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.


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