Technology gives new meaning to work-place learning

Using video to record events for learning. Picture by Tobias Ley.
Using video to record events for learning. Picture by Tobias Ley.

People tend to learn something new at their work places almost every day, but sharing that knowledge with colleagues could be tricky in many industries. Learning Layers tries to find ways how to create a system that would make the sharing process easier and quicker.

“Our focus is on the how information technology is used in working contexts,” says Tobias Ley, a researcher at Tallinn University, in charge for Learning Layers project where he and his colleagues try to develop software that could help us all to learn better at our workplace and share the new knowledge with colleagues. “There are studies that show how people learn at work. We are looking for solutions that would not work on just one person, but would improve the learning experience of the whole organisation. Because it’s not just people who learn, but organisations too,” Ley says.

The Learning Layers project is one of a kind for many reasons. For Estonia, one of the achievement is being the coordinator of such a large project, According to Ley this has never happened before. Secondly, the European Commission has pointed out that although some sectors have benefited tremendously from developments in technology and the learning experience in some organisations has improved thanks to different technology solutions, some sectors have been left behind. So Ley and his team is at the moment focusing on construction industry in Germany and family doctors in the United Kingdom, researching how people in that sector engage in informal learning at their work place and how to share it with others.

In the UK Learning Layers works together with family doctors who often don’t have much time to reflect on learning experiences they get when interacting with patients and their colleagues. Learning Layers helps them organise those sets of data and use technology to share their observations with other doctors. This also helps the doctors improve information exchange on similar problems they may have with different patients helping the doctors to cooperate on finding solutions that fit best for everybody.

“The doctors don’t want to use Google or other cloud services because they don’t know where the data is stored and who has access to it,” Ley explains. “We can roll out a cloud-based platform where they have full control over their dada.”

The other major research area is the cooperation with construction industry. When you think about how many people go through a construction site a day and what kind of information has to be exchanged in order to get everything done right, you could easily see how wires could be crossed and information lost. So with the help of one of Learning Layers project tools, people at the construction site can take pictures with their mobiles, add information to them and upload them to a special cloud based environment to where different stakeholders have access.

“Mobile phones are already heavily used at construction sites – people make a lot of phone calls, take pictures, and learn something about the site doing this. But this all is not very sustainable. Our idea was to see how all this learning can be better connected to a physical place, or a particular machine or tool, and how others can take advantage of it and learn also,” says Ley. “The world around us evolves so quickly and new knowledge comes in quickly. For example, new, sustainable construction techniques and materials are being invented, but these don’t get used as workers know too little about them. At the same time we want to save money and people at the construction sites have to solve problems quickly and alone when in the past they were supported by teams or had more time to talk to their colleagues. So Learning Layers tools can help them to connect to a wider support and learning system.”

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This article was supported by the European Regional Development Fund through Estonian Research Council.