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The potential of technology to change the way we work

December 12th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

I have spent most of the day working on the Mature project. The project, funded by the European Commission, is developing services for knowledge maturing in organisations, including the introduction of Personal Learning and Management Systems and Organisational Learning and Management Systems. Of course, before we can develop or implement such systems we have to work out what they are. For me that is half of the attraction of the project.
This morning we had an on-line meeting for one of the work groups, this afternoon I had a long talk with Tobias Nelker from Paderborn University and in-between I started writing up overdue reports.
here are just a few thoughts following our discussions.
One of the attractions of the project, which is relatively well funded, it it brings together an interdisciplinary research team including researchers from sociology, computer sciences, education and work sciences. We are struggling still to find a common language. sometimes I do not understand what the computer scientists are talking about – and I am quite sure they have similar problems with me. More problematic is the development of a shared research approach and methodology for the project – different disciplines have different approaches to similar issues. We need to find ways of using this as a strength for the project.
With reference to knowledge sharing, I think we have some tensions between those who view knowledge through artefacts and others of us who see knowledge development and maturing as a process. I am by no means convinced we can measure or even understand knowledge maturing in the progressive iteration of a document or artefact – to me it is the social use of such artefacts which matures.
The project is through the technology programme of the European Commission and oart of the work involves the development and testing of tools. There seem to be two tensions. How can we marry together research into how people learn and how knowledge is developed with actual practice within organisations?
And how can we design tools which help people in their everyday work and lives based on their practice – rather than saying – here is a cool wizzy tool which we would like you to try out.
I am increasingly aware of the importance of context in learning and in knowledge development – especially in work based learning and in informal learning. there are multiple contextual variables of which I feel the most important is work organisation. It is not only an issue of opportunities for learning but an issue of the autonomy to use such learning in practice. This cannot be reduced to merely adopting to the work environment but the ability to shape that work environment based on individual and collective or organsiation knowledge.
This in turn requires change processes. But any project such as Mature is acting as a change agent in the very processes it studies.
All in all this is complex. But I am convinced that we can use technology based tools to open opportunities and support learning in the workplace – not just to courses – but for individual and peerr group learning from everyday working experience. This can not only lead to individual learning but can enrich work environments and lead to enhanced quality of goods and services. And in many ways I think this may be the real impact and potential of what we have called e-learning – rather than trying to use technology to implement traditional classroom based learning at a distance.
NB I am increasingly convinced of the potential of microblogging systems for knowledge exchange and development. This was what I taled to Tobias about this afternoon. Will write something more on this over the weekend.

One Response to “The potential of technology to change the way we work”

  1. In a online writing group, I met a US navy guy whose job was to translate the requirements of the navy to the civilian computer programmers. The navy brass would tell him what they wanted in naval terms and then he’d go to the computer programmers and translate the request into tech language.
    Perhaps that’s now a career category – translating English to English in a cross-disciplinary environment.

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