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.


Startup Stock Photos

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.



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. http://eprints.qut.edu.au/5399/

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

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. https://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/cdotl/NGuggi_RGlover.pdf

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:http://ro.uow.edu.au/jutlp/vol13/iss2/2

(7) Zegwaard, K. E. (2015). Innovation in work integrated learning: Working towards our future. Paper presented at the Think Tank, Adelaide. http://acensant.weebly.com/uploads/5/2/6/4/52641005/zegwaard_innovation_in_work_integrated_learning_for_printing.pdf

(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. http://www.herdsa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/conference/2015/HERDSA_2015_Ferns.pdf

(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://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2012.661704

(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’ (i.ie 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

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 scoop.it. 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. http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/03090599710171567

[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.