For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Aspects of a Practical Understanding: Heidegger at the workplace"

by Nielsen, Klaus (2007)


This article aims to clarify some of our pre?conceived assumptions when we address issues of learning in practice. It argues that we need to develop an understanding of practice based on its own premises. For this purpose the German philosopher Martin Heidegger's (1889?1976) understanding of practice and learning is introduced. Heidegger emphasises the use of equipment as crucial for a practical understanding. This perspective is contrasted with an intellectualistic approach to learning in practice exemplified by the work of Donald Schön. Heidegger and Schön's perspectives on learning in practice are evaluated and discussed throughout the article. Examples from studies of apprenticeship are used to illustrate Heidegger's comprehension of learning in practice. Especially learning through the use of tools and equipment, learning in context, learning as a consequence of making mistakes and learning as a matter of developing a sense of familiarity are types of learning emphasised in this article.

Key Passage

Heidegger stresses that it is by using equipment and getting to know its referential character that we learn to understand the world. Bringing this kind of thinking into learning in practice means that the ‘‘know-how’’ of the trade is to a large degree embedded in the social practice of the workplace, and more precisely in the use of tools and equipment. The equipment has immanent purposes, and by using it the apprentices begin to understand its purposes. In order for the practitioner to learn, he or she needs to disclose the referential character of assignments and equipment by using the equipment in practice. From Heidegger’s perspective, the learner needs to learn how pieces of equipment refer to each other and how they relate to various assignments. This is the basic way that ready-to-hand is constituted. In this sense, learning how to use and how to understand are basically similar processes. In studies of apprenticeship the dynamic process of learning is closely related to how equipment and assignments are connected. This is learnt through a gradual use of different equipment. Consequently, it is through the actual working process that the relationship between equipment and assignments discloses itself. In this sense, circumspection is closely related to concrete and actual circumstances. The ready-to-hand of the craft is embedded in the process and is gradually disclosed to the apprentice when working with the material, the equipment, and the assignments. Understanding in itself does not arise from verbal instruction, but from the practical use of the various equipment. (p.461)


Heidegger, Learning, Equipment, Practical Understanding, Apprenticeship, Education


On Heidegger

Links to Reference



How to contribute.