Purpose: We examined studies of the clinical learning environment from the fields of sociology and organizational culture to (i) offer insight into how workplace culture has informed research on postgraduate trainee learning and professional development; (ii) highlight limitations of the literature; and (iii) suggest practical ways to apply sociocultural concepts to challenges in the learning environment. Materials and methods: Concepts were explored by participants at a consensus conference in October 2018. Results: We identified three enduring foci for research using a sociocultural lens: the hidden curriculum, exploration of medical errors, and the impact of time pressures on the relational nature of clinical education. Limitations included the lower value attributed to informal learning and a pejorative valuation of the hidden curriculum; and disconnect between practices in clinical settings and the priorities of the larger organization. Conclusions: Research on the learning environment using a sociocultural lens suggest workplace goals, norms and practices determined which learners engage in learning-relevant activities, to what extent, and the degree of guidance provided, with these factors creating “tacit” curricula that may support or compete with formal learning goals. We close with guidance on how sociocultural constructs could inform research to improve the learning environment.
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