Deepening reflection on practice with mobile technology

Workplace learning (WPL) provides students with a unique opportunity to reflect on professional practice. However, though reflection is an everyday life occurrence that happens in and on practices (1), it needs to be framed and supported. Indeed, Martin and Ertzberger (2) found that students guided by experts to reflect scored better than those that were assigned no reflection or self-reflection support.

Researchers (3) have shown that well-facilitated reflection needs to be at the core of the three defining stages of placements/practicum/internships: at the beginning, during and after.

Reflection is required in order for the activities that students take part in or observe on placement to become learning experiences. Reflection helps students have perspective and make decisions: “coming to realize and explicate differences, between practices”. (4) Indeed, as Dewey (5) wrote, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience”.

The relationship between reflection and learning is, however, complex. Simply put, learning is the outcome of the multi-layered process that is reflection. Harvey et al. (6) define reflection as “a deliberate and conscientious process that employs a person’s cognitive, emotional and somatic capacities to mindfully contemplate on past, present or future (intended or planned) actions in order to learn, better understand and potentially improve future actions”.

It is important to note that reflection needs to be closely related back to action especially when reflection is used in the context of education for practice. A better preparation for future practice requires that reflection be followed by an integration of the experiences into practice or the workforce (7). It is only with the integration of theory and practice that reflection leads to meaning-making (1) and ensures that student ‘feel’ work-ready (8).

There are different types of reflection related to different types of learning. McAlpine et al. (cited in 6) identified three general types of reflection in learning and teaching: 1) Practical reflection (improving practical actions in context); 2) Strategic reflection (applicable across contexts); and 3) Epistemic reflection (awareness of reflective process). Ryan and Ryan (9) define a four-level hierarchy of reflection (the 4Rs): reporting of and responding, moving into relating to personal experiences, then reasoning, and finally reconstructing. Harvey et al (6) describe an ecology of reflection that ranges from reflective learning, to critical reflection, critically reflective practice, and critical thinking, that highlights an increasing level of conscious engagement with processes, purposes and outcomes.

Photo credit: Lancering UAR-app Den Haag via Photopin, Creative Commons licence

While on placement there are opportunities for reflection, we also know that at times, there is limited encouragement from practitioners or workplace educators (WPEs) for students to ask questions and investigate issues (10). In that context, mobile technology, as border crossing objects that fulfill a bridging function (Star, cited 4), can be most useful in overcoming some of those issues. For instance, mobile technology can allow students to think deeply about their placements’ learning experiences in their own time and at their own pace. Mobile technology lends itself well to recording thoughts (e.g. audio recording, photographs digital diaries, electronic log books, blogs), reviewing notes taken during the day as students go about their practice or accessing information on the Internet to clarify points or practices that could be improved in the future.

Mobile technology also lends itself well to connecting and sharing learning and insights with others (peers, mentors, professionals etc.), by joining or creating closed or private online forums or online learning groups (on social media networks, universities’ Learning Management Systems or other purpose-built platforms). Students can also work in groups to collaborate or co-create blogs, wikis, documents (using GoogleDocs for example) and co-present. With the appropriate consideration –including permission from academics, WPEs and, of course, anyone who is named or captured in the reflective notes, and review of laws governing information privacy and confidentiality and workplaces’ ethical codes of conduct‑ it may be useful to share insights in a public forum.

The use of mobile technologies, thus, offers new ways of teaching and learning to capture and reflect on professional practice. With a mindful approach, we are confident that technology-enhanced reflection for WPL can be widely implemented so that students can make better sense of their WPL experiences as well as ensure they feel work-ready and have more options to help them improve their future practice.


(1) Schön, D. A. (1996). The reflective practitioners: How professionals think in action. Hampshire, UK: Arena.

(2) Martin, F., & Ertzberger, J. (2015). Effects of reflection type in the here and now mobile learning environment. British Journal of Educational Technology. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12327

(3) Billett, S. (2009). Final report for ALTC Associate Fellowship: Developing agentic professionals through practice-based pedagogies. Strawberry Hills, NSW: Griffith University.

