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  Professional Technology-Enhanced Learning

Viktoria Pammer-Schindler, Graz University of Technology, Austria


Professional Technology-Enhanced Learning is concerned with technology-enhanced learning for professionals, i.e. people in employed jobs. Other terms used instead of professional learning are sometimes workplace learning or work-related learning; and there is a large overlap with research that focusses on informal, situated, or lifelong learning. The below introductory parts about professional learning are adapted from (Pammer-Schindler, 2019) and (Littlejohn & Pammer-Schindler, 2022).

What is special about professional learning?

“Professional learning means that learning relates to work, such that it encompasses all learning ‘needed for successful performance in an occupation’ (Hager, 2011). It mostly comes with the implicit connotation of relating to work within organisations; and mostly, work is understood to be paid.” (Pammer-Schindler, 2019)

“The major a priori difference between learning in educational settings and professional learning is the learner’s work experience, the learner’s engagement in work, and in learners’ motivation in learning because of work. This seems obvious; but it implies that it is the social context of work that defines the relevance of that which is learned, and poses constraints on what may be applied and subsequently learned sustainably, as the learners in the workplace act within a set of rules, roles, divisions of labour. In addition, this social context including its overarching objectives and tasks and activities is not designed for learning. In other words: Organisation’s value-creating processes typically have nothing to do with learning per se - most organisations’ overarching objectives are not to learn but to produce something or to provide a service of some sort, and thereby to make money. Consequently, within the social context of organisations, priority is therefore frequently assigned to operative work (as opposed to learning); and most relevant for reflective learning: Roles and a division of labour impact who can apply (individually gained) insights or who can engender organisational learning.” (Pammer-Schindler, 2019)

Further professionals as learners have work experience which contextualises their learning. This can be an advantage, as professional learners can use their work experience to ground theoretical knowledge. It can be a challenging, if newly received knowledge is hard to integrate with past or future work experience (cp. also (Eraut, 2004) on the challenges of transferring knowledge from education to workplace settings).

“To some extent of course, every workplace setting is special, and different workplaces may differ from each other very significantly in size, in degree of formality of procedures and hierarchy, in infrastructure, in organisational culture with respect to learning and making errors, etc. The above description of specifics of workplace learning is therefore not a description of characteristics that are true in every workplace settings, but are plausibly found in many workplaces.” (Pammer-Schindler, 2019) Furthermore, the border between “normal” education and professional learning can become blurred, for instance when a professional learner enters fully into a formal education – such as a MOOC, a master degree, etc. – and pursues this education at the surface no different than learners without prior work experience or an a priori known future workplace where the learned knowledge will be applied. This can happen for instance in re-skilling endeavors. In turn, some educational environments heavily include workplace experience in the curricula.

Design implications: How does the specificity of professional learning translate into specific challenges of professional technology-enhanced learning?

Technologies already widely support professional learning, e.g., learning management systems, a variety of domain-specific learning apps such as for language learning, or MOOCs (cp. (Littlejohn & Pammer-Schindler, 2022) for a broader synthesis and discussion of research directions and challenges; and (Pammer-Schindler et al., 2022) as a special issue editorial that introduces a selection of ongoing research in professional technology-enhanced learning, with a focus on informal and situated learning). However, the concern is, that digital technology’s potential to support professional learning isn’t used to its full extent, as most of the widely available support for professional learning – like learning management systems, learning apps, MOOCs – conceptualise learning as happening inside formal education contexts, rather than as happening in relationship to workplace contexts and work experience. Technologies, technology uses, and challenges around professional technology-enhanced learning that are discussed as being specific to the context of professional learning, are:

  • Professional technology-enhanced learning research and development is particularly challenged to combine knowledge in learning sciences, human-computer interaction and computer science, and within the learning domain in order to go beyond what already exists (Littlejohn & Pammer-Schindler, 2022). This is necessary in order to make learning specific to workplace contexts and experience, in particular taking into consideration specific goals and motivations for learning, work structures, and tools that exist in the professional learners’ environments (ibid).
  • As “workplace learning must extend beyond curricula, [t]echnologies that support contextualized learning or transferring knowledge across contexts” (Pammer-Schindler et al., 2022) are of interest, such as VR systems with custom-made content, learning analytics that analyse work and work-related training output from a learning perspective, or computer-mediated reflection that supports reflection on work experience (for concrete examples see the special issue papers referenced in (Pammer-Schindler et al., 2022)). “These systems rely on human (e.g., mentor and expert) input, and require learners to be active agents in their learning.” (ibid).
  • “[D]epending on the expertize of learners, looser or stricter guidance through the learning process is appropriate” in order to provide “learning autonomy to experts […and … ] to make learning efficient for novices” (Pammer-Schindler et al., 2022) by giving more structure and guidance. In contrast to adaptive learning systems that are developed in formal education settings, the assessment of expertise may be challenging, and identifying what is an overall appropriate level of guidance may need to be part of the technology design process in dependance of the targeted use case.
  • Workplace learning is an embodied experience (Pammer-Schindler et al., 2022). First steps based on this understanding have been made in the investigation of wearable, augmented and virtual reality technologies for learning (again, for examples see the special issue papers referenced in (Pammer-Schindler et al., 2022)). However, the fuller integration of current research in psychology and the learning sciences with novel technologies is still open and ongoing at the time of writing.

Reflection activity if you haven’t so far carried out research within professional technology-enhanced learning: When you review your own research, could it be relevant for professional learners? In light of the above specifics of professional learners as a target user group of technology-enhanced learning systems, how would you assess the suitability of your interventions for professionals as learners? Given the above implications of designing for professionals as target user group of technology-enhanced learning systems, what adaptations could be interesting, and which questions would the consideration of professionals as learners raise?

Reflection activity if your research has been within professional technology-enhanced learning: Which of the specifics of professionals as learners have you encountered in your empirical work, or addressed in your technology design? Did you already make use of the general design implications as outlined above, and which others might be interesting for you in your future work?

Further resources

  • (Cicchinelli & Pammer-Schindler, 2023) A systematically collected list of publications in learning and technologies research with empirical research in professional learning. (Link to be added).
  • (Ruiz-Calleja et al., 2021) Adolfo Ruiz-Calleja, Luis P. Prieto, Tobias Ley, Maria Jesus Rodríguez-Triana and Sebastian Dennerlein, “Learning Analytics for Professional and Workplace Learning: A Literature Review,” in IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 353-366, 1 June 2021, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1109/TLT.2021.3092219.