Before we can exploit new technologies to realize new ways of working, we must be able to imagine innovative possibilities for learning. Organizations seeking to improve the way they work and build knowledge reach for new learning paradigms. Possibilities emerge when exploring learning and working in virtual spaces from social learning perspectives, such as situated learning.. In this chapter, findings from a qualitative case study in a geographically dispersed organization are used as a springboard for exploring the challenges of introducing innovative e-learning initiatives. This chapter adds to our understanding of learning and working in virtual spaces by delving into: (1) workplace practices related to virtual learning and work that facilitate and frustrate new ways of learning; and (2) notions of online community, informal learning, and blended learning which offer promise for re-conceptualizing learning within virtual work spaces. Recommendations are provided to guide the creation of fresh teaching and learning practices.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Collective Meaning-Making: The cornerstone of social learning theory, collective meaning-making is a social activity in which, McLoughlin and Oliver (1998) state, “learning is facilitated through purposeful dialogue, verbalization of thought processes, … and negotiation of meaning” (p. 129).
Community: Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) state that communities are “groups of people who share …a set of problems or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (p. 4).
Synchronous and Asynchronous Modalities: Synchronous learning technologies enable same-time collaboration; events and interactions take place in real time. In contrast, asynchronous technologies enable any-time, any-place collaboration; learners and facilitators are not necessarily online and interacting at the same time.
Socio-Cultural Learning Paradigms: A belief that learning, thinking, and knowing are found in the “relations among people in activity in, with, and arising from the socially and culturally structured world” ( Lave & Wenger, 1991 , p. 51). Wells (2002) adds that, “the active construction of a personal understanding is an integral part of participating in knowledge building with others” (p. 127).
Informal Learning: “Any activity involving the pursuit of understanding, knowledge, or skill which occurs without the presence of externally imposed curricular criteria”. The objectives, content, learning strategies, duration, and evaluation of outcomes are “determined by the individuals and groups that choose to engage in it” ( Livingstone, 2001 , p. 5).
Social Software: “A group of Web services that are especially connective, such as: blogs, wikis, trackback, podcasting, videoblogs and social networking tools like MySpace and Facebook” ( Alexander, 2006 , p. 33).
Blended Learning: Mixing several elements to create a dynamic learning menagerie: F2F and online learning events, synchronous and asynchronous modalities, different e-learning media within an online experience, individual and collaborative activities, formal and informal learning opportunities, instruction and coaching, and learning events coupled with ongoing knowledge management and action projects.