The complex title of my research points towards one of the more simple questions of learning in the information society. However, simple questions appear to be of a fractal nature, in which questions increase their complexity the more they are focused.
This research is part of the TENCompetence project, which itself is about lifelong learning – or to be more precise about lifelong competence development. While lifelong learning seems to have a taste of endless school visits, lifelong competence development points more clearly towards the origin of the lifelong learning metaphor: Vocational Education and Training as well as Learning in the Professions.
Thomas Steward points out that in a knowledge economy or an information society, organizations will rely on their social capital. This means that the economical wealth of an organization is no longer dependent on superior machines or optimized processes, but on the capabilities of the knowledge workers who are part of the organization.Knowledge workers are by definition lifelong learners.
Knowledge workers are professional experts who meet the highly specialized needs of their professional practice. They continuously adapt to the changing needs of their working environment by flexibly using information and applying their competences. With this regard knowledge workers are very different to what is usually considered as “learners”.
Their learning is also different to the common sense: The learning of knowledge workers is characterized by the knowledge workers’ control over their own learning processes. These processes are often unstructured and tightly interwoven with the practice in which they take place.As this type of learning is not guided by a trainer or a learning plan it is often unconscious to the knowledge workers themselves.
These characteristics are frequently referred to a type of learning that is known as incidental learning. While incidental learning is widely considered as the most common type of human learning, it received hardly any attention by research in the domain of technology enhanced learning.
This leads to the question of this research:How to support the incidental learning of knowledge workers? This question has been motivated by the findings of several European studies, which indicated that many people in the workforce have difficulties to identify their own competences.Given to the uncertain nature of incidental learning, any solution should be independent from specialized domain knowledge and pre-structured learning material.
In order to support learning in the professions it is necessary to understand the underpinnings of the related learning processes.Donald Schön and others highlighted that reflection is essential for the learning of practitioners. According to Schön, reflection describes the process of evaluating the results of intentional behavior in an environment by the means of the original intention.In order to support reflection through technology it is required to identify factors of providing meaningful responses to intentional behavior of learners.In other words, it is needed to understand how feedback can be provided.
Ley & Young highlight that connecting responses and actions alone are not defining feedback sufficiently. The authors indicate that feedback is also related to the context in which it is given.
In order to develop a better understanding of supporting incidental learning through technology facilitated feedback two design-research studies were conducted.
The first study was the team.sPace study. In this study a group of collaborating knowledge workers used an information portal for sharing their web-bookmarks and web-blogs. Without the knowledge of the participants the group was divided into two sub-groups.One group saw an action counter that shows how many actions one participant has made.The other group saw a performance chart that shows a participant’s actions in relation to the group’s activity.
After 9 weeks of using team.sPace, the results indicate that both groups visited the portal similarly. However, the group that saw the performance chart was more active than the other group. Additionally, the participants were interviewed regarding their experiences during the system use. Whereas the activity counter group responded only about usability issues, the performance chart group referred to the topics and the social dynamics of the group’s information sharing.
Moreover, the contributing participants of the performance chart group responded positively about their experience using the visualized activity information, whereas all participants of the activity counter group mentioned that the visualization was irrelevant to them. Only the non-contributing participant of the performance chart group reported a frustrating impression related to the visualization.Therefore, the reception of the performance chart appears to be contextualized by the participation in group information sharing, while the activity counter had no long term influence on the engagement in group activities.
The second study addressed reflection on information management of web-resources using a personal tag cloud.This system is called ReScope.The tag-cloud shows keywords that a participant has assigned to interesting web-pages while adding them to the personal bookmarks. The size of each keyword shows how often this keyword has been totally applied. The color on some keywords informs the participant how often these keywords were recently used.In order to capture “reflection”, the participants were asked to write the reasoning about their tag cloud down.
The design of the tag cloud is an attempt to model contextualized reflection support. From the underlying model reflections were expected to be related to the factors rhythm, value, and connections. After a 9 week period of public use of ReScope the analysis of the reflective notes basically confirmed the expectations.Besides the concept related factors value and connections,also an almost equal amount of reflections related to the rhythm factor was found. Furthermore, the reflections also seem equally referring to the reflection types planning, monitoring, and evaluating that were identified to be relevant for knowledge workers.
Let me now link the findings of these studies.
While in the first study I tried to identify the “context relatedness of feedback for learning” as it was stated by Ley & Young, the findings of both studies indicate that feedback is contextualizing reflection. From these findings feedback appears to have a tighter contextual connection to learning than it was previously anticipated.
The objective of this research however, was the question “how to support the incidental learning of knowledge workers?” From the two studies two common principles for designing supportive feedback were identified: Perspective and Contrast.The perspective principle refers to the selection of information from what a system can recognize about an actor’s activity. In team.sPace the perspective was defined by the personal activity. In ReScope the perspective were the tags that categorize personal web-bookmarks. The contrast principle refers to the arrangement of information in ways that enable actors to interpret the available information.The performance chart of team.sPace contrasted the personal activity with peer activity.In ReScope the overall tag usage contrasted the recent tag usage. With respect to information systems, the two principles can be located at different abstraction levels. The perspective principle is related to techniques for information selection and semantic enrichment.The contrast principle is related to control techniques of information processing, context awareness, and adaptation.
The studies indicated that it is possible to support incidental learning of knowledge workers through feedback without considering any specific domain knowledge. With this respect feedback differs from ordinary responses, as it offers a meaningful perspective with a contextualizing contrast.With this statement I conclude my presentation.
I like to thank you for your attention.
Contextual Support of social engagement and reflection on the web
Contextual support for social engagementand reflectionon the Web<br />Christian Glahn<br />