Using learning myths to dig into research

This sally has a double-function. Firstly, I want to bring your attention to common learning myths and secondly, how you can use these myths to start diving into the world of research. Earlier, I wrote about evidence-based and research-based HR work and how far we have come already. I still remember how hard it was for me (especially in the beginning) to embrace research papers. They were boring and I did not understand the lengthy parts about statistics which some of them entailed. Today, I am happy that I gave it a try. Because academia contributes a lot to the field of HR. There are great reviews on all kinds of areas within HR and also researcher challenges common beliefs and reveal myths. Learning more about how to read academic research give you the critical competence to be part of the discussion when other HR professionals call their practices research-based. Learning and development is an area where many professionals claim this. Unfortunately a lot of learning myths have nourished a questionable way of learning practice at school and in the workplace. It’s time to dig deeper into this.


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Workplace literacy and the influences of technology between implicitness and definition challenges – recruiting as a bridging position

This has been my final assignment for the first course of my Master’s studies about digital literacy (Winter 2014). I was fascinated by the interconnection of (adult) education and getting a job, as well as the discussion about what it meant to be workplace literate. It was an ambitious assignment which I still find interesting to read, even though it is a bit too lengthy and not straight to the point. Enjoy!

The struggle for finding a superordinate definition of literacy can be retrieved regarding workplace literacy discussions (Mikulecky, 1988; Perin, 1997; Hull 2000; Belfiore, Defoe, Folinsbee, Hunter, and Jackson, 2004) and the influences of technology, being of interest for the workplace as a transforming key factor (Reinking, 1998). When literacy is seen as an age-independent continuum, distinguishing sharply between young and adult learners becomes hindering (UNESCO, 2009). In addition, the traditional dichotomy between literate-illiterate slows down the acknowledgement of lifelong learning (UNESCO, 2013). Rather, literacy is synonymous with “fundamental components of a complex set of foundational skills (or basic competencies), which require sustained learning and updating” (UNESCO, 2013, p. 17) to function as an empowering tool enriched by literate environments (UIL, 2010). The workplace connects various age groups with an enriched literate environment, where a social practice view of literacy is appropriate. When literacy is perceived as context-specific (UNESCO, 2005), a context definition backs the detection of skills and competencies for successful participation. Recruiting as a potential interface bridging literacy and context contributes by specifying required competencies to apply functional literacy in the work context. However, the expansion of literacy concepts complicates analysing it and distinguishing from “expressions such as knowledge, competence and learning” (Säljö, 2012, p. 6).

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You are invited to a video interview

Be it via Skype, Google Hangout or the like, video interviews are a great alternative for a first contact to interesting candidates. Compared to telephone interviews, video offers a more personal way to get to know each other. In addition, you don’t have to invite all candidates to personal interviews, which is more resources-efficient. But it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of applicants are still new to video interviews. Even though it’s a widely used tool for private conversations, job hunting via camera needs a different way of preparation.

Me leading a panel discussion with Google Hangouts as an assignment for the course Human Resource Management in the Digital Age – What would you do if a candidate appeared like this?

Here are some ideas on how to support video interview preparation in the recruiting process.

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Draft: Fluent in Swedish and good communication skills in Japanese, other languages meritable

The challenge of defining proper language requirements

To establish some kind of strategy around language skills in a corporation does not seem to come naturally. Whereas larger, multi-national corporations might discuss an English language strategy, it is the local language of smaller firms which often acts as knock-out criterion for competent job seekers. Funnily enough, this also depends on the position to be filled. Where programmers might get along without speaking the native language, HR employees see themselves in the opposite situation. When you receive enough applicants, language can be a convenient and easy-to-apply gate-keeper. But does this gate filter for competent employees?

New employees need to do both, perform on the job and socialize with their colleagues. If they lack knowledge of the local language, they will never be able to do both, won’t they? Digging deeper, the answer does not seem as straight forward anymore. Defining, assessing and nurturing (not yet existing) language skills can be key to attract and retain long-wanted competence. This post analysis four scenarios. All of them line out challenges which can occur when language requirements are everything but not thought through.

What is a good command of German? – It depends.

As with all competencies, language requirements read differently depending on the role and the context of the job and the company.

How would you interpret „very good command of German“ in a barista’s job description for a coffee-house franchise in Vienna compared to the same requirement for a corporate purchaser in a multi-national firm with their headquarter in Hamburg?

