Beyond Learnerism: Learning, Practices, Emergent Identity

Presented at the Fifth International Conference on
HRD Research and Practice across Europe
University of Limerick, May 2004

Dr Leonard Holmes, Director, Management Research Centre, London Metropolitan University (at time of presentation)

Introduction: from the learning turn to learnerism

Anyone who has been professionally engaged in the field of training and development (or HRD) over the past couple of decades will be familiar with changes in key terminology and the increased use of various phrases that include some form of wording based on the verb 'to learn'. What were previously called 'training objectives' are now 'learning objectives', 'training programmes' are 'learning programmes', those who participate in training and development programmes are now 'learners' (and certainly not 'trainees'), trainers now prefer to be called 'learning facilitators'. More recent entrants to the professional field will have encountered as normal the discursive fashion. Related areas of post-compulsory education, including higher education, have similarly been subject to such terminological change. This extends from the practitioner discourse to the language of policy: indeed, the phrase 'education and training' is often now displaced by the single term 'learning'. Numerous examples may be adduced to illustrate this, one very obvious one being the re-naming of the UK's National Education and Training Targets as 'National Learning Targets'. Indeed, the according to the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) recently reported that since 1996 there had been a 4% drop in the number of adults reporting that they "were currently learning" (Aldridge and Tuckett, 2004): it is clear from the report that, by this, the authors mean engaging in some form of education or training. How are we to understand such discursive change? Is it merely a matter of changing fashion, and relatively innocuous? Does it signify a more substantive change in conceptualisation of the principles and practice of the field? And, if it does signify such substantive re-conceptualisation, should we welcome this?

This paper will argue that the terminological change does indeed signify a substantive change (or, at least, attempted change) in conceptualisation, one that we might refer to as the 'learning turn' in education and training (Holmes, forthcoming). This re-conceptualisation would appear, at first sight, to be welcome to those engaged professionally as training/ HRD practitioners, and to training/ HRD profession itself in so far as such a profession may be considered to exist or be emerging. The increased attention given within the political arena to notions of 'lifelong learning' and 'learning society', and within organisational strategy to notions of 'organisational learning' and the 'learning organisation', suggest an elevation of the status of the profession and of practitioners. When a senior government minister writes that learning is "the key to prosperity - for each of us as individuals, as well as for the nation as a whole" (Blunkett, 1998), then the importance of the occupational group that specialises in learning is, surely, self-apparent?

The paper will argue for caution in viewing the learning turn as unquestionably positive. It will be argued that insufficient attention has been paid to the meaning of the term 'learning', or, rather, to different meanings of the term when used in different discursive contexts. Failure to attend to such different meanings tends to lead to the "bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language" (Wittgenstein, 1953), undermining attempts to develop a sound base of theoretical knowledge to underpin the practices of HRD and thus of its claim to be considered a profession. Furthermore, it will be argued, certain misunderstandings about the concept of learning have contributed to the development of a particular set of ideas that will be here termed 'learnerism'. Within learnerism, learning is treated as a concept referring to an empirically real process ('the learning process') that results in empirically real states of affairs within individuals, ie learning outcomes (knowledge, skills, competencies, etc). Learning is eulogised, regarded as good in itself, to be welcomed and promoted. Moreover, according to learnerism, learning may be undertaken actively by individuals, who are thereby referred to as learners, ie do-ers of learning, and each of whom may develop their own abilities to learn, ie learn to learn. Using conceptual analysis and clarification methods, the paper will argue that such views are mistaken and that learnerism is based on misconceptions concerning the phenomena about which the language of learning is used.

Learning as good in itself

A key element within the rhetoric of learnerism is the eulogising of learning. According to eight well-known figures in the management development field, in their 'Learning Declaration', learning is "the central issue for the 21st century" (Honey, 1998). Learning, they state,
"is the most powerful, engaging, rewarding and enjoyable aspect of our personal and collective experience."
(Honey, 1998: 28)
They assert that all individuals, organisations and societies
"must carry out their duty to encourage and support others in their learning."
(op. cit. 29)
Many other quotations may be adduced to illustrate this eulogising tendency:
"Learning is everyone's birthright, not the prerogative of an elite and selected minority."
(Hillier, 1996: 50)
"The 'good' organisations are those which engage in facilitating learner development, in encouraging people to enhance their skills and knowledge ..."
(Marchington and Wilkinson, 1996: 155)
"A dynamic approach to learning can help you make the maximum contribution to your work, your family and any other activity that matters in your life. And learning can make a difference because it can and should be a real source of joy, excitement and satisfaction."
(Knasel et al., 2000: 2)
In order to engage in the lifelong learning that is, according to learnerism, so wonderfully and unequivocally good, learners should learn how to learn. As the authors of the Declaration on Learning put it
"The ability to learn about learning and become masters of the learning process is the critical issue for the next century."
(Honey, 1998: 28)
Reeves asserts that "the paramount skill" required in the new economy is the capacity to learn, so that
"the best course to take is ancient history, if ancient history is what turns you on."
(Reeves, 2001)

