Fostering autonomous learning for students in professional settings

The current trend in rapid technological changes and the disruption to traditional work roles and practices have led to changes in the way we learn, work and relate to each other. Australian universities have responded to these changes by shifting how they prepare students for their future work, including promoting workplace learning (WPL) and online learning.[1]

To better help students prepare for these times, there might be a need for universities to deliver programs that appeal to today’s fast and flexible ways of living, but, more importantly, there is a need to help students develop their capacity to learn and work in unpredictable, complex environments.[2] This requires greater autonomy so that the student, as a future practitioner, can learn from the consequences of their actions in an ever-changing context.

Freepik photo by Joe Zlomek

Student’s autonomy or agency is an important enabler of productive learning in complex, unpredictable workplace environments. Student autonomy refers to a learner’s level of reflexivity (e.g. critical thinking) and capacity for deliberate and thoughtful action. Park defines this as “Learners’ degree of freedom and self-management ability in regard to determination of learning goal, process, and evaluation”.[3] Hitlin and Elder’s [4] definition of agency is also useful to understand learner autonomy as the capacity to act freely more or less spontaneously on and for their own in a range of situations (e.g. to make sense of an immediate situations, adapt to a specific context, respond to feedback, plan actions with long term implications).

Billett [5] shows how the intended curriculum in WPL can be made to support students become active and agentic learners, including by promoting inclusiveness, pedagogical approaches go beyond focusing exclusively on knowledge and skill and teacher control to align socio-cultural, emotional, cognitive with technical perspectives of WPL.

One of the potential benefits of mobile technology is the autonomy it can afford users to self-direct and regulate their learning,[6] Collective learning in WPL is no longer constrained to the workplace. Students’ use of mobile technology in WPL has the potential to develop their digital agency and enhance their learning by connecting with their online networks. It can also help students develop new professional and digital competencies (e.g. understanding of safe and ethical online conduct, appropriate networking and communicating online, filtering and critiquing information).

We are careful not to suggest, however, that the use of mobile technology for WPL is risk-free or always conducive to learning. WPL, as learning in situated practice environments, requires thoughtful moderation of activities and so does the integration of personal mobile technology in this context. For example, at times, being present on site cannot necessarily be replaced by being connected with mobile technology across settings. Sometimes it is crucial to be present to observe or perform a task.

Having said that, we would still argue that embedding students’ use of mobile technology during WPL can develop their understanding of how environmental factors shape professional practices and their capacity to find innovative solutions to future practice problems. This is the case because both mobile technology and WPL provide opportunities to learn across settings and bridge learning and work environments, they are grounded in social, discursive and collaborative learning, they provide opportunities to develop self-directed learning skills, and students’ capacities to respond to unplanned experiences.


[1] Johnson, L., Adams, S., & Cummins, M. (2012) The NMC Horizon Report: 2012 Education Edition Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Orrell, J. (2011) Good Practice Report: Work-integrated learning. Sydney: The Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

[2] Trede, F. & McEwen, C. (2016). Carving out the territory for educating the deliberate professional. In F. Trede & McEwen, C. (Eds.) Educating the deliberate professional: Preparing for future practices, Dodrecht: Springer.

[3] Park, Y. (2011). A pedagogical framework for mobile learning: Categorizing educational applications of mobile technologies into four types. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(2), 78-102. p. 85

[4] Hitlin, S., & Elder, G. H. (2007). Time, Self, and the Curiously Abstract Concept of Agency*.  Sociological Theory, 25(2), 170-191. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9558.2007.00303.x

[5] Billett, S. (2011). Integrating experiences in workplace and university settings: A conceptual perspective. In Billett, S. & Henderson, A. (Eds.) Developing learning professionals. Dordrecht, Springer.

[6] Cobcroft, R. S., Towers, S. J., Smith, J. E., & Bruns, A. (2006). Mobile learning in review: Opportunities and challenges for learners, teachers, and institutions. Paper presented at the Online Learning and Teaching (OLT) Conference 2006, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

Coulby, C., Hennessey, S., Davies, N., & Fuller, R. (2011). The use of mobile technology for work-based assessment: The student experience. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(2), 251-265.

Dearnley, C., Taylor, J., Hennessy, S., Parks, M., Coates, C., Haigh, J.,. .. 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.

