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Review: The Handbook of work based learning

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Title: The Handbook of Work Based Learning
Authors: Ian Cunningham, Graham Dawes and Ben Bennett
Publisher: Gower
ISBN: 0-566-08541-0
Price: £79.00
Reviewer: John Pope


This is the most comprehensive and systematic work on learning that I have ever read. Its five parts set out the rational for work-based learning, strategies for learning and development, tactics and most importantly, methods for work-based learning and development. It will be valuable to the HR professional and to the Development Manager for its systematic review of learning, with references to many researches which confirm the authors’ views, and an excellent bibliography. It will be just as valuable to the line manager in an organisation in showing the vast range of learning opportunities available to staff. It will also be valuable to the individual who is interested in personal development.

It makes very important points about the nature of learning at work, and that we should think in terms of ‘learning’ rather than training. It also demolishes arbitrary distinctions between formal and informal learning, with some side-swipes at some of the Government’s pronouncements on the subject of learning.

Part four of the book has a series of sections on a very wide range of learning methods. Each of these includes notes on the advantages and disadvantages of each with hints on their use. The book is worth reading for these sections alone.

The fifth part includes conclusions and some ideas on the future of work-based learning.

I have two criticisms only:


  • I believe it should have stressed the importance of the Chief Executive in fostering learning as a routine activity by setting a personal example, which can quickly cascade down through the organisation.

  • While it deals with reviewing projects to establish what has gone wrong, it could have stressed the greater and motivating importance of reviewing successful jobs to identify why they went so well, and the lessons that can be applied elsewhere.

As a handbook, of some 300 pages, it needs quite a big hand, and some of the writing is a bit abstract. It deserves to be widely known and used.

John Pope has been a Management Consultant for forty years, and heavily involved in learning and development issues for the last thirty. He has helped a very wide range of organisations of very different sizes. He has prepared learning guides, developed methods for encouraging managers to develop their own staff, and advised on many development and training issues. He splits his time between strategic consultancy, the reinvigoration of businesses, and the development of management teams. He has also been heavily involved in the development of management consultants and staff working in a consultancy role.

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