This paper is based on findings from the first phase of a four-year research project funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council as part of its Teaching and Learning Research Programme. The major component of this project is a longitudinal study of trainee accountants, graduate trainee engineers, and newly qualified nurses in England. This critical period of introduction to professional work has not been previously studied by a longitudinal series of observations and interviews, though a number of one-off surveys have been conducted. The three professions have been chosen because they play key roles in the UK economy and public services and they use contrasting approaches to professional formation. Trainee accountants and engineers are formally contracted trainees and as such, have systems of organised training support. Newly qualified nurses start full-time work with greater practical experience than accountants or engineers; but their still substantial learning needs may be neglected. The research questions are identical to those of Eraut et al’s (2000) study of mid-career professionals’ learning in the workplace, namely: 1. What is being learned in the workplace? 2. How is it being learned? 3. What factors affect the level and direction of that learning? In this project, we are interested in the extent to which novices, whose learning is more explicitly on the agenda and who have far less experience, learn differently from the mid-career professionals, whose learning was found to be largely implicit, taken for granted and difficult to elicit or elucidate
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