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Work process knowledge, practice and mobile devices

November 28th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Last week I took place in a seminar on mobile learning – called SOMOBNET, organised at the Institute of Education in London and supported by the EU Stellar network.

A few things from the seminar have kept me pondering in the days since. Firstly, it seems that although there is a lot of anecdotal evidence as to the widespread use of mobile devices in the workplace – and I think we could speculate that such usage is including learning if only in the form of ‘ring a friend’, we have few if any studies such informal use. Furthermore the present frameworks and theory of mobile learning are very much based on the use of technology for learning within formal educations settings and are of limited relevance to the ways we are using mobile devices today.

To develop such a theory I think we need to look more closely at the nature of practice.

I included two slides on practice in my presentation at the seminar (click on slides below to see full size versions).

Yishay Mor tweeted something like ‘Attwell is proposing practice as an alternative to competence’. I had not realised I was doing that, but thinking further on Yishay’s tweet it makes some sense. Competence as a construct is clearly alienated from the reality to work practice. Yet we have needed such constructs just because we have been unable to directly capture practice as it happens. Furthermore learning and knowledge development have also largely been seen as happening at a distance form practice, through formal curricula and in training centres. The ability to use mobile devices directly in the work process and to capture those work processes through new media removes the need to mediate through externally and often expert derived competence constructs. More on this to come.

In the summary discussion chaired by Sonia Livingstone, I once more reiterated my opinion that mobile devices were most interesting for learning in the context of vocational education and training and occupational practice. Sonia threw me a little when she asked me if this was because I despaired of the school systems. I am not a great fan of secondary schooling systems which I think are largely dysfunctional. But that is not the reason why I am so interested in the potential of mobile devices for learning at work. I see teh ability to use such devices as extending access to learning to the many people who are outside the formal education sector. And I tend to feel that both research and practice in the use of mobile devices will be held back whilst it remains the preserve of educational researchers working from a  schooling paradigm.

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