Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Use of Smartphones and exhaustion: the case against mobile learning?

Last Friday I had a dinner with 3 colleagues, our yearly dinner. We talked about the storm on Thursday which caused the complete halt of the train system in the Netherlands. I was part of a group which exchanged via a Whatsapp group whether to cancel our dinner. The group had such a flurry of messages which made me feel very unproductive in my work because I had my smartphone lying next to my laptop, and every time I looked at the new messages.

My personal app policy
One of the colleagues asked me: well, you must have an awful lot of whatsapp groups? He was surprised when I answered that I try to avoid work-related app groups. The reason I avoid it is because I don't want to work continuously on all my client cases, but want to have specific times that I choose to work on these client projects. In our courses we don't start whatsapp groups, unless the participants take the initiative and have a clear purpose for the group. Last Monday I talked to a teacher who said the same thing about Whatsapp. He does not want to participate in the group of his students because it would mean an awful lot of questions about homework during the weekend or late hours.

What's the influence of smartphones on work/life balance and stress? 
I found a study looking at the influence of our smartphone use for work purposes and its influence on stress and burnout. The paper is called Smartphone Use, Work–Home Interference, and
Burnout: A Diary Study on the Role of Recovery. The paper is written by Daantje Derks* and Arnold B. Bakker Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. In this study 69 smartphone users completed a dairy questionnaire for 5 successive working days. All participants were required by their employers to use a smartphone.

The need to recover from work
Our workload is going up. Many employees have a smartphone, which may or may not be paid by the organization. Organizations increasingly expect employees to immediately respond to work-related messages. The norm is becoming that individuals should be available to others anytime and anyplace. Employees feel a pressure to respond to messages coming through their smartphones (with plings!) and it derails their attention. Furthermore it blurs the boundary between work and private life, even more so when employees are highly committed to their work. The authors use the term Work-Home-Interference (WHI), defined as a negative process of negative interaction in which the employees experience pressure from work and private life which is hard to reconcile. This may be time conflict, role conflict or stress taken from work which makes it hard to relax at home.

How to recover from work
Smartphone users may find it even harder to find recovery time in the evening. A core component of recovery is the employee's sense of being away from work: to detox from work. It implies more than just being physically away from work. It suggests that the individual stops thinking about work and disengages mentally from it between work and home domains. In this study, two types of recovery were defined (a) psychological detachment or the ability to disengage oneself mentally from work; and (b) relaxation

image via pixabay
Enter: Smartphones at work 
Smartphones are great for new forms of interaction and collaboration, like contributing to the social intranet or replying mails, and of course the numerous Whatsapp groups. Other positives often associated with smartphones are increased productivity, increased flexibility to work where you want, improved responsiveness, and the availability of real time information. However, checking your mail and responding may often seem like something 'small and quick' but may demand more time than you are aware of. You can only do one thing at the time, hence engaging in smartphone activities often implies not being their with your attention for your family or friends. There is an urge to respond when the smartphone indicates that there are new messages. This seems harmless but does demand attention. In addition, you can't control how many and how often you get messages.
Hypotheses: The increased productivity associated with staying connected to work in the evening hours is often achieved at the cost of higher stress levels which may lead to poor recovery, impaired performance  fatigue, and sleep complaints. 

Results of the study: smartphone use increases the Work-Home-Interference 
The study found strong evidence that smartphone use during after-work hours impact on the work–private life balance negatively. On a daily basis they experiences Work-Home-Interference. This daily WHI is positively related to feelings of burnout operationalized as exhaustion and cynicism. For intensive smartphone users the negative effect is higher than for low- users of smartphones. When faced with high levels of WHI, intensive smartphone users are more exhausted than less intensive smartphone users. It leads to more feelings of exhaustion for the intensive smartphone user. There were also smartphone users who succeeded in experiencing psychological detachment and/or relaxation during after-work hours who experienced less WHI. This might be the opportunity for intensive smartphone users to protect themselves from the potential negative consequences of high WHIK by engaging more in sports or leisure activities.

