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Michael Eraut

Page history last edited by Norman Jackson 14 years, 11 months ago

Professor Michael Eraut

Michael is the UK’s leading researcher into how professionals learn in work place settings. His pioneering research has found that most learning occurs informally during normal working processes and that there is considerable scope for recognising and enhancing such learning. His books include the highly acclaimed Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence. In 2007 he completed an ESRC-funded five year study of how professionals learn in the early part of their careersand Michael is working with SCEPTrE to help transfer some of this knowledge through conversation and practical guidance and develop new lines of research that will help us understand better the nature of the learning and the way learning is enabled in professional training environments. Ultimately the work is about helping to enhance students' experiences and learning in the professional training work placement.


How Professionals Learn through Work.pdf  




Improving the quality of work placements

Michael Eraut, University of Sussex and SCEPTrE Senior Research Fellow, University of Surrey


Michael Eraut.ppt


Video presentation


This paper concerns research designed to improve the quality of the student professional training placement programme at the University of Surrey (UK), where over half the undergraduates take up placements of 6 to 9 months duration in the 3rd year of a 4 year programme. Phase 1 involved analysing documents and interviewing faculty responsible for placements in 12 different subjects. This led to two reports, one based on these interviews described the variations in current practice and the other presented a review of relevant literature on work-based learning. Phase 2 involved collecting data from students. First, SCEPTrE launched a competition for students returning from placements in September 2008, in which they were asked to write an account of their placement on the theme of Learning to be Professional. 28 accounts were provided through this process and 8 authors volunteered to be interviewed by Eraut in order to: (1) clarify and amplify significant aspects of their experience and (2) discuss the roles of those who most influenced their learning opportunities for good or ill. Finally, an invitation to complete a substantial on-line questionnaire was sent to all students on placement in February 2009. Over 130 students completed this questionnaire by March 9th.


The conceptual framework for this project is based on four tools from the author’s recent longitudinal study (1st three years) of the Early Career Learning at Work of accountants, engineers and nurses (Eraut 2007, Eraut et al 2007). These are:

·         a typology of modes of learning

·         a typology of learning trajectories (what is being learned over a period of time)

·         a two-triangle model of factors affecting learning and their mutual interaction

·         an epistemology of practice.


These tools are intended to help students on placements to understand their work environments and reflect on their experiences, to consider their learning goals, to ascertain learning opportunities, to develop possible ways of accessing these opportunities directly or through helpful intermediaries, and to handle negative experiences.


The intention is to strengthen the current system of support through this research and the tools it offers, and an increased capacity to continue to learn from the experiences of those involved. The following ways of improving the quality of placements are in use, but the attention given to them varies greatly:

·         Pre-placement activities in the university

·         Post-placement activities in the university

·         Student to student sharing of issues, experiences and helpful contacts at work (especially when one student follows another in the same employment setting)

·         Documents for students, university supervisors and employer supervisors

·         Training supervisors, informal or formal

·         Direct engagement with employers


There is a danger of just settling for general familiarity with the “world of work”, when much more could be achieved. Thus the allocation of work and the contexts in which it is situated are crucial to an effective placement, because they encompass the need for challenging work and relationships which both support those challenges and provide appropriate feedback. Students need both to learn from working with others and to develop their personal agency.


Working alongside others is particularly important on placements, because it allows students to observe and listen to others at work, and participate in shared activities. This enables them to learn new practices and perspectives, to become aware of different kinds of knowledge and expertise, and to gain some sense of other people’s tacit knowledge. When people see what is being said and done, explanations can be much shorter; and clues to situational recognition may not be remembered, unless they are picked up on-the-spot while the fine detail of incidents is still in people’s minds. This mode of learning, which encompasses much observation as well as discussion, is extremely important for acquiring the tacit knowledge that underpins routines and intuitive decisions and is difficult to explain.


This has to be complemented by the personal agency of the learners in finding out what skills and situational understandings they might need and how best they might access them, either directly or through their supervisors or, if necessary, through informal mentors, who are prepared to offer help (Eraut 2008).



Eraut M (2007) Learning from Other People in the Workplace, Oxford Review of Education, 33 (4), 403-422

Eraut M (2008) Using research into how professionals learn at work for enhancing placement learning, WACE Asia Pacific Conference

Eraut M. & Hirsh W. (2007) The Significance of Workplace Learning for Individuals, Groups and Organisations, SKOPE Monograph 9, Oxford





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