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Using mobile devices for learning in the workplace

March 4th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I’ve written a lot recently about the potential of the use of mobile devices in the workplace. Last summer, together with my colleagues John Cook and Andrew Ravenscroft, we coined the term Work Oriented Mobile learning Environment or WoMbLE to try to explain what we were trying to create. And we have written about the design idea and about work based learning. But it seems hard to people to ‘get it’. Can you give us some concrete examples, they ask. We need some use cases, they say. As did the reviewer of a recent paper I submitted for the International Journal of Mobile Learning who was concerned my paper was too abstract (and he or she was right, I suspect). So in revising the paper, I have tried to add some possible examples, all based on funding proposals we have been developing. They are not great, but I guess they are a step in the direction of explaining what we mean and I will try to develop them further in the next few weeks (thanks to all who have contributed in one way or another to developing these ideas).

Use Cases for a Work based Mobile Learning Environment

These use cases have been developed as both as part of our research into designing a WoMbLE and in pursuit of funding possibilities. In all of the use cases context is critical factor, although the nature of context varies form case to case.

1. Use case for computer students on work placement programmes

Time is precious for students on short work placements and experience has shown that these students need immediate help when they are stuck with a problem, for example debugging a Java / C++ program or using Google’s SMTP server for setting up test e-mail systems and setting up paypal payment systems. They normally try to seek help from people at the work place and the university tutors, however they prefer interacting with fellow placement students for trouble shooting and learning from each other’s experience before seeking help from company / academic staff. In the past, they have used Google groups.

The WoMbLE is designed to provide multi-user and multi-media spaces where learners can meet up with co-learners, to allow students to tag fellow students, academic staff and work colleagues (contacts); when a problem arises this service will enable collaborative problem solving. A ‘dialogue game’ service, that can be linked to the tagging of personal competencies, will be available to scaffold students in their active collaboration and ‘on the spot’ problem solving.

2. Use case for the continuing professional development of printers

Despite rapid technological change there are low rates of participation of printers in Continuing Vocational Education and Training (CVET), including traditional e-learning.

The aim is to enhance printers’ participation in CVET though self-directed, work-integrated and community-embedded mobile learning. Innovative pedagogical concepts, technical applications and implementation strategies are designed to provide flexible access to learning and authentic and enjoyable learning experience at work.

The use case addresses the emerging need for on-demand and on-the-job training in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The integration of work context, mobile learning and online communities enables authentic and immediate learning whenever needed. Combined with relevant, appealing content and services it motivates “non-learners”, intensifies interaction between peers and experts within and outside of the SME, and exploits small amounts of time and space for learning at work. Printers will use mobile devices to engage in discussion forums, blogs and wikis, document demonstrations of individual skills and activities undertaken in work-settings (e.g. video captures of technical trouble-shooting) and share digital artifacts in online communities in relation to real work-specific needs. The “pick and mix” of learning objects enhances both participation and learning outcomes maximizing choices in terms of method, content, place and time. This approach recognizes the diversity and individuality of learning, facilitates meaningful, authentic social learning and enhances motivation to learn.

3. Use case for knowledge services for Careers Information, Advice and Guidance workers

Careers Information, Advice and Guidance workers in the UK work from district offices but are often required to provide guidance for students’ future careers options in dispersed school settings.  They do not always have access to appropriate labour market information and may need to gain information about particular career and education opportunities. In this use case a range of services will be provided through mobile devices to support careers workers finding and collecting appropriate information. The system provides access to specialist databases and to previous work undertaken by colleagues and allows structuring and ranking of resources and artifacts including people and social networks. The system allows users to contribute their own results to the system and support the creation of tags and recommendations, thus developing a shared common knowledge and learning base.

All these use cases involve individuals in learning in a range of different occupations and work based settings. However, they have a number of similar features:

  • The need for continuing learning as part of the work process;
  • The need to solve problems as and when they occur;
  • A requirement for information and knowledge resources;
  • The need for access to people, through social and peer networks;
  • The need to capture contextual learning and share as part of a process of developing a common knowledge and learning resource;
  • The importance of context, including activities and tasks being undertaken, work roles, and location

In initial considerations of technical design for a WoMbLE, discussion centred around the development of a generic learning environment. This was driven by desire to produce a cost effective test bed application and to ensure use of as wide a range of different mobile platforms as possible. The latest thinking has moved towards developing what has been called a Mash Up Personal Learning Environment (MUPPLE) (Wild F. Mödritscher F. and Sigurdarson S., 2008) using widgets and provided through specific applications for different mobile platforms. The widget approach could allow services to be easily tailored for particular use cases, user groups and contexts, whilst still retaining generic service applications.


2 Responses to “Using mobile devices for learning in the workplace”

  1. Mary says:

    Using mobile devices for learning in African countries is going to be big in the years to come. So I’ll be watching this space with great interest to see what parallels develop.


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