult learner audience – arguably remains more allied to the directional, educator-led style of traditional pedagogy.

For those practitioners needing to both appeal to and respect adult learners whilst simultaneously tasked with the delivery of compulsory subject matter, the third way offered by critical pedagogy may offer a solution to this conflict.

Drawing on his experiences of class and economic hardship in his home nation of Brazil, 1968 saw the publication of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by educationalist Paulo Freire, with the author becoming a key figure within the alternative approach of critical pedagogy.

Instead of what he considered the banking model of traditional pedagogy, whereby the teacher fills an empty student with facts akin to coins into a piggy bank, Freire promoted the importance of learners who question and challenge existing and accepted knowledge, in turn developing a new, shared understanding.

While its links to societal structure and identity cannot be disregarded, critical pedagogy is greater than its origins in social reform, with Giroux (2011) suggesting “it is also about encouraging students to take risks, act on their sense of social responsibility, and engage the world as an object of both critical analysis and hopeful transformation” (p.14).

Within the workplace educational setting, it is this willingness to use the approach to encourage learners to ask “Why do these things exist the way they do?” (Monchinski, 2008, p.2) which can lead to new, alternative and improved workplace practices of benefit to all.

For those industries with a distinct social component particularly, such as public sector or charitable providers, the application of critical pedagogy can also address and explore the responsibilities of the organisation in the wider social context.

Whilst the fundamental subject, its facts, or application may be largely absolute within the field of workplace education, drawing on the work of Freire to allow and encourage this niche audience to challenge these critically.


About the author

Andrew Boswell is professional development lead with The Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust


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