School of Education - George Mason University

Dr. John Cook


GMU Fairfax Campus
Mason Hall
Room D003 A&B

Contact: 703-993-3798

Come Hear Guest Speaker

Dr. John Cook

Dr. John Cook is Professor in Education at University of the West of England and Director of the Bristol Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning and Education (BRILLE). He has published/presented around 240 refereed articles and invited talks in the area of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), having a specific interest in five related areas: informal learning, mobile learning in all sectors, augmented contexts for development, user-generated contexts and work-based learning.


A Design Research Approach to Networked Scaffolding in the Learning Layers Project - Using Social Media and Mobile Devices to Scale Informal Work-Based Learning

Social media and mobile technologies offer users unprecedented opportunities for communicating, interacting, sharing, meaning-making, content and context generation. And, these affordances are in constant flux driven by a powerful interplay between technological innovation and emerging cultural practices. Significantly, also, they are starting to transcend the everyday life worlds of users and permeate the workplace and its practices. Indeed, social media are increasingly being accessed via mobile devices. However, given the emergent nature of this area, the literature on the use of social media and mobile technologies in workplace practices is still small.

The context for my talk is Learning Layers, a large-scale research project co-funded by the European Commission’s 7th Framework Programme. The consortium consists of 17 institutions from 7 different countries. Total project budget over 4 years is 12 Million Euros (i.e. over 16 Million USD). The goal of the project is to scale up support for informal workplace learning in regional clusters of small and medium sized enterprises. We will trial these innovations in two sectors that have been particularly hesitant to take up learning technologies: health care in the North East of England and building and construction in North Germany.

The Learning Layers project looks at how informal learning in the workplace can be supported by new technologies like mobile phone and tablet apps. I lead a work package called 'Networked Scaffolding – Interacting with People' that is taking a Design Research approach to development. One aim of Design Research (e.g. Bannan-Ritland, 2003) is to identify and model technology-mediated, social learning and behaviours in order to design tools that support and promote the practices under investigation. For example, in Cook (2002) I proposed a Design Research approach (although I never called it that) which revolves around evolutionary prototyping. What this means in simple terms is that we need to consider repeated cycles of: empirical work, theory/model development and tool/artefact refinement. I have extended this approach of ‘cycles for design’ to the Learning Layers project so that it now has much in common with participatory design process, whereby a "key characteristic of the participatory design territory is the use of physical artefacts as thinking tools throughout the participatory design process, a practice emanating from the research-led "Scandinavian" tradition" (Sanders and Chan, 2007).

The focus of my talk will be to give snapshots of the extensive cycles for design being undertaken in Learning Layers by several work packages. The starting point for my work package is an initial typology (Cook and Pachler, 2012) of informal workplace learning; this is used to provide a theory/model for understanding social mobile network(ing) services in work-based learning. The talk will then go on to introduce on-going, overlapping activities from across the project:

  • Initial textual example to motivate design
  • Wire frames (story board design ideas)
  • Ethnographic study and resulting user stories that describe current practices at the workplace
  • Tools to inspire design, e.g. using the network section of the MoLE app (from Tribal, a technical partner)
  • Social Semantic Server to underpin interactions
  • Application Partner Days, with co-design activities
  • Integrated Model of Scaffolding
  • Design Conference (a month 5 milestone) which has a focus on mappings between the multiple activities & design teams, held at Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland, March 2013.

You can view the video here.