What is elided from such eulogising expressions is any reference to the content and context of learning: they are about learning-in-itself, simply learning, learning simpliciter. Such ideas are quite simply demonstrated to be untenable by considering the unacceptable, even absurd conclusions that we would have to accept if they were correct. Take the last quotation, from Richard Reeve; substitute for ancient history the topic of 'hot wiring cars', something that seems to 'turn on' a considerable number of male youths. Would we really consider it a 'good thing' that novice criminals should be encouraged to learn new ways to engage in their nefarious activities because it enhances their 'capacity to learn'? Even more absurd would be cases of learning that would clearly be shocking to contemplate any suggestion that they be treated as 'good': paedophiles learning to 'groom' their prospective victims, terrorists learning new ways to cause large numbers of deaths, Nazi death camp staff learning how to increase the 'efficiency' of the extermination process. This reductio ad absurdum argument surely leads us to conclude that not all learning is good, that we need to know what learning, in what context, is under consideration before making a judgement of whether it is to be welcomed.

Learning as natural vs learning as normative

Such a conclusion seems obvious, even trivial. However, it does raise an important conceptual matter, for it calls our attention to the fact that the distinction between 'good' ('desirable') and 'bad' ('undesirable') learning requires that we have some set of normative criteria on which to base that distinction. Yet another key aspect of the learnerist conceptualisation of learning is that it is natural:
"Deep down we are all learners. No one has to teach an infant to learn. In fact, no-one has to teach infants anything. They are intrinsically inquisitive, masterful learners who learn to walk, speak, and pretty much run their households all on their own."
(Senge, 1990: 4)
"Learning is a natural process in which we all engage."
(Collin, 2004: 271)
"We are clear that learning is a natural human function; that human beings are incapable of going about their day-to-day activities without learning..."
(Knasel et al., 2000: 85)
Learning is said to be as natural as breathing; the fast-pace of learning by infants and young children is presented as visible demonstration of its naturalness. Clearly the normative aspects of learning make the analogy with breathing is misleading unless we extend this to include reference to the breathing of fresh air ('good') and to breathing poison gas ('bad') and so on. The reference to infants and small children is also misleading for most of what is being learnt cannot be meaningfully compared with that which is considered to be desirable for adults to learn. Moreover, the recorded cases of infants lost or abandoned then reared by animals clearly challenge any notion that children learn what we take as 'normal' human behaviours through an inherent natural process (Newton, 2002). Rather, the case of infants and small children is more meaningfully compared with that of animals.

The concept of learning is a key one for the field of training/ HRD. Learning also a major concept within scientific psychology, and the term has an increasingly important role in the discourse of organisational management as well as political economy. Rarely, however, in such discourses is any distinction made between the meaning of the term 'learning' as used in any particular field from the meaning of the term as it used in a different field. Yet it has been long recognised that confusion may arise through inadequate attention to differences of meaning attached to the same term, such that
"words or expressions that may always have the same meaning when applied to one kind of thing, ... have a different meaning when applied to another kind of thing."
(Flew, 1979: 11)
This is sometimes referred to as 'systematic ambiguity', Flew's definition according with Austin's discussion of Aristotle's notion of paronymity, whereby
"on different occasions of its use, [a] word may possess connotations which are partly identical and partly different..."
(Austin, 1961: 27)
Others have used terms such as 'systematically misleading expressions' (Ryle, 1949), 'language strata' or 'the many-level structure of language' (Waismann, 1952), of the danger of 'bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language' (Wittgenstein, 1953: 109).

