How to build and participate in professional online networks?

As an element of the capacity building framework designed to help students make better use of their personal mobile devices for workplace learning (WPL), this specific resource aims to help students, academic teaching staff and workplace educators (WPEs) provide a virtual space for all to connect with relevant people to enable timely collaboration and feedback for learning.

Establishing networking tasks can be seen as an opportunity to and develop more generic skills to create and participate in professional learning networks and communities. Mobile technology can enable learning with a connected network.

How can students become more skilful at using personal mobile devices to build and participate in professional online networks and stay engaged with their learning while on placement?

Although students may have access to a WPEs on site, this person may be supervising several students, or may need to attend to other duties, and is, therefore, often not physically present. This might be an issue for students, especially at times when they may have questions or need support. This can lead to self-doubt, lack of access to discipline knowledge, loss of confidence or motivation to perform, difficulty making sense of their learning experience in isolation, etc.

Due to being geographically removed from their personal and academic support networks and usual learning spaces, students report feeling isolated, unsupported and stressed.[1] Students also experience difficulty in transitioning to placements and not knowing what to do when feeling upset or anxious.[2]

These WPL challenges highlight that students cannot learn in isolation in the workplace and instead need to be actively engaged and integrated into a community of practice [3] comprised of academic, professionals, peers and social support.[4]

In their pilot implementation study on the use of mobile technology to support WPL experiences, Dearnley et al. [5] found that “students really valued the social networking while isolated on remote practice placements”. The use of mobile technology in WPL has the potential to enable a networked, collaborative, integrative learning experience. Characteristics of networked communities are that they can grow and that everybody can have a voice, share experiences and give advice across settings. Mobile technologies offer solutions to feelings of isolation while on placement as they can provide opportunities for staying connected, establishing mentoring and peer support systems, and providing students with enabling, personalisable tools and resources.[6] Further, through the use of virtual spaces, students can draw on personal, peer and professional networks.

Therefore:  Students can be given scaffolded learning tasks to participate in and create online networks using mobile technology to engage with peers, academic staff or other professional practitioners to learn and work.

Refer to the associated resource page for some examples of how to do this.


[1] Gracia, L. (2010). Accounting Students’ Expectations and Transition Experiences of Supervised Work Experience. Accounting Education: An International Journal, 19(1-2), 51-64.

Howard, C., Fox, A. R., & Coyer, F. (2014). Text messaging to support off-campus clinical nursing facilitators: A descriptive study. Nurse Education Today. Doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2013.12.011.

Mackay, B., & Harding, T. (2009). M-Support: keeping in touch on placement in primary health care settings. Nursing praxis in New Zealand, 25(2), 30-40.

[2] Robinson, A., Abbey, J., Abbey, B., Toye, C., & Barnes, L. (2009). Getting off to a good start? A multi-site study of orienting student nurses during aged care clinical placements. Nurse Education in Practice, 9, 53-60.

[3] Lave, J.,& Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[4] Carvalho, L. & Goodyear, P. (Eds.) (2014). The architecture of productive learning networks, New York, Routledge.

[5] Dearnley, C., Taylor, J., Hennessy, S., Parks, M., Coates, C., Haigh, J., Fairhall, J., Riley, K., & Dransfield, M. (2009). Using Mobile Technologies for Assessment and Learning in Practice Settings: Outcomes of Five Case Studies. International Journal on E-Learning, 8(2), 193-207.

[6] George, L. E., Davidson, L. J., Serapiglia, C. P., Barla, S., & Thotakura, A. (2010). Technology in Nursing Education: A Study of PDA Use by Students. Journal of Professional Nursing, 26(6), 371-376.

Mackay, B., & Harding, T. (2009). M-Support: keeping in touch on placement in primary health care settings. Nursing praxis in New Zealand, 25(2), 30-40.