It all depends. The barista would need German to be able to read work and shift instructions and to communicate with (German-speaking) colleagues. For customers ordering in German, s/he needs to communicate with customers in a limited  and repetative context. Customers order a drink (mostly some sort of coffee), maybe a snack, might have their particular special (soya-free, low-fat, etc.), pay in cash or with card, and then wait for their order to be served. Someone with basic German knowledge (or even without any) would be able to learn the phrases needed within some weeks – as soon as s/he is motivated enough. The corporate purchaser has to negotiate with external vendors, has to understand terms and conditions as well as legal contracts. The vocabulary and communication skills are more advanced, also taking into account that some statements might be legally binding. Most likely, someone without basic German knowledge would not be able to do the job right away. The interpretation of the description „very good command of German“ depends.

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A critical perspective on competence-based assessment approaches in relation to HR policies: The potential of social network analysis to reveal authentic learning experience

This text was originally handed in as my final assignment of course TIA130 V15 Applied Research Methods and Design for Information Technologies and Learning within the International Master’s programme Information Technology & Learning at Gothenburg University on March 25st 2015. 


Human Resource (HR) policies are powerful instruments to define continuous professional learning strategies in workplace environments. They constitute definitions of central concepts such as knowledge, learning and competence for a specific organization and thus contribute to distinguish between these terms instead of using them synonymously (Säljö, 2012). Consistency in underlying theories can strengthen the organisation’s capability by combining “human capital (people skills and knowledge), social capital (relationships between people) and organisational capital (the organisation’s processes), and aligning them such that each supports the others” (Harris & Short, 2014, p. 5). In a society where knowledge becomes the most valuable good; including consistent epistemological, pedagogical and assessment related theoretical concepts in HR policies to reveal and evaluate this knowledge becomes increasingly important. Additionally, rising complexity and uncertainty in the world around us demands a focus shift from training to learning, from instructors to learners and from training departments to workplaces as a whole (Harris & Short, 2014). By saying so, future policies must not only embrace management theories but theories of knowledge management and learning to fulfill this increasing demands.

Competence-based assessment enables, besides others, the acknowledgement of pre-defined competences in a systematic way. However, coining the term competence is a challenging undertaking. Most definitions can be attributed to a middle space between competence as collective/universal attribute and competence as individual capacity (Le Deist & Winterton, 2005). The same authors propose a “multi-dimensional holistic competence approach”, which they see as an “opportunity of better aligning educational and work-based provision as well as exploiting the synergy between formal education and experiential learning to develop professional competence” (Le Deist & Winterton, 2005, p. 40). In this approach, competence is illustrated as a tetrahedron, consisting of cognitive competence (knowledge and understanding), functional competence (skills, social competence) and social competence (behavioural and attitudinal competencies) with a meta-competence being the facilitator for acquiring the other competences. The difficulty lies in the demand for describing competence in a multi-dimensional way. Additionally, such approach affects assessment practise, which has to reflect underlying competence assumptions. Another challenge is the ambiguity of the cognitive competence being the only component covering knowledge, while at the same time being inseparable from the other components. This competence approach merely touches upon socio-cultural lenses of knowledge, where this can be created, stored and retrieved through the embedded context the individual finds him-/herself in. Hence, it only implicitly considers workplace networks conceptualizations, such as the workplace exchange network proposed by Cole, Schaninger and Harris (2002). However, making these networks explicit is necessary to reveal not only social networks per se, but another layer of an authentic professional learning experience.

If workplace environments are seen as best represented by socio-cultural learning theories, the future bottleneck will be competence-based assessment practices. This is because firstly, power will shift from employers to employees due to demographic developments and secondly, acknowledgement of competence will continue to be the driving force within labour markets. Constantly re-defining required competences for this assessment practices is a bottomless pit in the light of the demand for more flexible position descriptions and rising expectations of employees. However, expanding the competence approach by measures of social network analysis (SNA) to describe the positions of individual actors and groups as well as their relations (ties) to one another within a certain network can contribute to extenuate the bottleneck effects. In the course of this thesis it will be necessary to give an overview of components which SNA can reveal in relation to learning assessment practises and how they can be interpreted in a meaningful way considering the organizational context. Another perspective SNA offers is the intent to represent actual networks independently of pre-defined competences. As a result, categories such as formal/informal learning could be partially merged by evaluating employees’ networks as a whole. Generating explicit competences can promote misleading dichotomies, such as for example body/mind (is there a strict distinction between cognitive, social and functional competence?) and formal/informal (how does this approach embrace and promote spontaneous learning activities outside of formal schedules for learning activities?). If knowledge and learning is said to be embodied in the contextual environment of the actors in a network, using competence-based assessment approaches might be partly inconsistent.