If we consider the variety of contexts of its use, the term 'learning' must be seen as a prime candidate for possible systematic ambiguity. The most obvious example of its use is in mundane, everyday interaction and conversation. The use in such a context generally causes no problem; we understand what we and others mean when the term, and other word formations based on the verb 'to learn', are used. The concept here is what Ryle calls an 'untechnical concept' (Ryle, 1954). Usually in such a context we are not required to explain what we mean by the term nor develop plans for important practical action on the basis of that meaning. However, there are other discursive contexts in which the term has become what Ryle calls a 'technical concept', having particular meaning in relation to a set of other concepts, or 'theoretical luggage', as Ryle puts it (op. cit.). In particular, we may note the following contexts:
(a) the arena of education and training, especially in relation to credentialisation;
(b) professional and academic psychology, particularly in respect of various modes of experimental research and related theorising;
(c) the management of employees within work organisations, in relation to decisions about selection, deployment, and training and development;
(d) the management of such organisations themselves, as in, eg the notion of the 'learning organisation';
(e) political-economic discourse, ranging from theoretical analysis and empirical research to the advocacy of, decisions about and implementation of political and economic policies.
The same term 'learning' may be used in each of these separate contexts, but we should not assume that in each case it is the same concept.

Explanatory vs evaluative conceptualisations of learning

Discussions of learning within training and HRD texts tend to draw upon psychological conceptualisations, often referring to the various 'schools' of psychological theory (Marchington and Wilkinson, 1996, Reid and Barrington, 1997, Stewart, 1999). Often no reason is given why the author(s) consider that the reader needs to become familiar with such ideas, or this is expressed in terms of understanding how to 'manage the learning process'. However, such presentations fail to distinguish between learning as an explanatory concept and learning as an evaluative concept (Holmes, forthcoming). Psychology attempts to be a science of behaviour, and learning is one of it concepts used in attempted explanations of how patterns of (non-instinctual) behaviour arise within various organisms (including human beings). This conceptualisation of learning comes with 'theoretical luggage' (Ryle, 1954), varying between the different 'schools' or 'paradigms' within psychology. This concept of learning makes no distinction between different behaviour, or patterns of behaviour, in terms of desirability, merely attempting to provide explanation as to how such behaviour has arisen. In contrast, in training/ HRD we usually wish to distinguish between desirable and undesirable behaviour, within an employment context. The concept of learning here is normative and evaluative, used in expressions that carry some judgement about what we expect, require or desire in respect of the behaviour of certain persons.

This distinction between explanatory and evaluative uses of the concept of learning helps to address a seeming paradox if no such distinction were made: the issue of whether it is possible to learn what is false, or what is impractical. Can someone learn, for example, that the earth is at the centre of the cosmos, circled by the sun, planets, stars? Can someone learn that an effective treatment for fever is bloodletting? Clearly there have been many people in the past who have come to hold such views of the cosmos, and others who have engaged in bloodletting in the sincere belief that it is an effective treatment. We would thus have to say that they had learnt these views and practices - if we are using the explanatory concept of learning. In contrast, an astrophysics undergraduate who presented that view of the cosmos, would be considered not to have learnt, as would a medical student attempting bloodletting in an emergency room - if we are using the evaluative concept of learning. In general, when learning is said to be 'natural', it is the explanatory conceptualisation that is being invoked. Whenever we talk of making some training/ HRD (or educational) intervention to bring about learning, we are mainly invoking the evaluative concept.

This explanatory-evaluative distinction raises critical issues with regard to the notion of a (or the) learning process. This idea seems to be a sound one, for it appears to accord with our own personal experience. We each know that there are things we know and understand now that we did not know or understand at some earlier time, and that we can do things now that we could not do before. It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that there has been some process by which we have learnt. However, we have to tread carefully here, for apart from the passage of time between the two periods, separating the state in which we did not know or could not do and the state in which we do know or can do, it is by no means clear what this 'process' involves. In discussing our tendency to talk of 'mental processes' Wittgenstein gives a warning:
"We talk of processes and states and leave their nature undecided. Sometime perhaps we shall know more about them - we think. But that is just what commits us to a particular way of looking at the matter."
(Wittgenstein, 1953: 308)
He likens this to a conjuring trick which we observe, but think as quite innocent the move that is decisive. In HRD texts we find many such 'decisive moves', defining learning in terms of, or talking about learning as, a process. This aspect needs further exploration.