I often check my mails during evening hours too. It is actually shocking when you realize that it does create more stress. If people are not aware of the impact? All in all, there is a clear need for organizational policy regarding smartphone use. An organization may set boundaries for use of smartphones. I can imagine it is particularly important to monitor the intensive smartphone users and continuously discuss in teams how people use and experience the work-related smartphone conversations.

No more mobile and micro- learning? 
The implication for online and blended learning is huge. One implication is that this is a downside of mobile learning, especially for high smartphone users and highly committed employees. The assumption behind mobile and micro-learning: we always have our smartphones hence it is easier to bring learning content to the smartphone. Of course this may be easier but the risk is that it invades privates lives and induces Work-Home-Interference. Although it may seem trivial to watch a video for 5 minutes, it does have an impact as this study shows on feelings of exhaustion and cynism.

It also stresses the importance of embedding online learning within workhours. I notice that in various organizations managers think online and blended learning can be done outside office hours (cheaper!). Even when employees are allowed to do it in office hours, it might not be seen as work by their colleagues. To avoid adding to stress online learning should become part of the job as face-to-face is.  

Monday, January 15, 2018

Three different views on social learning

I am not the first to note that social learning is a confusion concept. Every Friday there is an interesting #ldinsight Twitter chat. I joined one Friday when the topic was about social learning. I struggled going from my tweetchat back to twitter and hootsuite trying to keep up with replies :). Any Twitterchat is hard work but it was worst to make sense here because I noticed that we all talked with a different view on social learning. For instance, people talked about groupwork and having time to read quietly. I often see social learning is seen any learning activity which involves more than one person. That's one of the views but not mine.

I will write down the three main different views I hear when people talk about social learning. I see the social constructivist, the new social learner and the collaborative learners.


Learning is situated and knowledge is constructed through interaction with others. Knowledge is not constructed indivually but is influenced by others.

Social learning combines social media tools with a shift in culture encouraging connections
Social learning is learning with and from others
Typical remark
“You can not turn off learning” “Even reading a book is social”
“I connect and learn through my online network” “just the technology is not enough”
“We should add some social elements”  “It is all about sharing knowledge and experience”
Online or offline?
Typical interventions
Communities of practice
Social network inventory – looking for existing communities

Introduce an Enterprise social network
Stimulate use of social media
Working Outloud

Adding interaction to e-learning
Collective learning

Online networks
Learning from peers

Images through Robin Higgins on Pixabay

Not any of these views are wrong. Someone said this distinction is putting ideas in boxes. Personally I think surfacing your underlying ideas about social learning can be helpful in a conversation. Otherwise you might not understand each other. I am a typical social constructivist because I look at learning as meaning making. However, I often adopt the new social learning definition because it is a much clearer definition. The collaborative learning approach is not wrong, but it does not focus on collective learning which is often very important in organizations. Mmm in networks as well in fact.

Do you relate to any of the three views? Which one?

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Bookreviews Kevin Kelly: mind artificial intelligence, attention and quantified self

 I read two books by Kevin Kelly about technology, one on my kindle and one on paper (not the same book by the way :). The first was What technology wants; the second the Inevitable. I found both through Twitter. Now that I think about it: I get most of the book tips via my Twitter network.

I have read these two books because I want to know how technology is going to influence my field of work: learning and knowledge. I was also curious about what lens he uses to looks at technology. In my study Irrigation Engineering we learnt about various lenses. For example, you had the techno-optimists who thought that technological developments would solve all problems of developing countries, for example agricultural production would go up by invention of artificial fertilizer and pesticides. On the other hand, there are the skeptics. I was more skeptic because I saw how great the influence of culture and the way people react to technology is. At times people do reject technologies. Farmers in Africa did not make massive use of fertilizers and pesticides at all. Are there differences in visions on (learning) technologies? What lens can I use?

Kevin Kelly ends his book The inevitable with a clear position: he sees that we are at the beginning of a new phase, the last chapter is hence called 'the beginning' since he sees that we are at the start of a new phase. In this phase we move towards a collective consciousness that he calls the holos. We can not imagine the holos because it is something unseen yet. Another phase change from the past was the invention of the language. The people before the invention of language could not imagine the world with language either. Through language cooperation and coordination got a boost, but also idea development and fantasy. Ideas and knowledge travels with generations through language. The holos is a connection of all people and machines via artificial intelligence. The holos arises because we increasingly share, track, mix, filter, etc. via the internet. He also mentions two different visions on artificial intelligence: hard and soft singularity. The hard singularity theory is that we make a superintelligence that becomes increasingly smart, solves all problems and bypasses us. The soft singularity's theory is based upon a complex interface between people and artificial intelligence.