Ellaway, R. H., Fink, P., Graves, L., & Campbell, A. (2013). Left to their own devices: Medical learners’ use of mobile technologies. Medical teacher, 36(2), 130-138.

Liaw, S.-S., Hatala, M., & Huang, H.-M. (2010). Investigating acceptance toward mobile learning to assist individual knowledge management: Based on activity theory approach. Computers & Education, 54(2), 446-454.

Reychav, I., Dunaway, M., & Kobayashi, M. (2015). Understanding mobile technology-fit behaviors outside the classroom. Computers & Education, 87, 142-150. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2015.04.005


How can students appropriately use online networks to stay engaged with their learning while on placement?

There are times when workplace educators (WPE) are unable to provide the support and attention students might need or like while on placement. Students on workplace learning (WPL) placement may feel isolated and disconnected from their university learning experience, because they are physically removed from their usual place of learning and the people who influence this learning (academics, peers, friends). This can lead to a range of factors that may inhibit the student’s learning experience while on placement.

Although students may have access to a WPE on site, this person may have several students to monitor or needs to attend to other duties and is therefore often not physically present at times when students may have questions or need support. This can result in heightened anxiety, lack of access to discipline knowledge, loss of 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 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] that comprises academic, professional, peer and social support networks [4]. Mobile technology in WPL has the potential to enable a networked, collaborative, integrative learning experience. Characteristics of networked communities are that everybody can have a voice, experiences and advice can be shared across settings and learners can grow their networks. Mobile technologies offer solutions to feeling isolated in WPL by providing opportunities for staying connected, establishing mentoring and peer support systems, and providing students with enabling, personalisable tools and resources [5]. Further, through virtual spaces students can draw on both personal and professional networks.

In their pilot implementation study of the use of mobile devices to support WPL experiences, Dearnley, et al. [6] found that “students really valued the social networking while isolated on remote practice placements”.

These potential benefits do not flow automatically. Being a frequent user of a mobile device does not mean that one then knows how to use it for learning (the ‘digital natives’ fallacy). There is much more to learning with technology than just sharing information.[8] Helping the stakeholders in WPL construct understandings of and capacity in mobile technology use in WPL is an important undertaking.

Our research [7] shows that, with the support of academics and WPE, the use of technology in WPL can allow students to be innovative in their approaches to learning and practice. In answer to this, the research team of the ‘Enhancing Workplace Learning through Mobile Technology’ project has developed a series of resources and resource patterns:

  • The GPS for WPL: An online resource for students to help them navigate the WPL landscape using mobile technology.
  • Initiating Dialogue: A pattern to help design resources or structured discussions that lead to clarifying expectations, pedagogical use and generally a shared understanding about the use of mobile technology on placement.
  • Planning Learning Experiences: A pattern to help design resources or activities to prepare students’ for their WPL experiences.
  • Networking Activities: A pattern to help design resources or activities that support live collaboration and interactions between students, academics, workplace educators or supervisors.
  • Creating Your Own ‘On-The-Go’ Activities: A pattern to help design resources that allow students to construct participatory and self-directed WPL learning activities.
  • Professional and Safe Conduct: A pattern to help design resources or activities to determine ways of developing and maintaining professional and safe conduct for students’ use of mobile technology while on placement.


[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, 34(6), e32-e36.

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] 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.

[6] page 202 in 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.

[7] Trede, F., McEwen, C., Kuswara, A., & Pace-Feraud, J. (2013). CSU Students and Staff’s Use of Technology in Workplace Learning, CSU Think Piece. The Education For Practice Institute, Sydney. [video].

[8] Lea S & Callaghan L (2011) Enhancing Health and Social Care Placement Learning through Mobile TechnologyEducational Technology and Society, 14 (1), 135-145.

ICT competencies for future workplace practices

Written by Lina Markauskaite

In some information and communication technology (ICT)-related units students learn ICT competences (digital literacy) in isolation from their future workplace practices and needs. In contrast, in some other units that prepare students for practicums, students become passive receivers of large amount of information and “scripts” about how to behave in workplace (policies, ethics, etc.).