Dyson, L. E., Litchfield, A., Lawrence, E., Raban, R., & Leijdekkers, P. (2009). Advancing the m-learning research agenda for active, experiential learning: Four case studies. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(2), 250-267.

Edwards, D., Kate, P., Pearce, J., & Hong, J. (2015). Work Integrated Learning in STEM in Australian Universities: Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

Guggi, N., & Glover, R. (2012). Digital literacies for student employability: Spotlight on work placements. Paper presented at the T & L Showcase: Assessing work placements, Reading, UK.

Taylor, J. D., Dearnley, C. A., Laxton, J. C., Coates, C. A., Treasure‐Jones, T., Campbell, R., & Hall, I. (2010). Developing a mobile learning solution for health and social care practice. Distance Education, 31(2), 175-192. doi: 10.1080/01587919.2010.503343

(4) Akkerman, S. F., & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Review of educational research, 81(2), 132-169. p. 144

(5) Dewey, J. (1933). How we think; A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process (Revised ed.). Boston: D. C. Heath. p. 78

(6) Harvey, M., Coulson, D., & McMaugh, A. (2016). Towards a theory of the Ecology of Reflection: Reflective practice for experiential learning in higher education, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(2). Available at:

(7) Zegwaard, K. E. (2015). Innovation in work integrated learning: Working towards our future. Paper presented at the Think Tank, Adelaide.

(8) Ferns, S., Russell, L., & Smith, C. (2015). Learning for Life and Work in a Complex World. Paper presented at the 38th HERDSA Annual International Conference, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.

(9) Ryan, M., & Ryan, M. (2013). Theorising a model for teaching and assessing reflective learning in higher education. Higher Education Research and Development, 32(2), 244-257. doi: ttp://

(10) Trede, F., & McEwen, C. (2015). Critical Thinking for Future Practice: Learning to Question. In The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education (pp. 457-474). Palgrave Macmillan US.


Rethinking time and space when using mobile technology for workplace learning

Many authors argue that because mobile technology accompanies people on the move it can facilitate learning across time and space. (1, 2) Through the use of mobile technology the geographical distance between the university and workplace placement can be bridged. This raises many questions about temporal and spatial conditions for learning and work in terms of how we relate to self and others, in general, and around the distinction between distance and proximity, in particular.

Mobile technology is a boundary object; it is an artefact that fulfils a bridging function. (3) As such it allows boundary crossing and can help transform space and time. (4) Its use not only helps blur the boundaries of learning spaces between the ‘now’ and ‘then’, but also between professional and personal. Mobile technology can be most useful for students to bridge university and work spaces, especially when they go on placement far from campus or on long placements. They can then use their personal mobile devices to stay connected with academics, exchange ideas with peers and/or support each other from a distance.

Floridi (5) argues that “ICTs enable and promote the agile, temporary and timely aggregation, disaggregation and re-aggregation of distributed groups around shared interests across old, rigid boundaries represented by social classes, political parties, ethnicity, language barriers, physical and geographical barriers, and so forth”.

In the context of university education, this can mean that the use of mobile technology for learning “challenges the need for buildings and campuses and makes us question the need for education to take place at fixed physical locations; it challenges the need for timetables and makes us question the need for synchronicity; it challenges the need for lectures and seminars and makes us question the essence of face-to-face teaching and learning”. (6) In the context of WPL, this can mean that the use of mobile technology invites us to rethink the triadic relationship between students, workplace educators (WPEs) and the need for teachers to be with students in the same time and place.

However, ‘time’ and ‘space’ are not neutral concepts, but social constructs and that we need to be wary of discourses that promote the idea that the use of “[digital] technology can set learning free of spatio-temporal constraints”. (7) Professional practice is context-dependent and traditionally time and place defined situated practices and WPL.

So how can we help students, academics and workplace educators (WPEs) choose between physical (co-presence) and mobile technology-mediated learning and interactions?

Again, we agree with Floridi (5) who writes that in hyperhistorical times, power differs from previous historical times:
The State is no longer the only, and sometimes not even the main, agent in the political arena that can exercise informational power over other informational agents, in particular over (groups of) human informational organisms. […] The phenomenon is generating a new tension between power and force, where power is informational and exercised through the elaboration and dissemination of norms, whereas force is physical and exercised when power fails to orient the behaviour of the relevant agents and norms need to be enforced.

