Informal Learning in the Workplace

Professor John Cook of UWE gave a fascinating keynote address at the recently held CELebrate 2016 on the subject of Informal Learning in the Workplace. The address drew on a large European project on Learning Layers intended to develop technologies that support informal learning in the workplace, with particular focus on Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) within Regional Innovation Clusters. The technologies developed act as “scaffolds” so that individuals can scale up technology for informal learning by sharing knowledge in the right context and at an appropriate time.

To set the scene, a recent PEW publication (PEW, 2014) drew on expert predictions to report on the impact of the internet over the next 10 years. One pessimistic claimed: “Our educational system is not adequately preparing us for the work of the future, and our political and economic institutions are poorly equipped to handle these hard choices”.

An innovative response from the Learning Layers Project is the development of social web tools such as ZoP and Confer to mediate. These tools capture digitally mediated work-based practice and ease learning as people work.   For instance, the application of the Zone of Possibility (ZoP) – a concept of informal learning can enable the following:

  • Help citizens participate with each other in groups (Zones) and orchestrate social supports (via navigation and bridging aids) so that members can benefit from the ideas of others (possibility).
  • The generic ZoP app allows you set up a Digital Public Space using Android devices.
  • Users can record video clips, annotate points of interest at a specific time and location, as well as share and discuss ideas.
  • Interesting findings and events at work or in a community project can become the focus of situated conversation.
  • Help group members to engage with a wide range of challenges from social regeneration to work place problem solving, heritage and culture, smart cities and urban data.

Similar to ZoP, Confer supports working groups that may have been set up to devise a way of dealing with a new problem that may have arisen; it provides bridging opportunities between face to face meetings through ‘scaffolded support’ to keep tasks on focus and moving forward.  It also offers easy and early engagement in collaborative work, as well as opportunities for educators to harness the instruments to be used in their context. The online tool supports working groups by

  • Maintaining focus and flow of work
  • Structuring the task
  • Supporting discussion
  • Aiding consensus
  • It can also be used to support group work for professionals working in different locations such as co-design work in the Health Sector in the NE of England.

In operationalising Confer, a three step process to arriving consensus comes to the fore, namely: Setting the context by asking questions; brainstorming by identifying issues and examining options/providing recommendations.

Both ZoP and Confer can be used in conjunction with other tools developed within the Learning Layers scheme. For instance, while AchSo can be used for notes recording, Confer provides a significant platform to discuss the notes. A further description of the Learning Layers project can be accessed here.

Learning Layers

The Panopto video of the keynote address is also available here.

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