Evidence shows that learning to use ICT in isolation from specific problems is ineffective. An effective way to enhance students’ ICT-related capacities is to engage them into authentic projects, such as design and development of ICT-related tools or resources for their own learning or for teaching others or for later their practice. A closely related example comes from a teacher education unit, where groups of preservice teachers work with university academics helping them to design and develop new online courses [1]. Students could be asked to co-create such courses for themselves. Such task, of course, is large and could require longer time (6-12 weeks), but depending on available time, students could be given tasks to create smaller and more specific self-learning resources. For example, students could be given a task to create a resource for learning about a specific topic using social media, such as Such task could be a small and specific or large and broad (e.g. a task asking students to choose, annotate and share 3-5 most important resources on a specific topic could be done within 1-2 weeks asking, but students could be also asked to develop a larger collection of tools over a longer period).

Quite different issue is encountered in courses where students encounter large amounts of information. In such cases, students usually are engaged in passive learning (e.g. reading, note taking, doing quizzes). In contrast, evidence from cognitive sciences suggests [2] that active, constructive and interactive activities are much more beneficial and “interactive activities are most likely to be better than constructive activities, which in turn might be better than active activities, which are better than being passive” [3]. Tasks that draw on active students’ co-construction of learning resources and tools for their own learning and for their peers could help to address this challenge. Examples of specific pedagogical approaches are “knowledge-creating inquiry” [4], “knowledge building” [5], “design as inquiry”; “learning-by-design” [6] and other participatory co-creation approaches. Such approaches not only help to address the above two issues, but also could help to foster students’ creativity, innovation and agency [7].

In the context of mobile technology (MT) in workplace learning (WPL), the above issues could be addressed by giving students tasks (including assessments) in which students are asked to design and develop ICT-based resources or tools (projects, applications) that would help them and their peers to enhance their own learning in workplace with mobile technologies.

Such participatory tasks could be designed in various ways.

  1. Organised & guided: Specific topics, tools, etc could be suggested by a teacher. For example, groups of students could be allocated specific topics related to MT in WPL and asked to create a resource that would be useful for them and their peers using a specific media tool (e.g. How to use mobile technologies ethically in workplace; How to use Linkedin/Facebook in for professional learning). Students could be given various applied tasks (e.g. To design a plan for setting up a new (networked) professional learning community in an organization. To set up a professional learning network that you could use during your practicum with your peers).
  2. Open: The task given for students could be open ended, such as “Create (or design) an innovative resource or tool that would help you to enhance professional learning in your future workplace using mobile technologies”. In such cases it is better to do the project in stages. Initially, students could be asked to design an initial 1-2 pages proposal. Then, after receiving feedback on their idea, they could proceed to design and development. If students didn’t have similar participatory design tasks before, such tasks could be scaffolded by helping students to structure design and inquiry process. E.g. giving a model of design thinking process, a template for design proposal, etc.

What do you think? What are others examples of such participatory tasks?


[1] Koehler, M. J., Mishra, P., & Yahya, K. (2007). Tracing the development of teacher knowledge in a design seminar: Integrating content, pedagogy and technology. Computers & Education 49, 740-762.

Mishra, P., Koehler, M. J., & Zhao, Y. (Eds.). (2007). Faculty development by design: Integrating technology in higher education. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

[2] Chi, M. T. H. (2009). Active-Constructive-Interactive: A Conceptual Framework for Differentiating Learning Activities. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(1), 73-105. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2008.01005.x

Chi, M. T. H., & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP Framework: Linking Cognitive Engagement to Active Learning Outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49(4), 219-243. doi: 10.1080/00461520.2014.965823

[3] page 73 in Chi, M. T. H. (2009). Active-Constructive-Interactive: A Conceptual Framework for Differentiating Learning Activities. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(1), 73-105. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2008.01005.x

[4] Muukkonen, H., & Lakkala, M. (2009). Exploring metaskills of knowledge-creating inquiry in higher education. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 4(2), 187-211. doi: 10.1007/s11412-009-9063-y

Muukkonen, H., Lakkala, M., & Hakkarainen, K. (2005). Technology-Mediation and Tutoring: How Do They Shape Progressive Inquiry Discourse? Journal of the Learning Sciences, 14(4), 527-565. doi: 10.1207/s15327809jls1404_3

[5] Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2006). Knowledge building: theory, pedagogy and technology. In K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 97-115). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[6] Kolodner, J. L., Camp, P. J., Crismond, D., Fasse, B., Gray, J., Holbrook, J., . . . Ryan, M. (2003). Problem-Based Learning Meets Case-Based Reasoning in the Middle-School Science Classroom: Putting Learning by Design(tm) Into Practice. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 12(4), 495-547. doi: 10.1207/s15327809jls1204_2

[7] Damsa, C. I., Kirschner, P. A., Andriessen, J. E. B., Erkens, G., & Sins, P. H. M. (2010). Shared Epistemic Agency: An Empirical Study of an Emergent Construct. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19(2), 143 – 186.

