Crowdworkers’ use of self-regulated learning strategies

My previous blogposts in the series on crowdworkers’ learning practices are available here, here, here, and here.

One aspect of the surveys of crowdworkers learning practices I’ve been recently conducting has been focused on scoping the range and frequency of use of of self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies undertaken by crowdworkers.

The questionnaire included a sub-scale of 34 items grounded in Zimmerman’s 3-phase model of self-regulated learning scoping crowdworkers’ strategies of planning, implementing and reflecting on their workplace learning.

The initial results from the sample of 167 microworkers and 15 online freelancers are as follows:

  • The possible range of SRL scores based on the questionnaire: 0 – 102
  • The actual SRL score ranges in this sample are:
    • microworkers: 4-99
    • online freelancers: 10-76
  • The sub-groups by SRL score are:
    • low SRL: 0-34
    • medium SRL: 35-70
    • high SRL: 71-102

1. What is the distribution of high, low and medium SRL scores among this sample?

SRLScoresFigure 1. Distribution of SRL scores among the sample of crowdworkers, percentages (n=182, including microworkers (MW) n=167 and online freelancers (OF) n=15).  

The bell curve distribution of SRL scores is in line with our previous surveys among ‘conventional’ knowledge workers.


2. What are the most prevalent SRL strategies among crowdworkers across the three phases of Zimmerman’s model?

By ‘most prevalent’ I mean SRL strategies that crowdworkers reported using ‘most of the time’ and ‘always’ (those who reported using a strategy only ‘sometimes’ are excluded from this analysis).

The initial results are shown in Figures 2-4 below.

Overall, we observe that crowdworkers use a wide range of self-regulated learning strategies across all phases, setting and modifying their own learning goals, strategies and performance standards and reflecting on their learning from crowdwork tasks.

Self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation are prevalent among crowdworkers (determined by responses to statements such as ‘important to learn new things in crowdwork tasks’, ‘confident can handle most demands in crowdwork’, prefers tasks that require to learn something new’, ‘meets learning goals’).

Despite the nature of crowdwork tasks that are designed to be completed individually and autonomously, some crowdworkers apply social learning strategies. Examples of social learning strategies are reaching out to others (36% of microworkers and 33% of online freelancers reported doing this most of the time or always); considering how what they have learned from crowdwork may be of interest to their peers (27% of microworkers and 39% of online freelancers do this most of the time or always); or sharing their learning from crowdwork with others (30% of online freelancers and 13% of microworkers).

The patterns of use of SRL strategies are broadly similar across both groups, but there are some differences, most notably:

  • More microworkers report regularly allocating time to work on their learning goals (22% of microworkers vs 7% of online freelancers)
  • More microworkers report regularly reflecting on their performance on crowdwork tasks (64% of microworkers vs 13% of online freelancers)
  • More microworkers report regularly sharing their reflections on their learning with others (20% of microworkers vs 0% of online freelancers)

Further analysis of the data will help determine if these differences are statistically significant and develop possible explanations for the differences.


Figure 2. SRL Planning strategies among crowdworkers 



Figure 3. SRL implementation strategies among crowdworkers



Figure 4. SRL reflection strategies among crowdworkers







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.

R&D Agenda for Learning from Incidents

I am delighted our paper ‘Research and Development Agenda for Learning from Incidents’ (co-authored with Allison Littlejohn and Neville Stanton) has been accepted for publication in Safety Science.

Get in touch if you’d like a pre-print copy.

Abstract: This paper outlines a research and development agenda for the nascent field of Learning from Incidents (LFI). Effective, deep and lasting learning from incidents is critical for the safety of employees, the general public and environmental protection. The paper is an output of an international seminar series ‘Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Learning from Incidents’ funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in 2013-2016 The seminar series brought together academics, practitioners and policymakers from a range of disciplines and sectors to advance the theory, methodology, organisational practice and policy in LFI. Drawing on a range of disciplinary and sectoral perspectives, as well as on input from practitioners and policymakers, this paper lays out four key research and development challenges: defining LFI; measuring LFI; levels and factors of LFI; and strengthening research-practice nexus in LFI.

Reference (incomplete): Margaryan, A., Littlejohn, A., & Stanton, N. (in press). Research and development agenda for Learning from Incidents. Safety Science.


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]


A Lacanian perspective on individual learning in organisations and implications for qualitative research

Reading Michaela Driver’s paper in the latest issue of Management Learning.  She analyses individual learning in organisations drawing on psychoanalytic (Lacanian) theory.  The key premise is that the self is always constructed in and through speech, but what we say we know about who we are and what we want is an illusion, a fantasy designed to cover up a lack that is impossible to get rid of: “It is a fantasy because the self we construct in the imaginary order is always constrained by language and what Lacan described as the symbolic order. As we try to articulate in an authentic fashion who we are and what we want, we are always using language, which consists of words, structures and conventions made by others, even generations of others. Therefore, the language through which we construct the self is not authentic in the sense that it does not reflect who we really are or what we really desire.(p. 563, emphasis mine)

She proposes three key points emerging from Lacanian theory that are of relevance for learning in organisations (p. 564):

  1. Conscious speech consists of imaginary constructions of the self.
  2. These constructions continuously fail as they are disrupted by unconscious desires.
  3. Recognition of and reflection on this failure provides opportunities to experience the self as a creative, powerful subject of the unconscious that is free of and can never be contained by an imaginary order.

If we accept this explanation, then, moving beyond the implications for learning that is the main subject of this paper, I want to ask: what are the implications for qualitative methods of inquiry that rely so heavinly on constructions of self? (ironically, Driver uses a number of qualitative studies – interviews, diaries, etc- to support her argument).

Reference: [access by subscription] Driver, M. (2010). Learning as lack: Individual learning in organizations as an empowering encounter with failed imaginary constructions of the self. Management Learning, 41(5), 561-574.

Sensemaking mechanisms in the workplace

Human activity, including the activity of work, is not in itself sufficicent for the experience of learning.  The learning value of an activity is in the extent to which the activity incorporates sensemaking mechanisms.  Dewey noted: “mere activity does not constitute experience” (1966, p. 146) and “educative value of… activities… depends upon the extent in which they aid in bringing about a sensing of the meaning of what is going on” [ibid, p. 246].  In terms of learning in the context of work, this means that simply engaging in work and carrying out work tasks may not be sufficient. For learning to occur from work, sensemaking mechanisms must be present in work activity or these may be purposefully designed into work (eitehr by individuals themselves or by organisations).

What are the sensemaking mechanisms that are already naturally inherent in work?  Is there any research on this?