Olle ten Cate reflects on Stephen Billett's view on workplace learning.
Stephen Billett, one of the top researchers in workplace learning, from Griffith University in Southport, Queensland, Australia, recently held a talk at Utrecht University. Billet has not been working in the medical education domain, but he will speak at the AMEE meeting 2013 and his views are certainly interesting for medical educators. Learning in the workplace, in the 120.000 years existence of mankind, he showed the audience holding a simple ruler in his hand, has been the dominant approach to knowledge and skill development for over 95% of the time of our existence. School and education as a structured form of knowledge and skill transmission has only been around less than 3000 years, and in the massive and structural ways we know it only less than 300 years. The ruler showed this as a tiny white bar sticked at the far right end of it. There is very little indication that workplace learning ever included formal teaching and Billett’s hypothesis is that mimesis, through observation and imitation, was the dominant procedure. This approach has, for example, led to the highly sophisticated Chinese society, known from accounts having a 100 million-population, including large cities, around year 2 AD, based on an early census. After drawing a parallel with current forms of workplace curricula, his recommendations included a need for the development of a science of workplace learning and to learn how educational and workplace settings can be better integrated.