Enabling students to plan their learning on placement using mobile technology

Written by Susie Macfarlane

While both academics and students on placement may be keen for students to use their personal mobile devices to make the most of their workplace learning (WPL) experiences there are a range of challenges they may face. These barriers include:

  1. Learning Design vs. Learning Reality

Students may engage in learning activities and assessment tasks in ways that are very different to how the learning designer intended; the substance of students’ learning may also differ markedly.

  1. Learning Agency

Students’ experiences of prescriptive educational experiences may inhibit their intrinsic motivation and agency to seek, design and integrate their own learning. Learning experiences can be designed to reinforce power relationships and generate compliance, or to encourage safe participation, shared decision making and student agency.

  1. Professional vs. student role

WPL is conceptualised as a site for the development of students’ professional identity, and social and cognitive practices. However students’ view of themselves may be dominated by their role as student, precluding their engaging in their professional community of practice and development as practitioners [1].

  1. Mobile technology

Students’ and staff levels of knowledge, experience and confidence in mobile technologies and learning vary enormously. Perceptions of acceptable practices with mobile devices vary widely across individuals, disciplinary contexts, and maturity of organisational technological implementation. Perceptions of acceptable and unacceptable practices and why may be negotiated with students (participation), discussed with (consultation), communicated to (informed) or only addressed through a breach of rules (disciplined).

  1. Responsibility for and approaches to learning

The roles and responsibility of academics, work place educators and students for students’ learning may not be identified and understood, and may vary with location, circumstance or time. In addition, each may hold their own theories of learning and these may not be consciously articulated or shared with others.

  1. Competition and collaboration

Traditional assessment practices in higher education evaluate the students’ individual performance, not their capacity to work with others to enhance workplace relationships and performance. Students involved in WPL may need guidance to learn to value collaboration, and to develop skills in collaborating with, learning from and mentoring colleagues.

Practice capabilities are to be learnt and further developed through WPL to deal with these barriers. Capability or ability to do something is based on knowledge and skills but also on the conditions students find in particular workplaces. This context includes physical, material, emotional, cultural aspects that together shape what is the best way to act in this situation [2].

Professions combine discipline-based knowledge and concepts (knowledge of), with practical knowledge and experience (knowing how) [3]. Developing practice knowledge and capabilities involves tactile, cognitive, emotional, personal and social elements [4].

A useful taxonomy of pedagogical methods [5] follows:

  • Self-study: students access GPS material without much additional guidance
  • Didactic: workplace context is explained, students are lectured on what to do, what not to do
  • Dialogic: opportunities are created for exploring the opportunities or issues through various kinds of structured or unstructured conversations
  • Communicative: online infrastructure is created to support and stimulate ongoing interaction between the students, academics and workplace educators during WPL
  • Participatory design: students are encouraged and supported to co-design mobile resources they may find useful for WPL.

Boud and Prosser [6] argue for the need to strategically plan activities to help students make the most of their learning experience using new technologies. An important step in conceptualizing curriculum design is to identify who designs, and how. Traditionally curriculum design is a task undertaken by academics, for students. To what extent is a student who obediently complies with instructional goals and methods designed by another, preparing adequately for the 21st century workplace? In their WPL, students will encounter informal, highly complex and ill-defined learning contexts and professional experiences. Involving students as active participants in designing their own learning provides them the opportunity to develop a sense of agency and the capability to plan, manage and reflect on their learning. Students who are guided to develop awareness of their existing technologies, digital literacies and other skills can design learning experiences that harness and develop their capabilities. Students can be encouraged and supported to reflect on their learning progress, and adapt their learning goals to meet emerging challenges and opportunities. Students can be encouraged to engage in collaboration, peer learning and networked learning, and to consider the affordances and risks of using mobile technologies to support these approaches in their particular workplace context.

