Towards a relational perspective on higher-level learning and skill : graduate employability and managerial competence
The thesis presents a critique of the learning and competence agenda', ie currently-dominant approaches to graduate employability and managerial competence expressed in terms of learning as a process, and of transferable skills, competence, etc as outcomes of learning. The thesis argues that this agenda is based on a set of assumptions, referred to as the `conventional model of learning and competence', which is highly contestable. Key assumptions include that of learning as an individualised process sui generis, resulting in outcomes ('skills', `competencies' etc), causally related to behaviour or performance. Using both primary and secondary evidence, the claims made for the conventional model are shown not to be upheld. This is taken as warranting more fundamental consideration of the conventional model. It is argued that the `common sense' appeal of the model arises from the systematic ambiguity of the term `learning' (and other word-forms from the verb `to learn'). Conceptual analysis and clarification shows that the language of `learning', `skills' and so on relates to ways of expressing aspects of behaviour or performance. The thesis argues that performance is not objectively observable, but requires the construal or interpretation of activity as performance-of-a-kind. Drawing on various interpretive and constructionist traditions within the social sciences, this analysis is taken forward to develop a relational perspective on learning and competence. It is argued that, the notions of (social) `practices' and `emergent identity' are critical to such a perspective. The relational perspective is applied to the reconsideration of interviews with recent graduates and novice managers, particularly in respect of analysing career trajectories in terms of `modalities of emergent identity'. The forms of warranting of identity claim are also examined. The thesis concludes with a consideration of implications of the relational perspective, for further research, for policy and for pedagogic practice.