Opportunities and challenges of adopting mobile technology to enhance WPL

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My name is Franziska Trede I am the co-director of the Education for Practice Institute. I want to open up the dialogue at CSU about workplace learning (WPL) and mobile technology (MT). I am not talking about simulations I am talking about student learning in authentic workplaces.

Making the most of WPL through MT, remains an under-researched and ill-understood area of WPL. This is a little surprising, because learning, working and living are rapidly and relentlessly changing with MTs. They have changed workplaces and how colleagues work, communicate with and relate to each other, and professional practices are being radically technologised to varying degrees.

It is also surprising because MT seems like a great solution to the many challenges students face on placements:

Students tell us they have limited opportunities to talk with someone in the workplace about their experiences; and MT can connect them to peers and academics as well as other professional and personal networks to make sense of practice experiences.

They are removed from the library and cannot access information that they need on placement; MT makes it possible to access the library, Wikipedia, relevant blogs and also the website of their placement.

Some students feel isolated in a foreign workplace; and MT can keep them connected with friends and family.

Some students find it hard to ask questions. Their supervisors might be too busy or students feel awkward to ask their supervisor silly questions that might expose their ignorance and students might find it particularly hard to ask any sensitive questions that have to do with ethical, gender or social justice issues. MT can help them broadcast any of their questions and connect with other people in their search for improved meaning about professional practice.

On top of that MT can be used to record their thinking, film how they perform specific skills in practice situations and diarise experiences and reflections. And these activities can be instantly shared and assessed.

MT seems an obvious solution with its multimedia functions and power to connect people anywhere anytime.

But wait, aren’t there situations where time and place do matter in WPL. Sometimes there are only split seconds you have in work situations and it is crucial that supervisors are there.

Blending virtual and physical spaces well, and learning safely across personal, professional, public and educational spheres is no simple task.

We should not kid ourselves because these mobile solutions come with challenges and here I am just throwing in a few to the discussion: there are still connectivity problems in some workplaces with firewalls, no WIFI access and therefore extra cost to students.

Some workplaces have a social media policy that bans students to use personal digital devices. There are great differences between professions about the uptake of MT.

Professionalism in the mobile age is a murky area and there are unresolved conflicts with confidentiality and privacy that drastically reduce the possibilities of filming student performances on placement.

Students might talk more online with academics, peers, friends and family than with professionals on placement.

For academics to stay connected with students online can present as a substantive additional workload.

Despite these obstacles MT is relentlessly changing the learning and practice landscape. Students will use MT no matter what, so we better ensure they use it well for learning to prepare them for their future practices.

I believe, best use of MT will emerge when academics, workplace educators and students are on the same page, when there is shared understanding of ways in which students’ personal mobile digital devices can best be used. To achieve this students, academics and workplace educators need to talk, compare their expectations, bias and current practices and come to a shared understanding. A mobile technology capacity-building framework for workplace learning is currently being developed with the help of the Office of learning and teaching (OLT) funding. I am leading this project with three other university partners. We are collecting data from students, workplace educators and academics about their expectations and practices using MT to enhance WPL. Our first online resource for students is based on the principles explained in the introduction to the online resource.

We are currently testing this online resource which we call GPS for WPL. This is our first starting point to assemble the MT capacity building framework. To learn more about the project and to continue this conversation about enhancing WPL through MT do contact me, or go to the project website, contribute to its blog and see you at CSUed.

What are the changing conditions for workplace learning in the mobile age?

With the advent of mobile technology, what has really changed for workplace learning (WPL)*? This was a question I was asked last week after a presentation on our project “Enhancing workplace learning through mobile technology: Connecting personal, social and professional learning cultures” at the German Adult Education Conference in Hannover. http://www.ifbe.uni-hannover.de/sektionstagung_2015.html

Of course a lot has changed. Time is compressed and space has expanded, which means that everything can be accessed from anywhere much faster now. Opportunities for networked, connected conversations and reflections are endless. In the context of learning, this means that students can access information on the internet anytime and anywhere, and connect with people from around the globe. Mike Sharples et al. (2007) describe mobile learning as a conversation across multiple contexts. Alberto Cattaneo et al. (2015) discuss that online interactions and conversations across context(s) are key features of mobile learning.

WPL is firmly located in socio-cultural learning theories (Stephen Billett, 2011), with an emphasis on agency, participation and collective reflection, and seems to fit perfectly the affordances of mobile devices to help students stay connected and learn about their profession while also helping them acquire the much needed networking capability required for work in the mobile age. Yet, Strandell-Laine et al. (2014) found in their literature review that “[p]articipants used mobile devices primarily as reference tools, but less frequently as tools for reflection, assessment or cooperation during the clinical practicum”. We know, though, that human beings have always formed social groups and worked together cooperatively (Fuchs, 2014). Cognition, communication and cooperation have always been key elements of building civil society and conducting work activities. So what needs to change or be emphasised to help students actually use their personal digital devices to improve their learning on placement? What are the conditions that need to be created to enable thoughtful and constructive online conversations and reflections? What is the role of academics, students and workplace educators?

There isn’t one answer of course, but each WPL stakeholder needs to play an active role in negotiating the use of personal digital mobile devices. We need to reach a shared understanding, because students will continue to use their devices and workplaces will continue to develop their own norms and policies about the use of these devices. A discussion about mobile technology use in WPL can become a great starting point to clarify expectations: What type of mobile technology use helps learning and what type of mobile use hinders learning and more generally establish good student-workplace educator-academic relations? We need to go back to WPL pedagogies and develop future pedagogies (Trede & McEwen, 2015) that skilfully and deliberately integrate the changed conditions in the mobile age.


Billett, Stephen. (2011) Integrating experiences in workplace and university settings: A conceptual perspective. In Billett, S. & Henderson, A. (Eds.) Developing learning professionals. Dordrecht, Springer

Cattaneo, Alberto; Motta, Elisa and Gurtner, Jean-Luc. 2015. Evaluating a mobile and online system for apprentices’ learning documentation in vocational education: usability, effectiveness and satisfaction. International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning, 7(3), 40-58

Fuchs, Christian. 2014. Social Media and the Public Sphere, tripleC 12(1): 57-101, http://www.triple-c.at

Sharples, Mike; Taylor, Josie and Vavoula, Giasemi. 2007. A theory of learning in the mobile age. In R. Andrews&C. Haythornthwaite (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of e-learning research. London, SAGE.

Strandell-Laine, Camilla; Stolt, Minna; Leino-Kilpi, Helena and Saarikoski, Mikko. (2014). Use of mobile devices in nursing student–nurse teacher cooperation during the clinical practicum: An integrative review. Nurse Education Today, http://www.nurseeducationtoday.com/article/S0260-6917(14)00330-X/abstract

Trede, Franziska, & McEwen, Celina. (2015). Critical thinking for future practice, In M. Davies and R. Barnett (Eds.), Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education (pp. 457-475). New York, Palgrave Publishers.

*With WPL I mean university students learning in authentic workplaces under supervision as part of their studies.