Space differs because “ICTs de-territorialise human experience. […] This is generating a new tension between geo-politics, which is global and non-territorial, and the Nation State, which still defines its identity and political legitimacy in terms of a sovereign territorial unit, as a Country”. (5)

Lessons learnt from the use of digital media in live performance (8) can be extrapolated to the use of mobile technology to learning across spaces. The notion of digital liveness can be translated to the context of the use of mobile technology for WPL. Mobile technology can connect different spaces in a fluid temporal manner and create a different sense of real-time and engagement for the user learner. Liveness comes from distance. By mediating students’ practices and experiences of work and learning across university and workplaces, the use of mobile technology on placement can lead to the emergence of a hybrid learning space with implications beyond the university and the workplace. Thus, students become ‘produsers’ (producers and users) of knowledge because the use of distance in space and time and connection across these with the use of mobile technology helps them explore and question real and hypothetical situations and events.

Though the use of mobile technology can enhance and deepen students’ learning experience within interactive and networked environments, some situations in WPL require synchronicity of time and space, physical and temporal co-presence between students and WPEs or academic. There are situations during placements where place, situatedness and context are crucial, whereas there are situations where place is less important. For example, for academics, the issue might be about checking-in with students, whether to visit them on site or simply organise a Skype meeting. For the WPEs, it might be about how to be there for and with students and help them distinguish between the decisions that need to be made in a split second as opposed to the ones that require slow consultation or deep reflection. For students, it might be about understanding when discussions and/or reflection on situated practice experiences can be done away from the place where it happened.

It is, therefore, important to ensure that students understand when to seek opportunities from co-presence and when to turn to mobile technology for learning or when to blend these two modes. It is important for students to distinguish between the affordances of in the moment co-presence and online connected learning.

This might include considering whether learning or interaction requires:

  • ‘thick’ information (e.g. body language, gesture and silence);
  • new shared time-space;
  • mediation away from the workplace (for example “to allow ‘risky’ requests to be made without losing face” (9)); and/or
  • identifying and shifting between topics to ‘loosely’ ( accidental, no script) arrive at a shared understanding of what is needed in terms of processes and outcomes.

How are you helping students to tackle time and space issues when it comes to learning with mobile technology in workplaces? What are some other useful tools and frameworks you have used to address this issue?



(1) Sharples, M., Taylor, J., & Vavoula, G. (2005). Towards a theory of mobile learning. Paper presented at the mLearn 2005 – 4th World conference on mLearning: Mobile technology: The future of learning in your hands, Cape Town, South Africa.

(2) Traxler, J. & Kukulska-Hulme, A (2016). Introduction to the next generation of mobile learning. In Traxler, J. & A. Kukulska-Hulme (Eds.), Mobile learning: The next generation, (pp. 1-10). London: Routledge.

(3) Star, cited in Akkerman, S. F., & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Review of educational research, 81(2), 132-169.

(4) Akkerman, S. F., & Bakker, A. (2011). Boundary crossing and boundary objects. Review of educational research, 81(2), 132-169.

(5) Floridi, L. (2015). Hyperhistory and the Philosophy of Information Policies. In L. Floridi (Ed.), The Onlife Manifesto: Being Human in a Hyperconnected Era (pp. 51-63). Heidelberg: Springer International Publishing.

(6) Kukulska-Hulme, A., & Traxler, J. (2005). Mobile teaching and learning. In A. Kukulska-Hulme & J. Traxler (Eds.), Mobile learning-a handbook for educators and trainers (pp. 25-44). London: Routledge, p. 42

(7) Goodyear, P. (2006). Technology and the articulation of vocational and academic interests: Reflections on time, space and e-learning. Studies in Continuing Education, 28(2), 83-98, p. 85

(8) Auslander, P. 2012. Digital liveness: A historico-philosophical perspective. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 34(3), 3–11.

(9) Boden & Molotch cited in Goodyear, P. (2006). Technology and the articulation of vocational and academic interests: Reflections on time, space and e-learning. Studies in Continuing Education, 28(2), 83-98, p. 95