Facilitating workplace learning through Information and Communication Technologies
Chelsea Whitehead, Memorial University of Newfoundland
The accelerated growth of new tools and equipment have created a problem for employers working to effectively train and retrain employees on “new technologies, products, and services” in the workplace (Harun, 2002, p. 301). DeVries and Lukosch (2009) argued that formal learning environments characterized by formal training programs, are too inflexible and unable to meet the demands of an evolving workplace. They further argued that the knowledge and skills obtained from formal learning experiences fail to reflect the knowledge and skills actually needed to perform in the workplace. Similarly, Fahlam (2013) argued that formal approaches such as face-to-face training fail to meet the professional learning needs of nurses. Accounting for approximately 80% of training budgets, formal learning programs are also costly (DeVries & Lukosch, 2009). DeVries and Lukosch further concluded that formal learning environments are detrimental to the development of more natural and collaborative forms of learning.
Rapid changes in the workplace have also left employers struggling to meet their employees’ demand for information on the job (DeVries & Lukosch, 2009). Without immediate access to information, employees are restricted to learning at specific times and in specific locations (Yoo & Han, 2013). This lack of flexibility further prevents employees from controlling both the content of their learning and the pace at which they are required to process the information (Cheng, Wang, Yang, & Peng, 2011). Traditional learning practices also struggle to support different learning styles as they cannot be customized (Gu, Churchill, & Lu, 2014). As Gamrat, Toomey Zimmerman, Dudek, and Peck (2014) further reported, the “one-size-fits-all” approach to learning fails to take employee skill and experience into consideration (p. 3). Lastly, Cheng et al. (2011) recognized that irrelevant support decreases employee motivation and learning.
Role of ICTs
Technology plays a crucial role in “mediating” workplace learning (Milligan, Littlejohn, & Margaryan, 2014, p. 8). Information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as e-learning programs and Web 2.0 tools have been both personally and professionally adopted by employees and employers worldwide (Zhao & Kemp, 2012).
In a study of healthcare and construction workers, Ley et al. (2014) reported that ICTs effectively provide valuable information to support on-demand learning through a process referred to as "scaling" (p. 1). They concluded that the incorporation of ICTs enable employees to track and share their experiences while accessing “meaningful support” from individuals within their own professional learning network, when and where necessary (p. 2). In addition to offering “just-in-time” learning, Harun (2002) reported that ICTs provide access to “just-enough” learning, allowing users to immediately locate the exact information required to complete the task at hand (p. 309).
In an effort to manage an increasing volume of information, Ley et al. (2014) reported that ICTs such as Google Keep and Evernote effectively and efficiently capture and share “bits and pieces” of information, like images and web links, that would have otherwise been lost (p. 6). Similarly, Zhao and Kemp (2013) concluded that ICTs facilitate the development of virtual communities of practice (CoPs) in the workplace, which enable employees to effectively collaborate with others in their field. They also argued that CoPs using ICTs such as wikis and blogs lead to enriched conversations in the workplace, further improving professional practices and enhancing organizational performance.
Additionally, Wang-Nastansky (2008) recognized ICTs as a cost-effective option for training in the workplace. By employing familiar communication and collaboration tools in the workplace, Wang-Nastansky posited that organizations could “seamlessly” integrate workplace learning on-demand, effectively removing the training costs needed to deliver learning in a classroom (p. 42). Harun (2002) further concluded that e-learning eliminates the travel costs traditionally associated with learning in the healthcare field.
In a study of 36 teachers using an online professional development (PD) program called Teacher Learning Journeys (TLJ), Gamrat et al. (2014) concluded that awarding learners with digital badges documenting their learning could improve motivation. Wang, Ran, Liao, and Yang (2010) further reported that by adding key performance indicators (KPIs) to e-learning programs, employers could motivate users. The addition of KPIs helped users understand the employer’s expectations and encouraged communication among co-workers (Wang et al., 2010). Gu et al. (2014) also argued that ICTs support a diverse range of learning styles by offering videos and other interactive features to assist the learner. In their study of teachers, Gamrat et al. (2014) further concluded that online PD programs foster a sense of empowerment in employees as they allow users to customize their PD experiences to suit their individual learning needs and goals.
Despite opening new possibilities for learning in the workplace, ICTs present organizations with several challenges (Zhao & Kemp, 2012). According to Zhao and Kemp (2012), one of the biggest concerns facing organizations using ICTs in the workplace is their tendency to “blur the boundaries between personal and professional lives” (p. 233). In particular, they identified the potential of using social networking sites (SNS) for personal reasons on company time as an issue. In an effort to help resolve this problem, Cheng (2013) suggested that employers also grant employees home access to e-learning programs.
SNS such as Twitter also have the potential to cause a power struggle between employees and their employers in that they encourage users to seek expertise outside "organizational boundaries," plausibly removing control from company executives (Milligan, Littlejohn, & Margaryan, 2014, p. 8). Employers and employees also expressed concerns around confidential information and the potential for ICTs to facilitate a breach of privacy in the workplace (Zhao & Kemp, 2012). Ley et al. (2014) further identified trust as an issue of ICTs in the workplace reporting that healthcare workers seeking online support tended to trust only information from sources whose professional profile was similar to their own.
Zhao and Kemp (2012) posited that employers “develop a long-term strategy and implement action plans to capitalize” on new technologies (p. 240). Fuller and Joynes (2014) also cited the importance of teaching students how to appropriately use mobile technologies prior to entering the workforce to help prevent the inappropriate use of ICTs in the workplace.
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