This paper addresses the question 'what are the variables influencing social interactions and learning during Authentic Early Experience (AEE)?' AEE is a complex educational intervention for new medical students. Following critique of the existing literature, multiple qualitative methods were used to create a study framework conceptually orientated to a socio-cultural perspective. Study participants were recruited from three groups at one UK medical school: students, workplace supervisors, and medical school faculty. A series of intersecting spectra identified in the data describe dyadic variables that make explicit the parameters within which social interactions are conducted in this setting. Four of the spectra describe social processes related to being in workplaces and developing the ability to manage interactions during authentic early experiences. These are: (1) legitimacy expressed through invited participation or exclusion; (2) finding a role-a spectrum from student identity to doctor mindset; (3) personal perspectives and discomfort in transition from lay to medical; and, (4) taking responsibility for 'risk'-moving from aversion to management through graded progression of responsibility. Four further spectra describe educational consequences of social interactions. These spectra identify how the reality of learning is shaped through social interactions and are (1) generic-specific objectives, (2) parallel-integrated-learning, (3) context specific-transferable learning and (4) performing or simulating-reality. Attention to these variables is important if educators are to maximise constructive learning from AEE. Application of each of the spectra could assist workplace supervisors to maximise the positive learning potential of specific workplaces.