Understanding support worker learning : practice, participation and identity

Kubiak, Christopher (2012). Understanding support worker learning : practice, participation and identity. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000d5a3


A better understanding of support worker learning is needed. Role extension, an increasing awareness of the sophistication of caring practice and the need to develop the esteem of the sector have all made the professional development of support workers a priority for the health and social care sector. Drawing on situated and sociocultural leaming theories, this research investigated the way in which workplace participatory opportunities, affordances and individual identification shape support worker learning. Ethnographic and grounded theory methods were used. Fourteen support workers from both health and social care participated in repeated interviews over a number of months. Seven were observed in practice. Workplace manager's were also interviewed.

It was found that participants established a sense of value and esteem by emphasising the significance of their work. They considered their capability as resting upon three foundations - practical experience, natural ability and knowledge of the service user. Thee domains of practice were described - development and well being-focused activities, relationship work and building an understanding of service users. Practice was a subjective and situational reconstruction.

Practice-based learning was a multimodal process arising out of workplace participatory opportunities. These participatory opportunities interact to structure, support or provoke learning activities. Participatory opportunities support a process of alignment in which participants establish collective coherence in their understanding, goals or standards. This alignment represents a countervailing force to the subjective and situational reconstruction of practice. Engagement in participatory opportunities is afforded or restricted through controls over access and fullness of participation, density of opportunity, relationship quality and presence or absence of formalisation. Engagement is negotiated between the individual and those in the workplace. Individual construal and engagement in participatory opportunities reflects temporal identification and the pursuit of recognition. A "leading learning model" for managers supporting support worker learning is proposed.

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