Learner Agency and the Negotiation of Practice

  • Raymond SmithEmail author
Part of the Technical and Vocational Education and Training: Issues, Concerns and Prospects book series (TVET, volume 29)


Within work, it is impossible to ‘not act’. Workers, by necessity of their presence and participation in the goal-oriented practices that constitute work, are inexorably driven to engage in the activities and relationships that enable and sustain their work. However, and by contrast to such certainty, the nature of their engagement remains problematic as their capacities and willingness to enact the requirements of work are interdependently related to and, hence, mediated by all the resources that comprise the people, places and practices of their work. Conceptualising these mediations as ‘negotiation’ and individual workers’ circumstances through these negotiations as ‘agency’ offers an opportunity to examine work learning as a transformational practice and highlight the contributions workers make to this practice. What emerges from such examination is a conception of learning in, through and for work as a kind of resource management process whereby workers control (or seek to understand and affect with varying degrees of intention and success) the fluctuating levels of influence that the numerous resources enacted in work practice can exert on their personal engagement. To illustrate its case, the chapter draws on qualitative research that examined the personal work and learning practices of workers from very different contexts and with a range of differing skill and qualification requirements. These included packers from fruit markets who required no qualifications or previous experience prior to employment and who sourced all their work learning from the immediacy of their work, firefighters who were constantly engaged in nationally accredited and compliance-driven vocational training as part of their regular occupational practice and restaurant staff who were pursuing their careers after long apprenticeships. Findings from this research suggest that learner agency is, in part, about generating a personal work-practice agenda that enables active engagement in the negotiations of work learning.


Learner agency Personal agency Personal practice Learner engagement Learning negotiation Transformational practice Intentionality Work learning Agentic learning 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education and Professional StudiesGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia

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