New paper on learning practices in crowdwork

My paper “Workplace learning in crowdwork: Comparing microworkers’ and online freelancers’ practices” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Workplace Learning.  Here is the abstract:

Purpose: This paper explores workplace learning practices within two types of crowdwork– microwork and online freelancing. Specifically, the paper scopes and compares the use of workplace learning activities (WLAs) and self-regulatory learning strategies (SRL strategies) undertaken by microworkers and online freelancers. We hypothesised that there may be quantitative differences in the use of WLAs and SRL strategies within these two types of crowdwork, because of the underpinning differences in the complexity of tasks and skill requirements.

Methodology: To test this hypothesis, a questionnaire survey was carried out among crowdworkers from two crowdwork platforms – Figure Eight (microwork) and Upwork (online freelancing). Chi-square test was used to compare WLAs and SRL strategies among online freelancers and microworkers.

Findings: Both groups use many WLAs and SRL strategies. Several significant differences were identified between the groups. In particular, moderate and moderately strong associations were uncovered, whereby OFs were more likely to report (i) undertaking free online courses/tutorials; and (ii) learning by receiving feedback. In addition, significant but weak or very weak associations were identified, namely OFs were more likely to learn by (i) collaborating with others; (ii) self-study of literature; and (iii) making notes when learning. In contrast, MWs were more likely to write reflective notes on learning after the completion of work tasks, although this association was very weak.

Contribution: The paper contributes empirical evidence in an under-researched area – workplace learning practices in crowdwork. Crowdwork is increasingly taken up across developed and developing countries. Therefore, it is important to understand the learning potential of this form of work and where the gaps and issues might be. Better understanding of crowdworkers’ learning practices could help platform providers and policymakers to shape the design of crowdwork in ways that could be beneficial to all stakeholders. The paper outlines several implications for the design of crowdwork.



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. 


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


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!