Work-learning in informal online communities: Evolving spaces


Thompson TL (2011) Work-learning in informal online communities: Evolving spaces. Information Technology and People, 24 (2), pp. 184-196.

Purpose – This paper seeks to explore how workers engage in informal online communities forwork-learning. Although online communities may facilitate learning and knowledge creation, much ofthe literature is situated in formal online courses, suggesting a need to better understand the nuancesof more informal learning spaces online.Design/methodology/approach – Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 own-account self-employed workers (contractors and consultants who do not have staff).Findings – Participants engaged in ways that fit with expectations, leveraged fluidity, played withboundaries, and meshed with work. These workers attempted to (re)configure online spaces to createthe degree of connection and learning needed, although not always successfully. This study exploreshow participants participated in much less pedagogically inscribed spaces and foregrounds severalissues related to online engagement: managing exposure, force-feeding community, and navigatingmulti-purpose spaces.Research limitations/implications – There are indications that these workers are moving towardmore networked architectures of online participation. How the notion of online community continues toevolve warrants further research.Practical implications – Although turning to an online community is sometimes the only viablelearning option, online presence brings challenges to be addressed by practitioners and policy makers,including attending to the nature of relationships in and between different cyberspaces, informationand media literacies required, and the implications of such extensive connectivity between people andtheir web-technologies.Originality/value – By exploring how adults reach out to others in “informal” online communitiesfor learning purposes, this paper encourages researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and citizens toconsider tensions and questions associated with cyberspace collectives.

Communities; Web 2.0; Workplace learning; Information technology; E-learning

Information Technology and People: Volume 24, Issue 2

Publication date31/12/2011
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing