microwork

Nature of work tasks in crowdwork: Microwork vs online freelancing

As part of the survey of crowdworkers’ learning practices, I explored the nature of tasks they undertake within crowdwork platforms using two sets of previously validated and published scales: the Classification Structure of Knowledge-intensive Processes and some items from the ‘Knowledge Characteristics’ sub-scale of the Work Design Questionnaire.

In particular, the participants were asked to indicate which of the following 15 task types most closely described their typical crowdwork tasks (they could choose all options that applied):

  1. My crowdwork tasks are mostly routine
  2. My crowdwork tasks are highly reliant on formal processes
  3. My crowdwork tasks don’t give me freedom to decide what should be done in any particular situation
  4. My crowdwork tasks are mostly systematically repeatable
  5. My crowdwork tasks are highly reliant on formal standards
  6. My crowdwork tasks are dependent on integration across functional or disciplinary boundaries
  7. My crowdwork tasks are improvisational/creative
  8. My crowdwork tasks are highly reliant on my deep expertise/personal judgement
  9. My crowdwork tasks are dependent on collaborating with others
  10. My crowdwork tasks are highly reliant on my own individual expertise/experience
  11. My crowdwork tasks involve solving problems that have no obvious correct answer
  12. My crowdwork tasks involve dealing with problems I have not met before
  13. My crowdwork tasks require unique ideas/solutions to problems
  14. My crowdwork tasks require me to use a variety of skills to complete the work
  15. My crowdwork tasks require me to use a number of complex or high-level skills

Here are the results from the two groups: microworkers (Figure 1) and online freelancers (Figure 2). Among microworkers the three most prevalent characterisations of tasks were routine, systematically repeatable and requiring a variety of skills. And among online freelancers the most prevalent tasks were those that required a variety of skills and uniquie ideas and solutions, dealing with novel problem, and were reliant on their own individual expertise and experience. 

NatureOfTasksMW

Figure 1. Microworkers’ perceptions of the nature of their crowdwork tasks 

NatureOfTasksOF

Figure 2. Online freelancers’ perceptions of the nature of their crowdwork tasks

I’m working on a paper comparing these findings with earlier findings from a study of how conventional workers describe the nature of their tasks to see if there are any statistically significant differences and whether a similar typology emerges from the crowdwork settings. Stay tuned!

 

 

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Workplace learning activities in crowdwork: 2016 vs 2017 survey

Yesterday, I wrote about the initial findings of a survey scoping the range and frequency of use of workplace learning activities among crowdworkers.   

This is the second iteration of the survey, the first survey was carried out in March 2016 within the same two platforms, but involving different participants. In the 2016 sample a larger proportion of crowdworkers reported using social learning activities, as well as online courses and tutorials. 

I plan to compare the demographic details and other key characteristics of the participants of both survey iterations to identify potential explanations for these differences.

How do crowdworkers learn? Workplace learning activities

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):

  1. Acquiring new information to complete their crowdwork tasks
  2. Working alone to complete their crowdwork tasks
  3. Collaborating with others to complete their crowdwork tasks
  4. Following new developments in their field
  5. Performing tasks that are new to them
  6. Asking others for advice
  7. Attending a training course/workshop to acquire knowledge/skills for their crowdwork
  8. Taking free online courses or webinars (e.g. Coursera) to acquire knowledge/skills for crowdwork
  9. Using paid online tutorials (e.g. Lynda) to acquire knowledge/skills for crowdwork
  10. Reading articles/books to acquire knowledge/skills for crowdwork
  11. Observing/replicating other people’s strategies
  12. Finding a better way to do a task by trial-and-error
  13. Thinking deeply about their work (e.g. what they could do better next time)
  14. 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’.

WLAOverallFigure 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.

Crowdworkers’ learning practices

I’ve been conducting surveys of crowdworkers’ learning practices as part of the ‘Learning in Crowdwork’ research project I am leading.

In particular, recently (in October 2017) I surveyed two groups of crowdworkers from two platforms: microworkers from CrowdFlower and online freelancers from Upwork.

As the data are being analysed, there are some interesting early findings that I’d like to share. Over the next days and weeks I’ll be publishing a series of blog posts to outline some of the most noteworthy initial results.

The questionnaire I used is based on a validated and published instrument, the Self-regulated Learning at Work Questionnaire (SRLWQ) I co-authored and now adapted for use within crowdwork settings. I’m doing some analyses to further validate the adapted version of the questionnaire hoping to publish it in due course.

Learning within crowdwork platforms

My paper on crowdworkers’ learning within microwork and online freelancing platforms has been accepted at Internet, Policy and Politics 2016 Conference organised by Oxford Internet Institute. I’m very much looking forward to the conference.

Abstract: 

This paper reports findings of a survey exploring how crowdworkers develop their knowledge and skills in the course of their work on digital platforms. The focus is on informal learning initiated and self-regulated by crowdworkers: engaging in challenging tasks; studying professional literature/online resources; sharing knowledge and collaborating with others. The survey was run within two platforms representing two types of crowdwork – microwork (CrowdFlower) and online freelancing (Upwork). The survey uncovered evidence for considerable individual and social learning activity within both types of crowdwork. Findings suggest that both microwork and online freelancing are learning-intensive and both groups of workers are learning-oriented and self-regulated. Crowdwork is a growing form of employment in developed and developing countries. Improved understanding of learning practices within crowdwork would inform the design of crowdwork platforms; empower crowdworkers to direct their own learning and work; and help platforms, employers, and policymakers enhance the learning potential of crowdwork.

 

Reference: Margaryan, A. (22 September, 2016). Understanding crowdworkers’ learning practices. Paper presented at Internet, Policy and Politics 2016 Conference, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK.  [Online] http://ipp.oii.ox.ac.uk/sites/ipp/files/documents/FullPaper-CrowdworkerLearning-MargaryanForIPP-100816%281%29.pdf