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.


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]


Abstract accepted for Dynamics of Virtual Work symposium

Pleased to find out that my abstract ‘Reconceptualising professional learning within emergent digitally-mediated work practices’ has been accepted for the forthcoming symposium of the Dynamics of Virtual Work research network.

Abstract: In many domains work has become increasingly complex, reliant on expertise distributed across a range of specialisms and involving novel problems at the boundaries of human knowledge (Boisot et al, 2011). In parallel, the unfolding digital transformation of work is catalysing new formations and constellations in the workplace that challenge traditional patterns of individual agency, organisation, power, responsibility and learning (Littlejohn and Margaryan, 2013). New forms of organisation mediated by digital technology include crowdwork, networked science, nomadic work and other types of distributed work (Bietz, 2013; Nickerson, 2013; Nielsen, 2012). These developments are having a profound effect on society and work, but are yet to have a significant effect on how professional learning is conceptualised and organised. Contemporary work practices require new forms of professional learning that align with the new spatial and temporal reconfigurations of workplaces, new work cultures, new networks of knowledge, and new requirements pertaining to the development and use of digital technologies. Conventional forms of professional learning such as formal training enable large numbers of people to reach a specific level of competency; however these forms of learning are unlikely to meet the learning needs of people in these new work contexts. Established forms of professional learning have largely not taken advantages of the opportunities around how people collaborate to learn, emergent knowledge networks, multiple ways in which people and knowledge resources can be brought together to enhance learning, and how digital technologies can extend access to these learning opportunities and resources. A fundamental rethink of how professional learning aligns with current trends in work, technology and society is required. In this presentation, I will discuss key implications of digital reinstrumentation and the emergent work practices for professional learning. Drawing on four concepts from learning sciences, sociology of work and technology-enhanced learning – self-regulation (Zimmerman, 2006), objectual practice (Knorr-Cetina, 2001), networked learning (Milligan, Littlejohn and Margaryan, 2014) and charting (Littlejohn, Milligan, and Margaryan, 2012) – I will outline some ways in which learning within emergent digitally-mediated work practices may be reconceptualised and fostered.


Bietz, M. (2013). Distributed work: Working and learning at a distance. In Littlejohn, A., & Margaryan, A. (Eds.). Technology-enhanced professional learning: Processes, practices and tools (pp. 28-38). London: Routledge.

Boisot, M., Norberg, M., Yami, S., & Nicquevert, B. (2011) (Eds.) Collisions and collaboration: The organisation of learning in the Atlas Experiment at the LHC. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Knorr-Cetina, K. (2001). Objectual practice. In Schatzki, T., Knorr-Cetina, K., & Savigny, E. (Eds), The practice turn in contemporary theory (pp. 175-188). London: Routledge.

Littlejohn, A., & Margaryan, A. (2013) (Eds.). Technology-enhanced professional learning: Processes, practices and tools. London: Routledge.

Littlejohn, A., Milligan, C., & Margaryan, A. (2012). Collective knowledge: Supporting self-regulated learning in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 24(3), 226-238.

Milligan, C., Margaryan, A., & Littlejohn, A. (2014). Workplace learning in informal networksJournal of Interactive Media Environments, special issue ‘Reusing Resources – Open for Learning. [Online] file:///Users/ama11/Downloads/325-2585-1-PB%20(2).pdf

Nickerson, J. (2013). Crowd work and collective learning. In Littlejohn, A., & Margaryan, A. (Eds.). Technology-enhanced professional learning: Processes, practices and tools (pp. 39-49). London: Routledge.

Nielsen, M. (2012). Reinventing discovery: The new era of networked science. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Zimmerman, B. (2006). Development and adaptation of expertise: The role of self-regulatory processes and beliefs. In Ericsson, A., Charness, N., Feltovich, P., & Hoffman, R. (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp. 705-722). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Research Assistantship in self-regulated learning in the workplace

I am looking for a Research Assistant (postdoc) to work with me on a series of studies on self-regulated learning in the workplace.   The position is based in the Caledonian Academy in Glasgow. It is a full-time, fixed term post for 12 months (in the first instance). Below are the details of the post and information about how to apply.

Salary Grade/Scale: Grade 5, £25,504 – £29,541 (Points 24-29)
Closing Date: 31 January 2014

The Caledonian Academy, a research centre for technology-enhanced professional learning at Glasgow Caledonian University, UK, is seeking a researcher to collaborate on a series of studies of how professionals self-regulate their learning in the contemporary networked workplace in knowledge-intensive domains. Responsibilities will primarily involve conducting a meta-review of literature; collecting qualitative data in multinational companies and analysing these data; devising research grant proposals; and setting up and running a reading group on self-regulation of learning at work. The post-holder will work closely with the Principal Investigator Dr Anoush Margaryan.