Bovill and Bulley [7] developed the “Ladder of student participation in curriculum design” based on Arnstein’s [8] Ladder of Citizen Participation. The ladder provides a range of levels of student participation, ranging from the lowest level – Dictated curriculum to the highest – Students control the decision-making and have substantial influence. The highest level includes activities such as students designing learning outcomes and projects. The ladder provides academics, workplace educators and students with a useful benchmarking tool to identify together the existing, and desired, levels of student participation in their curriculum design practice.

Some curriculum design solutions include:

  1. Designing curriculum design
    Task: Teams of students, academics and workplace educators meet. Together they decide how students, academics and workplace educators will participate in designing their workplace learning.
    Resource: The ladder of student participation in curriculum design [7]
  2. Designing workplace learning
    Task: Individuals or teams of students design their own workplace learning curriculum. Academics and workplace educators participate as agreed in the first stage.
    Resource: The Designing Learning Experiences matrix in this pattern provides a framework for students to select learning methods (columns) and domains of learning (rows) that will be of most value to them.


[1] Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

[2] Walker, M (2005). Higher education pedagogies: A capabilities approach. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

[3] Eraut, M (1994) Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence, London, Falmer Press.

[4] Ellströem, P-E (1997) The many meanings of occupational competence and qualification. Journal of European Industrial training, 21(6/7): 266-274.

[5] Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (2016, in press). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer.

Chi, M. T. H. (2009). Active-Constructive-Interactive: A Conceptual Framework for Differentiating Learning Activities. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1(1), 73-105. doi: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2008.01005.x

Chi, M. T. H., & Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP Framework: Linking Cognitive Engagement to Active Learning Outcomes. Educational Psychologist, 49(4), 219-243. doi: 10.1080/00461520.2014.965823

[6] Boud, D, & Prosser, M. (2002). Appraising new technologies for learning: A framework for development. Educational Media International, 39(3-4), 237-245

[7] Bovill, C & Bulley, CJ (2011) A model of active student participation in curriculum design: exploring desirability and possibility. In Rust, C. Improving Student Learning (18) Global theories and local practices: institutional, disciplinary and cultural variations. Oxford: The Oxford Centre for Staff and Educational Development, pp176-188.

[8] Arnstein, SR (1969) A ladder of citizen participation, Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35(4), 216-224.

How to start a discussion about the use of mobile devices to help students learn on placements?

Workplace learning (WPL) occurs in organisations and within disciplines that have their unique ways of doing things – how employees work, say things, use things and relate to each other to get things done, etc. This also applies to the ways in which personal mobile devices (PMD) and online networks are used and accessed. On the one hand, more and more workplaces have their own policies around the use of PMD and social media. On the other, students, academic coordinators and workplace educators (WPE) also bring their own assumptions and expectations about the use and value of PMD to WPL. These policies and assumptions need to be explicitly discussed in order to reach a shared understanding of how students, WPE and academics will use PMD to enhance students’ learning.

If that is a given, how can academics, WPE and students develop their capacity to discuss and negotiate expectations, skills and value around the use of PMD and to address cultural issues and power relations as well as work within policies?

We cannot take for granted that social interaction takes place automatically. Just because people are physically in the same place and allocated to work together does not mean that they have communicated about and addressed these issues.

Successful placements need, amongst other things, clear, robust and shared understanding around coordination and communication with and between students, academics and WPE [1]. In addition to this, beyond placements, learning and decision-making, in general, requires dialogue [2]. Indeed, research has shown that collective, reciprocal, cumulative, supportive and purposeful dialogues “can improve student perceptions of learning environments” [3].

Some researchers [4] recommended the use of dialogue (as well as advocacy and leadership) to raise awareness of mobile learning. Others [5] argued that “[t]he introduction of a new device for learning into the community of practice facilitated an opportunity for staff and students to open a dialogue and further develop shared meaning and experience”. As such, the use of mobile technologies can create a community of practice [6].

Mobile technology can be a useful communication tool to connect, motivate and enhance relational aspects of learning and social interactivity [7]; support “the interchange between explicit and tacit knowledge” [8]; and foster the development of collaborative and cooperative learning situations in powerful integrated electronic environments [9].

Kirschner [9] argues that the future of learning is based on a shared meaning making design. Mobile technology can also be the conversation starter to “augment these discussions by preparing trainees so that they can have a more informed, more confident and potentially more efficient discussion” [10]. However, online dialogues should not be simply seen as a replacement for face-to-face interactions.

