This is the first blogpost in the series about learning practices of crowdworkers.
One of the foci of the study is how crowdworkers learn on-the-job: what types of workplace learning activities they undertake and what learning strategies they use to self-regulate their learning. The range and frequency of use of learning activities and learning strategies that people undertake in the workplace give us an indication of learning-intensity of a job (that is, the extent to which people need to regularly acquire new skills and knowledge to be able to maintain their job). Crowdwork is often presumed to be low learning-intensity, low-skill, lacking in professional development opportunities and preventing workers for applying and developing their skills and know-how. So it’s useful to scope the range and frequency of use of workplace learning activities and strategies among crowdworkers to see what, if any, empirical base there is to these assumptions about crowdwork.
This blogpost is focused on workplace learning activities. The resuts reported here are based on 182 survey responses (167 microworkers and 15 online freelancers). I’m currently collecting more survey responses from online freelancers in order to balance out the sample.
In the survey, I asked the participants to indicate how frequently they used the following 14 workplace learning activities within the last 3 months as part of their work on the crowdwork platforms (never, rarely, frequently or very frequently):
- Acquiring new information to complete their crowdwork tasks
- Working alone to complete their crowdwork tasks
- Collaborating with others to complete their crowdwork tasks
- Following new developments in their field
- Performing tasks that are new to them
- Asking others for advice
- Attending a training course/workshop to acquire knowledge/skills for their crowdwork
- Taking free online courses or webinars (e.g. Coursera) to acquire knowledge/skills for crowdwork
- Using paid online tutorials (e.g. Lynda) to acquire knowledge/skills for crowdwork
- Reading articles/books to acquire knowledge/skills for crowdwork
- Observing/replicating other people’s strategies
- Finding a better way to do a task by trial-and-error
- Thinking deeply about their work (e.g. what they could do better next time)
- Receiving feedback on their crowdwork tasks (e.g. from a client or peers)
Below are the survey results showing the percentage of the crowdworkers who reported using each learning activity ‘frequently’ or ‘very frequently’.
Figure 1. Percentage of crowdworkers who reported using these workplace learning activities frequently or very frequently
From this chart, crowdworkers most frequently learn by working alone on novel tasks, acquiring new information, following new developments in their fields, seeking better ways to do the tasks by trial-and-error and reflecting deeply on their work.
Crowdworkers reported some other learning activities not included in the list above, such as:
- Watching YouTube videos
- Participating in project groups on specific tasks
- Participating in platform-specific online fora
- Discussing ideas with others
- Reading platform-specific blogs
- Watching news in foreign languages to improve language skills
- Taking private lessons to improve skills in a particular area
- Scoping and learning highly-demanded technologies trending on specific crowdwork platforms
It is interesting that just over a third of the respondents reported observing and replicating other people’s strategies as a key way in which they learn. Also, some undertake social learning activities such as asking others for advice, collaborating with others, receiving feedback. How does this sort of mimetic and cooperative learning take place in a distributed, digital online workplace? What are the underpinning mechanisms and processes and what is the nature of the connections? These questions will be further explored in the interviews with crowdworkers.