Some ideas I take from his books are: 

  • Technology takes an increasingly more central place in our lives. We sleep with the smartphone. My daughter sometimes sits with a laptop on her lap, ipad next to it and a smartphone in her hand. 10,000 years ago, a farmer only ran a few hours a day with a tool in his hand. The rest of the day was technology free. 
  • Apart from an addiction to a smartphone, for example, we may be addicted to what Kelly calls the 'technium', the technological innovation itself. This explains the interest in gadgets. The guild of French scholars has been able to delay the introduction of the printing press in Paris but could not stop it. Hence the general technology advancement seems inevitable?
  • Social changes in history are almost always driven by technology. He clearly recognizes that not all changes due to technology are positive. For instance the large-scale slave trade has become possible because of the sailing ships that could sail across the oceans. A quote from Karl Marx: the hand-mill gives you a society with the feudal lords, the steam-mill society with industrial capitalists.
  • The society and what we are working on is much more about intangibles (services, not tangible things) than about goods. 40% of US exports are intangible.

the picturephone

  • According to Kelly, new technologies are sometimes inevitable, but every technology needs a momentum. He gives the example of the videophone. Already in 1938 there were prototypes at the German post office. Picturephones were installed on the streets in New York in 1964, but were discontinued because there were only 500 subscribers. Now we use Skype, Zoom, Facetime or use video to call Whatsapp. Often similar technologies are invented or tried out simultaneously in different places. Only if the supporting technology is right and matches the social dynamics is it widely accepted. There is often a point where technology seems to be an option to individuals but in fact society has already changed so that people feel compelled to use it, in fact it is no longer an option. I recognize this with Whatsapp and the chip card for public transport. My mother could still buy tickets, but that is becoming increasingly difficult. Also think about how difficult it is if you do not want to use Whatsapp?
  • He summarizes the major changes of our time in the inevitable: Our time is knowledge / information-oriented, flows of information such as in your timeline are increasing. Sharing, linking, tagging are all on the rise. 40% of the web is commercial information, however 60% is voluntarily shared, from a passion. Artificial intelligence is going to have a big impact. The time of huge influence of Artificial intelligence has arrived because we have cheap computing power, big data and better algorithms. These three are the optimal conditions for artificial intelligence.
  • Can you redesign the economy based upon attention rather than material goods? If information is no longer scarce, then attention is. What if I was paid to look at an advertisement? If information is not scarce, and we can work more efficiently through artificial intelligence, people will focus on actual experiences. They will become very expensive and a new industry. 
  • There is a whole movement of quantified self. There is so much data that you can collect and analyze about yourself. Does this really make us a better person?
The books offer a lot of ideas about the influence of technology. It is quite overwhelming to me. On a philosophical level, I recognize the inevitably of technological advancements as in society. Being addicted to technology development in general by humanity would explain the focus on new technology and the 'shiny tool syndrome' that I often encounter. The intrusion of technology also gives me an uneasy feeling, as if you lose control. I am not happy about the inevitability. My own feeling says that we do not always need to get better from all new technology and that we still have to stay connected to nature because we depend on it (just look at black mirror). Nor do I believe that technology can solve all our problems, think of climate change, which is quite scary. 

My question was: what will be the influence of technology on learning and sharing knowledge?. What I will take away from these two books is the increasing importance of information, we have to relate to information in a different way. We drown in information but does it help us further? Dealing with big data and information is becoming increasingly important. Attention is becoming scarce. Artificial intelligence will play a major role in this. The quantified self also comes back. 

A conclusion is to pay attention to: (1) artificial intelligence (2) attention scarcity and focus and (3) learning through feedback about ourselves (quantified self). As far as the hard and soft singularity is concerned, I certainly believe in the soft singularity that we determine how artificial intelligence will support us. 

What kind of feeling do you get from all these developments?