Learning as dispositions and occurrences: a Rylean analysis

A key starting point is to consider the use of the verb 'to learn', and terms based on words formed from the verb, in mundane discourse, particularly the use of the past and present tenses. Drawing upon the arguments in Ryle's The Concept of Mind (Ryle, 1949), we may explore these in terms of the analysis of statements of dispositions and occurrences. Past tense uses of the verb 'to learn', ie of the from 'B has learnt X', generally form dispositional statement; as such, they are generally equivalent in meaning to statements such as 'B can X', 'B is competent to X' and so on. Ryle argues that dispositional statements should be treated not as statement of empirical fact but rather as 'semi-hypotheticals', which 'license' or warrant us to make other statements. Adopting such an analysis, we may conclude that to say 'Jack can swim' ('Jack has learnt to swim') is not in itself a description of some state of affairs but warrants us to say that, for example, if Jack were to find himself in a body of water (of greater depth than his own height etc), we would most likely see him begin to swim. Expressions to the effect that someone has learnt something, in mundane discourse, and statements of a person's competence, that they have learnt, in training/ HRD contexts, may thus be seen as primarily future-oriented, expressions of anticipation about that person's behaviour or performance in some future context (Holmes, 1994). In order to warrant such expressions of anticipated behaviour, in a manner which generates the confidence of others who may be party to decisions which arise (eg award of a qualification, recruitment to a job), certain 'conventions of warrant' (Gergen, 1989) are adopted, principally the use of the vocabulary of learning, competence, skills and so on. But this should not confuse us into taking such vocabulary as referring to some existent entities or states when we seek to engage in the analysis of the relationship between training practice and occupational performance.

Ryle's analysis of statements that appear to describe or report internal, mental occurrences may also help us to consider present tense uses of the verb 'to learn'. Statements like 'Ben is learning to drive', and 'Reena is learning to produce Web pages' and so on appear to refer to the activity of learning, thus supporting the learnerist notion that the learning process may be engaged in actively. However, a problem that arises from this is that, if learning is an activity, it is not observable. There may be observable activities related to what we call learning: for example, we can see Mike sitting in the driver's seat of a car with the instructor sitting beside him, as they travel along the road making various manoeuvres. But we do not see him separately learning to drive, nor does he cease learning to drive when the lesson is over.

Ryle argues that there is an important class of occurrence or episodic words which, because they are active verbs, have tended to make us oblivious to their logic. These are success or achievement verbs; the examples he gives are 'win', 'unearth', 'find', 'cure', 'convince', 'prove', 'cheat', 'unlock', 'safeguard', 'conceal'. These correspond with task verbs, with the force of 'trying to'. A major difference between the logical force of a task verb and its corresponding achievement verb is that, in using the latter, we are asserting that some state of affairs obtains over and above that which consists in the performance, if any, of the subservient task activity (ibid.). Thus, for a doctor to cure a patient, she must both treat the patient and the patient must be well again. Ryle notes that there may be achievements without a task performance: for example, success may also be ascribed to luck. In addition, we may use a success verb in anticipation, with the possibility that we will revise the usage in the event of failure:
"[Someone] may rashly claim the expected success, but he will withdraw his claim if he discovers that, despite his having done the best he could, something has still gone wrong. I withdraw my claim to have seen a misprint, or convinced the voter, if I find that there was no misprint, or the voter has cast his vote for my opponent."
(op.cit.: 144)

We have a range of task verbs and verbal phrases associated with learning. In educational settings we say we are 'studying' a subject; in training we may talk 'practising', 'having a go at', 'trying out', and the like. There are also passive formulations: 'being taught', 'receiving instruction', 'being shown'. Such task verbs and verbal phrases carry no necessity, in their meaning, that success has been achieved: 'She practised the flute every day but she still can't play a single tune', 'He studied biology at school, but failed the exam'. The use of both a task verb and a success verb together does not describe two separate and different activities:
"When a person is described as having fought and won, or as having journeyed and arrived, he is not being said to have done two things, but to have done one thing with a certain upshot. Similarly a person who has aimed and missed has not followed up one occupation by another; he has done one thing, which was a failure."

As Ryle says, success verbs belong, put crudely, 'not to the vocabulary of the player, but to the vocabulary of the referee' (p.145). So too, it is the case with learning.

