Working Life and Learning

History of the Network

The research network started in 1993. Originally, working for many years under the headline ‘Adult Education and the Labour Market’, the network was politically engaged and interested in practical perspectives related to learning and education within the wider society and the labour market. During this time, a growing interest in theoretical and methodological perspectives began to emerge. A new focus with a relaunch of the network in 2011 initiated a focus on workplace learning, and the VET and HRD sector. The importance of the practical, theoretical and methodological perspectives remained. During this time, the network ran conferences about every two years and produced five research publications. Their research endeavors covered ‘Adult Education Policy and the European Union: Theoretical and Methodological Perspectives’ (2014), ‘Learning Across Generations in Europe: Contemporary Issues in Older Adult Education’ (2014), ‘ Private World’s: Gender and Informal Learning of Adults’ (2015), ‘Working and Learning in Times of Uncertainty’ (2015) and ‘Researching and Transforming Adult Learning and Communities’ (2016). The relaunch of the network in 2019 with a conference planned for 2020 aims to continue the original legacy, building on prior research by colleagues and friends of the ESREA family but also considering how global, regional and local changes impact upon Europe.

Aims and themes of the network

The field of working life and learning is interdisciplinary, evolving and complex, and it opens up for a plurality of topics, as well as theoretical and methodological approaches. The network, thus, aims to gather researchers from different perspectives, paradigms and traditions to enhance as well as critical research as applied research about the working life and learning. Social and ecological responsibility and the ethics of research are important foundations beyond solely rational choice or human capital approaches, which are not the main orientations of this network.

Today the network consists of four themes:

  1. Work-based Learning, Work-place Learning and more widely, Work-integrated Learning as important spheres of learning, identity formation and professional development in adult life This theme focuses on research on the experience and learning at work, learning to work, working to learn, learning from work, work as learning environment, transformation of work, and the collective development efforts of work processes in ever more complex partnerships and networks. A topical question within this theme deals with the new forms and concepts of work and learning emerging arenas in relation with mutations and development of current Organizations (e.g. digitalization, artificial intelligence, Industry 4.0 etc.).
  2. Human Resource Development (HRD) and Leadership. The organization is a learning context where the competence of individuals and groups may be applied and developed. This theme focuses on research on organizational structures, communication discourses, cultures, actors (e.g. managers/leaders and HR-professionals), agency and activities that facilitate learning and (career) development in different contexts. Specifically, this theme is oriented towards research on different forms of leadership (individual and/or collective) and developmental learning in relation to learning in organizations.
  3. The social, economical and political dimensions of work in relation to adult lives: work has fundamental cultural, intercultural, transcultural and anthropological aspects intertwined with economical political and societal dynamics: all this complexity is everyday at stake in individual experiences. Forms of precarious work can be observed. How the sphere of work is today involved in contrasting social discrimination? Which new inequalities are generated from current (hegemonic) cultures, migration and representations of work? How social justice, individual emancipation could be attained and scattered through different ways of promoting and realizing “working lives” in sometimes fragmented and discontinuous contexts? How can learning happen individually and socially?
  4. Work-related education and training happens in manifold and hybrid forms within and outside enterprises. Employees are often send to training providers from their enterprises. External training providers and trainers are coming into enterprises and offer training and coaching. Providers range from commercial agencies to corporatist institutes, trade unions, public adult education centres/schools or voluntary associations. The labour office is often a relatively powerful stakeholder beside social partners and other actors. How do these networks or rhizomes around the working place evolve over time? What is needed here in order to be a qualified program planner, trainer or coach? Which learning arrangements are offering the greatest manifold (wider) benefits for learners, their communities and society?

Convenors: we decided to have a quite large number of convenors (six) representing a wide range of Countries and Institutions. Work is a very complex topic and the convenors have been (so far) interested in developing different research streams. Trevor Gerardt is manly dedicated to Work-integrated Learning, Pierre Faller and Irina Lochtina in Management and Human Resources Training, Bernd Kapplinger and Elzbieta Sanojca in vocational dimensions of Workplace Learning and Andrea Galimberti in social, economical and political dimensions of professional lives. In our view this choice would generate a multidimensional conversation with the ambition of connecting a plurality of experiences related to adults working lives. Indeed this is not an easy challenge but we are confident that we are going to learn from each other through the network activities. Finally, we would like to balance gender and experience in ESREA. In our group we have two long experienced members (Andrea Galimberti and Bernd Käpplinger), two members that some years ago started attending network conferences (Trevor Gerhardt and Pierre Faller) and two newcomers (Irina Lochtina and Elzbieta Sanojca). This would entail additional work in relation to organizing conferences and publications but we would like to experiment this polyphonic and composite exchange as we sense the enriching potential of our dialogue.


Andrea Galimberti  University of Milano-Bicocca

Trevor Gerhardt Pearson College London

Pierre Faller  Columbia University

Bernd Käpplinger Justus-Liebig-University Giessen

Irina Lokhtina UCLan Cyprus

Elzbieta Sanojca  University of Rennes