Tackling socio-cultural barriers around mobile learning in the workplace

Acceptance of mobile devices varies widely across individuals, disciplinary contexts, and workplaces. In their study in the use of technology for learning in the workplace, Ertmer, et al. [1] found two types of barriers: external barriers (e.g. access, support and culture) and internal (e.g. personal beliefs and attitudes, and misconduct). These barriers influence uptake and implementation of mobile technology for workplace learning (WPL) (also known as internship, fieldwork, practicum, etc.).

In our study on ways of enhancing WPL through the use of mobile technology, we also identified these two types of barriers. We even found that socio-cultural barriers were greater obstacles for students than the technical and access challenges encountered.


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These findings about the difficulty in overcoming socio-cultural barriers to enhance student learning on placement, and most of the current conversation on technology-enhanced learning, highlight two opposing views held by the techno-advocates and the techno-phobes. In higher education, advocates and phobes can be found amongst students, academics and workplace educators (WPEs). Advocates might promote or defend the ubiquitous use of technology as something that can only help improve our learning and working lives, making it easier to manage our time, tasks and connections across settings, while phobes might argue that technology is a liability as it distracts from learning, dilutes the primacy of place, diminishes the physical teacher presence, increases workloads and leads to addiction.

We should remind ourselves that the majority of students, academics and WPEs are somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum, often willing to use mobile technology to enhance learning and work, but, at times, uncertain about what that might look like and what is required from them. For example, students on placement might be hesitant about how to respond to an outright ban on the use of social media and/or personal mobile devices in their host organisation when asked by their academic teacher to capture their thoughts and document their activities on the go. In this instance, the use of a Smartphone or tablet might be ideal for audio recording or noting ideas as they emerge or photographing the results of a task to be emailed for feedback. On the one hand, it is important for students confronted with such situations that they are aware of workplace policies and observe them. On the other, such bans of mobile devices may not apply to all spaces in a workplace and careful interpretation of such policies with WPEs is useful.

The debate should move on from defending one position over the other to carefully rethinking social media and mobile devices policies. Technology is here – and probably here to stay -, increasingly present in our lives, giving us the potential to augment what we do. The lack of dialogue on these issues limits learning opportunities for students. It is now time to make room for discussing and questioning workplaces’ guidelines or policies on the actual use of personal mobile devices at work. Are these positions informed by personal preference, organisational culture or disciplinary tradition etc.? Just like formal policies, personal beliefs about the value and role of mobile technology for learning should be scrutinised. We can embrace technology to serve us to learn and work better. But for that, we need to engage with these cultural issues and barriers, encourage open discussions between students, WPEs and academic teachers and co-design appropriate pedagogical activities. We need to deliberately use mobile technology for learning based on shared understandings; it is the most strategic and safe way to help establish a new norm for using it to connect and enhance learning and work.


[1] Ertmer, P. A., Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T., Sadik, O., Sendurur, E., & Sendurur, P. (2012). Teacher beliefs and technology integration practices: A critical relationship. Computers & Education, 59(2), 423-435.



2 thoughts on “Tackling socio-cultural barriers around mobile learning in the workplace

  1. Absolutely. We are not advocating for the use of technology at all cost. We understand that organisations are at different stages of using for work and learning, and therefore, are at different stages of introducing special ethical guidelines or netiquette regarding the use of and access to mobile technology, social media and the internet while at work. We are suggesting that there are benefits to using mobile technology for learning in professional settings and that this use needs to be discussed to reach a shared understanding and avoid the risks (e.g. confidentiality breach).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bearing in mind the historical aspect of sociocultural theory, it is worth pointing out that work-place settings change all the time. This could be in response to a social media indiscretion – some of which seriously compromise service users’ rights, even resulting in the guilty party being dismissed or deregistered. Knee-jerk reactions on the part of management are understandable in such circumstances.
    And speaking of management, in light of creeping commercialisation of previously public services, what are the implications of introducing digital ‘solutions’? Whatever the touted benefits for learning or productivity, should we be concerned about the trend for technology to displace humans?


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