Learning and the nature of human behaviour

None of the foregoing argument makes any claim that learning does not exist, that nothing is happening in those circumstances in which we ordinarily say that someone is learning or has learnt. It does, however, suggest that we look beyond the idea of an internal realm within individuals, within which the 'process' of learning takes place and knowledge, skills, competencies have their existence. Rather, we need a mode of conceptualisation that connects the individual person with the social world within which normative judgements are made regarding what counts as learning, competence and so on. Psychological conceptualisations and theorisations of learning, knowledge, competence etc, for the most part, do not do this, because of the manner in which the more fundamental concept of behaviour is treated. The early adoption within psychology of the empirical-realist emphasis on causal explanations of observable behaviour (Watson, 1924) has left its legacy in later developments, including cognitivism (Secord, 1997). The problem, however, is that socially significant human behaviour is not in and of itself observable; such behaviour is significant and consequential because it is subject to interpretation within a normative frame.

We may observe movements made by another human person, and hear sounds they make (and, perhaps, observe other forms of bodily emissions). However, what makes such movements, sounds etc socially significant and consequential is that they are treated as instances of particular types of meaningful behaviour. We may observe a person's arm moving up, but cannot objectively observe that person waving 'hello' or 'goodbye' to another, hailing a taxi, or seeking permission to speak, for each of the latter behaviours are not explicable solely in terms of what is observable but require construal as a type of behaviour. This distinction has been noted as long back as Aristotle. Hamlyn translates Aristotle's terms kinesis and energeia as 'movement' and 'activity' (Hamlyn, 1953), and argues that whilst movement may be explained in terms of causes, activity is explicable properly only within a frame that takes account of reasons. In a more thorough-going analysis of social behaviour, Harré and Secord distinguish between movement, action and acts, illustrating the distinction as follows:
"A person makes all sorts of bodily movements in the course of an episode, contracting and relaxing muscles in various sequences. Some of these movements can be seen or heard of felt by others, some are known to others only through their effects. Some of these movements we wish to treat as actions, and in some of these actions we see acts performed. We watch a man's hand move towards the extended fourth finger of the hand of a woman and slip a gold ring on that finger. If this movement meets certain criteria it is an action in the performing of which, together with certain other actions, a marriage is achieved, that is, an act is performed. A movement is given meaning as an action by being identified as the performance or part of the performance of an act."
(Harré and Secord, 1972: 158)
In so far as the concept of learning within a training/ HRD context is concerned with bringing about certain forms of socially significant and consequential behaviour, we must take account of this distinction. We must recognise that human persons are socially embedded as well as physically embodied.

Any consideration of learning in relation to training/ HRD must, then, address the issue of how observable movement (or, indeed, the absence of movement etc) is construed as (a) intended or deliberate activity, an action, that is (b) socially significant and consequential ie the performance of an act of some type. What conditions are necessary for an instance of situated activity to be taken as performance-of-a-kind? Two components would seem to be critical. First, there is deemed to exist a set of practices appropriate to the situation, such that the activity may be viewed as an instantiation of a practice from that set. Second, the person whose activity is being so construe is deemed to be a certain sort-of-person, to have an identity appropriate to such a performance (Holmes, 2000) (see figure 1). Of course, these elements are not completely self-contained and separate, for (i) the attribution of an identity to someone implicates some understanding of the practices they are likely, or are expected, engage in, and (ii) practices are associated with particular identities.

figure 1: identity-practice model of performance


These two elements may be noted, under various terms, in a variety of theoretical literature concerning how human beings make sense of each others' behaviour, reference to which that is unfortunately largely absent from much of the training/ HRD literature. The notion of practices may be related to that of 'stocks of knowledge' and 'interpretive schemes (Schutz, 1932/ 1972), 'typificatory schemes' (Berger and Luckmann, 1966); 'recurrent and constant meanings' used in the production of joint action (Blumer, 1969), 'rules' (Harré and Secord, 1972). The notion of identity may be related to that of 'role' which was a key term within much of the symbolic interactionism literature, and of 'position' in more recent literature (Hollway, 1984, Davies and Harré, 1990, Harré and Langenhove, 1999). Garfinkel's 'breaching studies' (Garfinkel, 1967) may be understood in terms of the manner in which other actors attempt to make sense of a situation in which an individual is acting differently from that expected of someone in the assumed role or identity.