The successful candidate should have a PhD (or equivalent) in Learning Sciences, with specialisation in self-regulated learning in the workplace.  Candidates with a background in Industrial or Educational Psychology, Organisational Learning or other human learning disciplines will be considered provided they can demonstrate a solid understanding of theories of adult learning in the workplace and strong interest in self-regulated learning theories.  A track record of peer-reviewed articles in impact-rated academic journals is essential. Applicants should have formal training in qualitative research methods and demonstrate excellent interviewing skills, including the skills necessary to recruit potential interviewees. Preference will be given to candidates who have training in and/or experience of ethnographic research methods. Ability to read, analytically synthesise and summarise large amount of literature quickly and competently is essential. The successful candidate should have excellent written and spoken English language skills; exceptional project management skills; be well-organised, self-regulated and able to work independently. The successful candidate will demonstrate ability to persuasively present their research to businesspeople and policy-makers as well as other researchers.  Candidates whose background is in topics other than self-regulated learning at work should be willing to align their research focus with our research programme.

This post is an exciting opportunity to participate in innovative, interdisciplinary research that seeks to break new ground both theoretically and methodologically. Although the post is initially for 12 months, there is possibility of extension through acquisition of external research grants.  We are a small, dynamic and prolific group.  We are non-hierarchical, approachable, and collegiate. Flexible hours and mobile working can be negotiated, on the basis that agreed project outputs are delivered on time and to high standard.

We have ongoing research and consultancy collaborations with a range of global multinational companies in the energy and finance sectors.  Our research has been supported by grants from funders including the European Commission, the Gates Foundation, UK Economic and Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC), UK Join Information Systems Committee (JISC), and the industry. This post will provide an opportunity to participate in writing research grant applications and networking with these and other funders.

The successful applicant will benefit from mentoring by the Principal Investigator. The Caledonian Academy runs regular research seminars and knowledge exchange sessions, which the successful candidate will be encouraged to participate in. There is also a wide range of professional development courses and workshops offered by the university. You will work in a modern research space, sharing an office with one or two other researchers.

Interviews for this post will be held in February or early March 2014. The position is expected to start shortly thereafter (date negotiable).

To apply for this position, please submit the following materials by 17:00 (UK time) on 31 January 2014 to

  • GCU application form, which can be downloaded from
  • Your CV, including publications list
  • Cover letter explaining why you are interested in this Assistantship and outlining your relevant qualifications and prior experiences. The essential and desirable criteria for this post are available from  In your cover letter, outline concrete evidence of how you fit each of the essential criteria, and the desirable criteria if applicable.  Applications that do not provide evidence for the essential criteria will not be considered.  Statements such as ‘see my CV’ will not be accepted as evidence.
  • One recent paper, which best represents your research, where you are the sole or the lead author, and which is published in a peer-reviewed international journal.
  • Names and contact email for two referees. One of these should be your doctoral supervisor

Learning and knowledge sharing in the workplace: Part 2, How people learn at work

The ideas in the post are based on a research study I am collaborating on with Colin Milligan and Allison Littlejohn.  Your feedback would be appreciated.

How are the knowledge, skills and dispositions discussed in the Part 1 being learned?

This is a challenging question, because in the workplace learning takes place continuously, even though it is not always explicit and hence not always recognised.  We asked our interviewees to think about their most significant learning experience in the past year (a project or a task from which they felt they learned the most), but this time we asked them to elaborate on how they learned and what of these learning methods they personally preferred.

We uncovered 9 ways in which the respondents learned. These conscious learning processes range from working processes during which learning occurs (eg vicarious learning or learning from experience) to processes in or near the workplace where learning was the prime purpose (formal learning, coaching and mentoring, self-study).  They are listed in Table 1 (note that all respondents learned in more than one way):

Table 1.  Modes of learning

Mode of learning

Total no of participants who adopted the mode




Formal learning (classroom and blended learning courses, self-paced elearning)





Learning by doing





Learning by discussing with others





Coaching and mentoring





Learning by teaching others





Vicarious learning[1]





Learning by trial and error










Some patterns can be observed:

  • Prevalence of formal learning for all levels of experience, although many interviewees indicated that they preferred to learn via a combination of formal and informal, rather than formal alone.  However our data points out clearly that formal courses are still very important in individuals’ conceptions of what constitutes learning
  • A relatively significant proportion of novices appear to view teaching others as a valuable form of learning
  • Vicarious learning appears to be most popular among novices
  • Experts did not mention engaging in self-study – this doesn’t necessarily mean that experts don’t engage in studying the relevant literature but that perhaps this activity is viewed by them as an inherent part of work rather than a way of learning

[1] Refers to learning by observing others.

[2] For example, reading relevant literature and project documentation

Learning and knowledge sharing in the workplace: Part 1, What people learn at work

The ideas in the post are based on a research study I am collaborating on with Colin Milligan and Allison Littlejohn.

I have written earlier about a research study we are conducting within a major multinational company.  We are still analysing the data collected trhough 29 interviews and survey with 462 knowledge workers (engineers, scientists, commercial and business professionals) within the company. I wanted to blog the findings as they emerge, hoping that you might provide feedback, obersvations, comments, etc.

