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Mobile work based Personal Learning Environments

July 8th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

This week is my favourite annual conference – the Personal Learning Environments Conference. And tomorrow I am off to Berlin, where the conference is being held at the Beuth University. The deadline for full papers was last weekend – so I am might relieved to have at least got a first draft of it out by today. It is co-authored with my colleagues Ludger Deitmer and Lars Heinemann from the University of Bremen and is based on work we are doing under the Learning layers project, seeking to develop and up-scale the use of apps for informal learning in the construction and health sectors. The paper focuses on the nature of knowledge used within work processes – what we call work process knowledge and how we can develop co-design processes to support work based learning.

The introduction is posted below and you can download a PDF copy of the full paper.


While Technology Enhanced learning (TEL), Personal Learning Environments and the use of mobile devices have been suggested as a means to address the challenge of supporting learning at the workplace, their potential has not yet been fully realized. Despite much theoretical research in the use of mobile devices for work based learning there are still few compelling example of effective practice. Where there are case studies of both mobile devices and PLEs supporting work based learning, these tend to remain isolated with limitations on upscaling or wider adoption.

A critical review of the way information technologies are being used for workplace learning (Kraiger, 2008) concluded that most solutions are targeted towards a learning model based on the idea of direct instruction. TEL initiatives tend to be based upon a traditional business training model transferred from face to face interactions to onscreen interactions, but retaining the standard trainer / learner relationship and a reliance on formal and to some extent standardized course material and curricula.

However research suggests that (not only) in SMEs much learning takes place in the workplace and through work processes, is multi episodic, is often informal, is problem based and takes place on a just in time basis (Hart, 2011). Rather than a reliance on formal or designated trainers, much training and learning involves the passing on of skills and knowledge from skilled workers (Attwell and Baumgartl, 2009). In other words, learning is highly individualized and heavily integrated with contextual work practices.

In the past few years, emerging technologies (such as mobile devices or social networks) have rapidly spread into all areas of our life. However, while employees in SMEs increasingly use these technologies for private purposes and to a lesser extent for information seeking and informal learning, enterprises have not generally recognized the potential of such technologies for supporting learning.

As a consequence, the use of these emerging technologies and support for Personal Learning Environments have not been systematically taken up as a sustainable learning strategy that is integrated with other forms of learning at the workplace.

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