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APOSDLE - work, learn, collaborate

Workplace Learning Study 2

This Deliverable describes the results of the second WorkPlace Learning Study. The goal of the second WPLS was to obtain more insight into the relation between work-learn situations and the knowledge sources and communication media people use to acquire the knowledge needed to perform tasks at hand better and gain knowledge about the related topics. This context is central to the APOSDLE solution, as it intends to combine the three spaces people at work can be seen as operating in: the Work Space, the Knowledge Space and the Learning Space, with are connected through communication.

To theoretically underpin this research, the main theoretical perspective chosen was the Media Richness Theory. This theory links properties of tasks, uncertainty (about how to perform a task) and equivocality (what should be the results of a task), to knowledge sources and communication media that can be used to exchange knowledge about tasks at hand. In particular it states that when the uncertainty and equivocality of tasks increase, richer knowledge sources and communication media, media that can convey more cues, are needed to guarantee an effective transfer of knowledge. Based on predictions from this theory, support for selecting the best fitting knowledge sources and communication media in APOSDLE can be derived. In addition two other theoretical perspectives were briefly touched upon: Knowledge Space Theory and the Social Influence Model of Technology Use. The first states that during work, people will access each of the three spaces mentioned above to solve problems. The second claims that the Media Richness Theory is incomplete as organizational norms and habits can inhibit or promote the use of communication media, even if these don’t fit the task at hand well.

In the study, two different situations a person can be in were addressed: a situation where the person plays the role of the knowledge seeker or learner (learner situation) and a situation where the person plays the role of the knowledge provider or knowledgeable person sharing knowledge with someone else (knowledge sharing situation). People participating in the research could ‘construct’ a specific combination of a work situation and a knowledge need (from a predefined list) and report about the knowledge source(s) and communication medium (or media) they used in that situation.

The study was carried out by means of an on-line questionnaire. Participants were recruited by using personal contacts and mailing lists from partners in the APOSDLE project. The sample consisted of 125 persons. The composition of this sample was almost the same as the sample in the first WorkPlace learning study, permitting a comparison.

Overall, the results confirm to a large extent the major finding from the first workplace learning study that personal contacts are very important, but must be combined with documented sources in a support environment. It is less easy to derive, at the moment of writing, specific design guidelines in this respect from the data that differ from the design of the second APOSDLE Prototype. In this sense, the outcomes are more confirmatory for the course the project has taken until now.

The results for the assumption that the Media Richness Theory can provide the basis for designing communication support in APOSDLE, shows that this must be questioned as about half the predictions could not be confirmed. At least additional analyses are needed to explore in more detail the possible role of other factors, like experience in the job. For the two alternative theoretical perspectives, it can be said that access to the different spaces of the Knowledge Space Theory differs for different work-learn situations is different, with the work space dominating when people are in the situation when they are new in the company and have to find things out. However, these differences could not be confirmed statistically. As for the Social Influence Model of Technology Use, there are only minor effects of organizational norms and communication media behavior of colleagues on the selection of media.