Asynchronous technology-mediated exchanges often lead to monologues rather than dialogue [11]. Also, in practice, there are many obstacles and challenges to students actually using their personal digital devices while on placement. For example, there are cultural and professional biases against the use of mobile devices or a lack of shared expectation.

Therefore it is essential that before placements students start a conversation with their workplace educators about expectations, perceived barriers and opportunities for using their personal mobile devices for learning. We propose that this process can be initiated, fostered and structured around a series of questions in key domains:

 Workplace culture (What for and how are staff using mobile devices in the workplace?)

  • Policy and guidelines (Where can I find the workplace’s policies and guidelines about the use of mobile devices?)
  • Ethical conduct (What ethical issues do I need to consider if I use my mobile device on placement?)
  • Personal preferences (Can we discuss how I plan to use mobile devices?
  • PMD use and tasks (What work and/or learning tasks might I be able to complete using my personal mobile device and when? )
  • Digital literacy skills (Do I need to upgrade my digital literacy skills to complete the negotiated tasks?)

Does this resonate with activities that you know of? How do you get students to initiate dialogue around the use of PMD for learning on placements? We look forward to your comments.


[1] 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

[2] Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P., & Jochems, W. (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research. Computers in Human Behavior 19, 335-353.

Hardyman, W., Bullock, A., Brown, A., Carter-Ingram, S., & Stacey, M. (2013). Mobile technology supporting trainee doctors’ workplace learning and patient care: An evaluation. BMC medical education, 13(1), 1-10.

[3] page 15 in Simpson, A. (2015). Designing pedagogic strategies for dialogic learning in higher education. Technology, Pedagogy and Education(ahead-of-print), 1-17.

[4] West, M., & Vosloo, S. (2013). UNESCO policy guidelines for mobile learning HERDSA Review of Higher Education (Vol. 21, pp. 002196). Paris: UNESCO.

[5] Wenger (1999), cited page 259 in Coulby, C., Hennessey, S., Davies, N., & Fuller, R. (2011). The use of mobile technology for work-based assessment: The student experience. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(2), 251-265.

[6] Holley, D., & Sentance, S. (2015). Mobile ‘Comfort’Zones: Overcoming Barriers to Enable Facilitated Learning in the Workplace. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2015(1).

[7] Mettiäinen, S. (2015). Electronic Assessment and Feedback Tool in Supervision of Nursing Students During Clinical Training. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 13(1).

Hardyman, W., Bullock, A., Brown, A., Carter-Ingram, S., & Stacey, M. (2013). Mobile technology supporting trainee doctors’ workplace learning and patient care: An evaluation. BMC medical education, 13(1), 1-10.

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

[8] page 8 in Hardyman, W., Bullock, A., Brown, A., Carter-Ingram, S., & Stacey, M. (2013). Mobile technology supporting trainee doctors’ workplace learning and patient care: An evaluation. BMC medical education, 13(1), 1-10.

[9] Kirschner, P. (2001). Using integrated electronic environments for collaborative teaching/learning. Research Dialogue in Learning & Instruction 2, 1-9.

[10] Hardyman, W., Bullock, A., Brown, A., Carter-Ingram, S., & Stacey, M. (2013). Mobile technology supporting trainee doctors’ workplace learning and patient care: An evaluation. BMC medical education, 13(1), 1-10.

[11] Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P., & Jochems, W. (2003). Identifying the pitfalls for social interaction in computer-supported collaborative learning environments: a review of the research. Computers in Human Behavior 19, 335-353.

The hybrid space of workplace learning

We find workplace learning (WPL) endlessly fascinating, because it occurs in a complex learning environment that bridges educational, professional and economic spaces. Unlike the learning that occurs in physical or virtual spaces of universities, learning in the workplace has a strong focus for students on embodied practice-based learning and their socialisation into their future work roles. WPL is often a mandatory component in professional university courses because, for one, not everything can be learnt from textbooks or online. Just to mention a few, WPL exposes students to the socio-cultural diversity of colleagues, economic and delivering-on-time imperatives, workspace constraints and dysfunctions, workplace cultures, geographical realities, etc. Unlike in simulated practice situations – sometimes offered as an alternative to or preparation for WPL – students on placement cannot escape from the material and physical workplace.