In my research proposal, I suggest a shift in assessment approaches by exploring SNA as a method of the emerging field of learning analytics. As for the exact measures, I still have to decide on a network principle I would like explore. For this, I will need some more extended literature review on previous research efforts. As for now, I stick to the measure of centrality, being the most important tool for analysing the importance of social network actors (Carrington, Scott, & Wasserman, 2005). All in all, I claim that SNA provides potential to reveal, measure and evaluate employees’ learning networks and their learning experience based on diverse data sources readily available. In a competitive economic environment, advantages will lie within making use of data and having power over developing suitable algorithms for the good of the organization. Social networks represent knowledge to a certain extend and thus should be considered as assessment approach for employee suitability and the value of knowledge in organizational HR strategies.

The research question for my proposal is formulated by

Can centrality measures of social network analysis (SNA) complement competence-based assessment approaches in workplace environments to support the implementation of HR policies based on socio-cultural/embodied learning theories?

Measures of centrality in SNA have been discussed widely but can be narrowed down to the three most important concepts degree, betweenness and closeness (Freeman, 1978). Competency based assessment approaches refer to defining sets of competence as a basis for assessing concepts such as employee performance and potential. HR policies are seen as representations of the strategic perspective on all human resource related topics within a certain organization. Socio- cultural/embodied learning theories represent the branch of learning theories within which learning and knowledge is seen as inseparable from its context and the social networks in which it occurs.

As for prior research it becomes clear that the focus lies on formal school settings and includes mostly students, indicating a gap of researching learning in organizations in general. In addition, most research has been conducted in online environments, leaving aside the potential to use centrality measures for offline social networks as well. In relation to organizational educational settings, it has been proposed to focus more on uncovering the holistic (authentic) professional learning experience than the evaluation of specific learning programmes (Webster-Wright, 2009).

Dawson (2008) used social network analysis to determine the relation between a student’s position in the social network and their reported sense of community. She concluded, that the centrality measures closeness and degrees are positively correlated to the reported sense of community, while betweenness show the opposite correlation. In addition, pre-existing external social networks influence the sense of community experienced to a certain extend. Kovanović, Joksimović, Gašević, and Hatala (2014) investigated the concept of social presence and it’s positive correlation to network centrality measures by taking data from student discussion boards. The relationship between digital learning and network learning has been detected by the study of Ünlüsoy, De Haan, Leander, and Volker (2013). Levels of activism and their correlation to occupational ties for movement participants have been investigated by Tindall, Cormier, and Diani (2012). All of these studies can be valuable starting points for my research proposal to identify more explicit concepts.

The objectives of this study are to evaluate two perspectives on learning in current HR research, namely workforce development and continuous professional learning. Furthermore, it intends to identify the importance of terms such as competence, knowledge, learning and assessment in HR policies and demonstrate the limitations of competence-based assessment approaches from a socio-cultural stance on learning. By illustrating the potential of SNA, it depicts a contributor to an assessment approach which can reveal authentic learning experience in the workplace. To illustrate the potential of SNA, this research investigates the correlation between network position focusing on centrality measures and learning experience by analysing and comparing learner’s position in social networks within a formal online training course and in the internal social media platform in general.

The intended audience for this study are learning policy and strategy makers in workplace environments, particularly focusing on assessment practices and the notion of knowledge in organizational environments. The proposed study is particular useful as it takes a critical stance on competence management, assessment practices and their significance for future continuous professional learning strategies. Furthermore by intending to be even more specific in chosen terminology and methodology, it aims at closing the identified gaps in the literature. One important aspect that is still left open is the identification of specific concepts, which shall be researched. The way this proposal is formulated now is still too broad and bold in assumptions and to less focussed on actual underlying theories. Assessment is one concept which needs clarification, especially to support its importance in this proposal as a whole. The same applies for the importance of knowledge and the particular link to underlying theories such as knowledge management and management theories.

