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The learning worker, organizations and democracy

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A current turn of interest in notions of the 'learning economy' and the 'learning society' is fuelling discussions on promoting education, training and learning in contemporary organizations and workplaces. Although the education of workers has been variously theorized and practised throughout the 20th century, the current debates are marked by a prevailing economic perspective that places emphasis on constructing 'learning organizations' and on 'human resource' learning in service of organizational strategies for innovation and competitive advantage in economic activities. Critics point out that economic and managerial models scarcely attend to the human subjectivity of the learner-worker and the worker's diverse learning interests. Broader socio-cultural ends of worker learning such as lifelong human development and participatory citizenship in democratic society are very often overlooked. This article offers a critical discussion of current conceptions of learning organizations and learning workers. It argues that the prevailing focus on techno-economic imperatives and of obscured managerial elite interests in organizations currently circumscribe and delimit learning in production organizations. It proposes that a more comprehensive approach to learning in organizations attends explicitly to the needs and interests of workers as learning persons. Taking a longer view, it proposes that organizational and worker learning may generate not only improved work practices but may regenerate links between lifelong learning, societal democratic citizenship and civilized organizations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Auckland, New Zealand

Publication date: November 1, 2003

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