Social media vector designed by Freepik
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In today’s digital age of ubiquitous learning and increased use of mobile technology in professional practices (to a varying degree, for example, it is core in IT professions but other professions use it as non-core yet essential tool to assist with communicating, collaborating, assessing, etc.), we realise that embodied practice-based learning is not enough. Students also need to develop high digital literacy skills. This can start by helping students become confident digital learners. Combining WPL and mobile learning creates a hybrid learning space that has the potential to give students a great advantage in preparing them for future professional practice.

With WPL, the workplace becomes a space where students can make sense of and apply what they have learnt at university. It is also a space that brings together students and practitioners, educational and socio-economical interests, formal-structured and situated-agentic learning, etc. Embedding mobile learning in WPL, extends and consolidates the learning by helping students stay connected with their academics and workplace educators, by providing them with access to course material and professional information where and when needed, by enabling them to record and capture practice for feedback, assessment and/or further reflection, etc. In that context, WPL becomes a hybrid space where virtual and physical, formal and situated, practice-based and theoretical, university and industry learning spaces blend. It becomes the in-between space, as framed by Greenwood and Wilson (2006, 11):

“The notion of ‘hybridity’ then, examines the condition of being ‘in-between’ several different sources of knowledge. Within this construct, discourse can be both productive and constraining in terms of social and cultural practice and the development of identity. Hybridity applies to the integration of competing knowledges and discourses; to the reading and writing of texts, and to individual and social spaces, contexts, and relationships. It does not imply the successful unproblematic production of ‘new’ knowledge or the production of harmonious, uncontested relationships. In this sense we use the term as shorthand to describe ‘the opportunities and contestations that come into being when different [professional] cultures meet and interact’”.

Also, in WPL students transition from learner to pre-accredited professional, practitioners who supervise students in their workplace cross over from employee to mentor and sometimes even assessor, and academics alter between teacher and (physically removed) facilitator of professional learning. In that sense, WPL is a hybrid space where the traditional sense of belonging to a community, such as student, practitioner or academic, is fluid and in motion.

Though WPL conceptualised as this hybrid space offers advantages, it is also problematic. One of the issues is that all of these WPL stakeholder groups meet in this space with none claiming control of this complex learning environment. Another issue is that these transitionary learning experiences are difficult to plan, because of the lack of control over and degree of unpredictability in workplace environments and learning experiences/outcomes. Furthermore, though mobile devices are increasingly popular for personal use, their use in professional settings has not widely been normalised.

We agree with Zitter and Hoeve ( 2012, 22) who conclude that “Hybrid learning environments should intentionally be planned and designed in such a way that each side of the dimension can gradually and seamlessly convert into the other side.” I suggest that integrating mobile learning in WPL might be one way of helping with this conversion and ensuring greater learning experiences for students.

This hybrid space offers opportunities to integrate these already blurred boundaries of work and learning and much more as discussed above, but it also opens up many questions that are at the heart of our research project, ‘Enhancing Workplace Learning through Mobile Technology’:

  • How can the digital learning environment enrich the workplace learning environment?
  • How are students using mobile digital devices to learn in this hybrid space?
  • How can the use of mobile digital devices in this hybrid space improve supervision practices of practitioners who supervise students in their workplace?
  • How can academics use mobile technology in this hybrid space to connect with students and practitioners?
  • What happens in this hybrid learning space?

We are interested in hearing about how you help students integrate learning from the physical and digital learning environments in workplaces.


Greenwood, J. and Wilson, A.M. (2006). Te Mauri Pakeaka: A Journey in to the Third Space. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

Zitter, I. and Hoeve, A. (2012). Hybrid Learning Environments: Merging Learning and Work Processes to Facilitate Knowledge Integration and Transitions. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 81, OECD Publishing.

Abstract accepted for NACGAS conference 2015

The “Enhancing Workplace Learning through Mobile Technology” team will be presenting their initial findings at the 2015 NAGCAS Conference to be held at the University of Melbourne, 29 Nov-2 Dec.

The session entitled “Using mobile technology to enhance the work integrated learning experience” will be presented under the umbrella of the 35th annual conference’s theme: Careers Without Borders: Local | Global | Virtual.

The conference is an event of the National Association of Graduate Career Advisory Services and provides  a voice for career development in higher education in Australia.

For more information visit the conference website here.