The term 'identity' is here being used as a 'sensitizing concept' (Strauss, 1997) to enable us to address the issues involved in examining how, in the 'definition of the situation' (Thomas, 1931), the interpretation of activity as performance implicates some understanding of who-a-person-is. Identity is thus to be taken non-essentially, as relational, the emergent outcome of situated social processes of identification; identity is socially constructed and negotiated, always subject to possible contestation, fragile. Jenkins refers to 'the internal-external dialectic of identification' (Jenkins, 1996). The term 'emergent identity' may be used to distinguish the concern here from notions of identity as social ascription or of identity as self-concept (Holmes, 2001a).

Emergent identity may thus be viewed as arising from, or (as we might say) 'in', the interaction between the individual and significant others in respect of the kind of person the individual is to be taken to be in, and in relation to, the particular situation. The individual may seek to lay claim to an identity, and this claim may or may not match the ascriptions by others, ie the claim may be affirmed or disaffirmed. The ascriptions by others may be accepted by the individual, or may be resisted. Of course, as the process is one of negotiation, there may be intermediate positions in which the individual and/or the significant others may be ambivalent or equivocal in their judgements. The model shown in figure 2 attempts to show these possible emergent identity positions in graphical form. The model provides, amongst other things, a method for 'mapping' individuals' trajectories through such positions as they undergo extended education and/ or training, for example as novice managers and graduates entering employment (Holmes, 2001c).

figure 2: Claim-affirmation model of emergent identity



On the above analysis, we can thus say that the attribution that someone has learned (is competent etc) is made on the basis of construal of situated activity as desirable performance, drawing upon a set of practices and a set of identities appropriate to the situation. Training/ HRD interventions to bring about such a situation must take account of these issues and develop processes through which 'learners' are afforded opportunities to engage in those practices and achieve acceptance in appropriate identities. The extent to which either engagement in practices or achievement of acceptance in appropriate identity, or both, is important will vary, and part of the professional expertise of HRD practitioners must be concerned with the relative emphasis placed on these aspects.

Broadening the debate on learning

Such an approach is convivial with the 'legitimate peripheral participation' approach to 'situated learning' developed by Lave and Wenger (1991). Situated learning should not be seen as a type of or approach to learning, to be categorised alongside action learning, problem-based learning, experiential learning, project-based learning and so on. Rather, for Lave and Wenger, learning itself is viewed as "participation in communities of practice [concerning] the whole person acting in the world" (Lave and Wenger, 1991: 49). That is, learning does not take place within the person as a result of such participation, but rather it is the participation in practices that constitutes learning. The twin concepts of practices and identity are central to the Lave and Wenger analysis. The difference between their analysis and that presented here lies in the originating perspective. Whilst Lave and Wenger start from a social-anthropological exploration of the generic social form of apprenticeship, the analysis here is based on a consideration of the nature of socially significant human behaviour from a philosophical and interpretative social theory perspective. This difference is manifested particularly in the treatment of the concept of identity: in situated learning theory identity is conceptualised primarily in terms of membership, ie of a community of practice/ practitioners, whilst in the approach on which this paper is based identity is conceptualised interactionally, as 'emergent identity' (Holmes, 2000, Holmes, 2001b). Such differences present potentially fruitful lines of further enquiry, particularly where relevant identities can not easily be associated with a 'community'. What is clear is that such considerations are lacking in most of the training/ HRD literature purporting to discuss learning.

We need therefore to locate learning outside of individuals, to move away from the treatment of individuals as monadic, entitative organisms (Hosking et al., 1995). This requires more than a romantic call to treat individuals as 'human', as appears to be the case with some readings of humanistic and andragogic writings (Rogers, 1969, Knowles, 1973). Reference to emergent identities implicates issues in respect of the contestation that often accompanies, on the one hand, the claim that an individual makes on a desired identity and the extent to which significant others are willing to affirm such a claim, and on the other, the identity ascriptions made by such others and the extent to which the individual accedes to such ascriptions (Holmes and Robinson, 1999). The social divisions within the occupational order cannot be merely ignored or wished away, and if the professional field of training/ HRD genuinely seeks to address these it requires a more sophisticated approach to the key concept of learning. Currently dominant modes of conceptualising learning, particularly those of the learnerist kind, may serve as a force for oppression rather than emancipation (Holmes, forthcoming). The article in People Management that introduced the 'Declaration on Learning' (Honey, 1998) carried the title 'the debate starts here': a proper debate, doing justice to the complex nature of learning as a concept within educational and training practice, is perhaps now long overdue.


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