Semi-structured interviews were used to explore the ways in which experts and novices contribute, consume and connect knowledge and self-regulate their learning at work.  To this end we looked at learning and knolwedge sharing practices, indvidual and organisational motivating factors for learning and knolwedge sharing, barriers and enablers to knowledge sharing, the role of the collective (group, team, network, community) in learning and who people draw upon when faced with a need to learn to deal with a novel problem in the workplace (“significant others”). We have also explored what tools – personal and organisational – people use to support their learning and knowledge sharing, focusing in particular on social technologies.

I intend to post write ups of the key findings on  each of these themes as they become available.

Part 1. What people learn at work

What is being learned in the workplace?  Our methodology was designed to elicit categories of knowledge, skills and dispositions that interviewees acquired in the workplace.  We have asked our interviewees to think about their most significant learning experience in the past year (a project or a task from which they felt they learned the most) and to elaborate what they learned. This question generated a set of 22 categories of knowledge, skills and dispositions that interviewees believed they acquired through work.  We combined these using an existing typology of what is learned in the workplace (Eraut, 2004).  Our typology is outlined in Table 1.  The letters in the brackets indicate the number of interviewees who indicated that they had acquired the particular type of knowledge, skill or disposition and whether they were an expert (E), novice (N) or a mid-career professional (M).

Table 1. Typology of learning in the workplace

Awareness and Understanding

Understanding background of projects (NNNM)
Workplace politics (NM)
Stakeholder engagement (EM)
Contextualising knowledge (MMEE)

Personal Development
Assertiveness (M)
Learning about oneself (E)
Self-confidence (EE)
Stress management (M)

Core knowledge
Technical knowledge related to core tasks (NNNMMEE)
Using knowledge resources: developing personal networks (M), knowing who to ask (N)

Role Performance

Delegation skills (M)
People management skills (N)
Time management and prioritising (N)
Project management (EEM)

Collaboration skills (EEEMN)
Virtual team working (N)

Task Performance

Lab skills (N)
Using company-specific technology (NNE)

Enculturation in the company*
Developing visibility in the company (M)
Understanding the big picture (N)

Working in the organisation (NNNME**)

* While the types of skills and knowledge acquired through work that we uncovered generally match closely the categories outlined in Eraut’s typology, a new category emerged through our interviews – enculturation – which refers to individuals’ finding out about the company norms and values, understanding how work is conducted in the organisation and becoming known within the company.

** Although this person was an expert with 11-20 years in their discipline they were new to the organisation (1-3 yrs)

While the number of respondents is too small to ascertain generalities, some patterns can be observed in this typology:

  • No novices indicated acquisition of personal development-related dispositions and skills. This might be because their focus is on task performance and development of core knowledge in discipline
  • Development of deeper awareness and understanding of the context seems to be the focus mostly for experts and mid-career professionals. This might be due to the greater variety of experiences these individuals will have had within the company, which means they have to develop a more refined understanding of the variety of local conditions and other contextual aspects of their task and role performance.

This typology demonstrates the breadth and variety of knowledge and skills that individuals acquire in the workplace.   It encompasses both conceptual and procedural forms of knowledge (“know that” and “know how”) and the dispositions that underpin them (attitudes, behaviours that enable individuals to put their knowledge and skills into action).  The development of some of the skills and knowledge reflected in this typology is traditionally understood to be primarily the domain of formal educational settings, as for example in the case of conceptual knowledge. Of note is the fact that many of these skills and dispositions are being developed at all stages of career, regardless of experience and expertise level. These findings point to the variety of types of expertise and the holistic and continuous nature of learning at work.

This typology can be used as a heuristic that reminds people of possible aspects of learning in the context of their own work. The typology can also be used as an initial mapping tool for individuals, possibly in collaboration with their mentor/coach, to reflect upon the types of knowledge, skills and dispositions that they could acquire directly through their work. It can also serve as a starting point for individuals to develop a typology of their own workplace learning.

As in any typology, each category can fit more than one heading, but we have chosen to group them under the heading we found most suitable for the categories that emerged from the interview data.  It is also important to keep in mind that this is only an initial mapping – because the typology is based on a limited data set from only one organisation it doesn’t reflect the entire complex repertoire of knowledge, skills and dispositions that individuals can develop in the workplace.

References: Eraut, M. (2004). Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 26 (2), 247- 274.

Expertise and self-regulated learning

Zimmerman outlines the key components of expertise.  Each of these components is a necessary but not sufficient condition for development of expertise.

He also elaborates on the differences in self-regulation practices of experts and novices.

Source: Zimmerman, B. (2006). Development and adaptation of expertise: The role of self-regulatory processes and beliefs. In Ericsson, K.A., Charness, N., Feltovich, P., & Hoffman, R. (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp.705-722). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.