Transfering more than skills

Work is probably right after family context the most obvious environment for intergenerational learning. Learning at work can be accidental, casual and informal workplace learning in contrast to formal, more supervised and goal-directed work-based learning. In both situations, on the shoulders of the apprentice lies the responsibility to learn not only from what is being shown and said, but more importantly, from what is NOT being said. In other words, to understand and see the tacit knowledge committed to the action. Tacit knowledge is a concept originally presented by Michael Polanyi in the 1960s. It is common knowledge to identify tacit knowledge as a phenomenon, and it is probably the most important part of practicing an occupation, but yet it is easily left aside while talking about learning new things.

Donald A. Schön (1983) understands tacit knowledge and self-reflection as central parts of specialists’ occupational activity. Schön sees that true knowledge is always committed to actual activity, and calls it knowing-in-action. The constant custom of reflecting one’s own actions is called reflection-in-action, and more external analysis is then called reflection-on-action. A specialist can thus be called a reflective practitioner.

Schön emphasizes the essential difference of reflecting and thinking. Actual thinking is usually only distracting the activity. Reflection is not external thinking, rather complementary action. Reflective practitioner approaches a new dilemma as a unique case,  without misleading expectations or preconceptions, still keeping in mind everything he knows. Finally, the procedures leading to the final results can be seen as a creative, artistic-like process. Reacting simultaneously to the complexity of the situation, handling great amount of knowledge, theory, inventions, and reasoning, can still seem amazingly simple and spontaneous. Schön calls this reflective dialogue the core andb the excellence of professionality.

If true skills are a combination of background theory, experience, tacit knowledge, emotional skills and ability to apply them in unique situations, where do they come from? What is the process of becoming such a great reflective practitioner? Luckily, Schön has wrote a book on educating the reflective practitioner. Tacit knowledge is not something a person creates in solitary. Tacit knowledge is also an essential part of intergenerational learning, and intergenerational learning is essential in workplace learning. Schön’s idea of a reflective practitioner can be used as one tool in the search of the role of intergenerational learning in the subtle level of learning an occupation. Question is, can a senior reflective practitioner also transfer the idea of being a reflective practitioner to an apprentice?

Schön, Donald A. 1983. The reflective practitioner : how professionals think in action, New York : Basic Books
Schön, Donald A. 1987. Educating the reflective practitioner : toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions, San Francisco : Jossey-Bass, 1987.

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