Workplace Learning for Changing Social and Economic Circumstances: Socratic ignorance in processes of learning with technology

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Changing circumstances of workplace learning with new technologies entail rethinking our theories of workplace learning. Theories of how materials matter have recently come to the fore, revealing new questions for workplace learning and working across institutions. This chapter brings a new dimension to Anne Edwards’ work on interprofessional collaborations and relational expertise by examining how new theories of sociotechnical imaginaries, new materialism and Socratic ignorance reveal the relational learning processes that can lead to the unfolding of relational agency (Edwards 2010). Socratic ignorance is here defined as an acknowledgement of one’s own ignorance. I argue that it can help us explore this process of learning relations from a new angle, as it can be a starting point for developing common knowledge. Common knowledge, knowledge of each other’s motives, is key to mediating relational agency (Edwards 2011). In the process, the agency and material aspects of things, together with changes in conceptual meaning, matter (Hasse 2020). As common knowledge is accumulating while professionals learn across boundaries, humans, things and institutions are changing.
Workplace learning-in-practice theories have a keen eye on artefacts. Nonetheless, new materialist theories challenge cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT), cultural anthropology (CA) and symbolic interactionism (SI) (Guile 2011) as being too human centred, paying too little attention to material agency. New materialist theories of technology–human interactions have evolved alongside changes in workplace technologies, including robots. These theories emphasise the agency of materials and only secondarily, if at all, how they stand in relation to humans, sociality and human agency. I bring a new focus to these discussions by exploring Socratic ignorance in workplace learning. This brings humans as learners in inter-professional work to new materialist discussions. Focusing on ignorance extends our gaze beyond human–human and human–technology relations to processes of technology–human relations. It emphasises that sociotechnical imaginaries are not static but are tested in workplace learning, as technology is put to use. In the learning processes, relations change as humans and technology move from being imagined to being practised.
The point of departure is the healthcare robot, Silbot, developed by the South Korean robot company Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). Silbot is designed to train elder citizens with dementia in rehabilitation centres. It was implemented at two centres, in Finland and Denmark, in 2011–2012. As part of our research on humanoid robots in Denmark, we studied the implementation of Silbot (Hasse 2015b, Blond 2019). Silbot was first developed as an English teacher (Silbot-1) for South Korean schoolchildren. After meeting with a Danish municipal director of welfare technology, KIST created Silbot-2, a brain-training robot, which resembled an overgrown penguin with a human voice. A later version, Silbot-3, developed with the Danish staff, has a smiling Caucasian female face on a flat screen and is a slim humanoid. Its shiny white plastic body rests on a round movable platform and has two flipper-like arms. As a brain-training instructor, it moves on a black-and-white tiled floor, which helps it orientate itself. It is therefore lost when not moving around this board. The people to be trained sit at tables around the chequered floor. Silbot-3 provides several brain training games, which are shown on a central screen and at screens at the participants’ tables. Silbot introduces the games and wheels around to evaluate results, but in order to move, it must be connected to a PC and operated by a human operator. During the testing period, these operators were often Korean, whereas the instructors were Danish or Finnish.
Humanoid robots like Silbot enter workplaces soaked in sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff 2015a) and cultural expectations. When the humanoid robots leave the robot laboratories and enter a local practice, they can become active agents in interprofessional work at the boundaries between healthcare staff and engineers as well as across national cultures. I shall argue that to obtain common knowledge (Edwards 2011), that ensures respect for each other’s motives (Hopwood et al. 2016), both staff and engineers require Socratic ignorance. In Denmark, Socratic ignorance moved both staff and engineers towards the unfolding of relational agency as they worked together to respond to the volatile agency of Silbot. In Finland, the staff did not have patience with the engineers’ lack of Socratic ignorance in relation to local practices and terminated the Silbot project after three months.
TitelWorkplace Learning for Changing Social and Economic Circumstances
RedaktørerH. Bound, A. Edwards, K. Evans, A. Chia
ISBN (Trykt)9781032131566, 9781032131597
ISBN (Elektronisk)9781003227946
StatusUdgivet - 2023


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