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


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