Literature review

Within HR policies wording and terminology are important factors. Rephrasing professional development by continuous professional learning could contribute to exploring the holistic learning experience of professionals. In addition to this shift in terminology to address authentic professional learning, Webster-Wright (2009) identifies a lack of research when it comes to exploring the latter holistic learning experience. Assessment is said to be a critical factor within the epistemology – pedagogy – assessment triangle and reflects assumptions about knowledge and learning. Methods of learning analytics shall be used only when these intersections are clearly understood and considered (Knight, Buckingham, & Littleton, 2014). By revealing social networks of employees, this approach could contribute to respond to future research suggestions investigating coherent models of learning within workplace environments which include formal and informal learning aspects (Kyndt & Baert, 2013).

The gap exists when it comes to relating measures of SNA to the value of an individual’s position within his/her social networks in an organizational context. This is because most studies using measures of SNA are mostly performed in educational settings and relate these measures to competency based assessment results.

Hence, there is a missing link between measures of SNA and their potential for economic network value estimation. Some research might guide directions, such as research into social networks and sense of community (Dawson, 2008) or social capital (Kovanović, Joksimović, Gašević, & Hatala, 2014). However, these studies are again connected to academic performance in formal education settings. Current research additionally attempts to create approaches where data is used to extract competencies and match them with the organizational recruiting requirements. But these approaches are based on defined competencies, an approach I am aiming to complement (or even substitute) by using measures of SNA and borrowing suitable terminology for this purpose. For the development of my proposal, it is necessary to identify those research papers using SNA to describe social networks for the sake of being networks and using appropriate complementary concepts to value them.



Carrington, P. J., Scott, J., Wasserman, S. (2005). Models and methods in social network analysis: Elektronisk resurs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cole, M. S., Schaninger, W. S., & Harris, S. G. (2002). The workplace social exchange network: A multilevel, conceptual examination. Group & Organization Management, 27(1), 142-167. doi:10.1177/1059601102027001008.

Dawson, S. (2008). A study of the relationship between student social networks and sense of community. Educational Technology & Society, 11(3), 224–238.

Freeman, L. C. (1978). Centrality in social networks conceptual clarification. Social Networks, 1(3), 215-239. doi:10.1016/0378-8733(78)90021-7.

Gonczi, A. (2004). The New Professional and Vocational Education. In Foley (Ed.) The Dimensions of Adult Education (pp. 19-34). Open University Press.

Harris, R., Short, T. (2014). Workforce development: Perspectives and issues. Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Haythornthwaite, C. (1996). Social network analysis: An approach and technique for the study of information exchange. Library and Information Science Research, 18(4), 323-342. doi:10.1016/S0740-8188(96)90003-1.

Hogan, B., Carrasco, J. A., & Wellman, B. (2007). Visualizing personal networks: Working with participant-aided sociograms. Field Methods, 19(2), 116-144. doi:10.1177/1525822X06298589.

Kovanović, V., Joksimović, S., Gašević, D., Hatala, M. (2014), “What is the source of social capital? The association between social network position and social presence in communities of inquiry,” In Proceedings of 7th International Conference on Educational Data Mining – Workshops, London, UK.

Knight, S., Buckingham Shum, S. & Littleton, K. (2014). Epistemology, assessment, pedagogy: where learning meets analytics in the middle space. Journal of Learning Analytics, 1(2) pp. 23–47.

Kyndt, E., & Baert, H. (2013). Antecedents of employees’ involvement in work-related learning: A systematic review. Review of Educational Research, 83(2), 273-313.

Le Deist, F. D., & Winterton, J. (2005). What is competence? Human Resource Development International, 8(1), 27-46. doi:10.1080/1367886042000338227.

Tan, E. (2014). Human capital theory: A holistic criticism. Review of Educational Research, 84(3), 411-445. doi:10.3102/0034654314532696.

Säljö, R. (2012). Literacy, digital literacy and epistemic practices: The co-evolution of hybrid minds and external memory systems. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 7(1), 5-20.

Tindall, D. B., Cormier, J., & Diani, M. (2012). Network social capital as an outcome of social movement mobilization: Using the position generator as an indicator of social network diversity. Social Networks, 34(4), 387-395. doi:10.1016/j.socnet.2011.12.007.

Tubaro, P., Casilli, A. A., & Mounier, L. (2014). Eliciting personal network data in web surveys through participant-generated sociograms. Field Methods, 26(2), 107-125.

Ünlüsoy, A., De Haan, M., Leander, K., & Volker, B. (2013). Learning potential in youth’s online networks: A multilevel approach. Computers & Education, 68, 522.

Webster-Wright, A. (2009). Reframing professional development through understanding authentic professional learning. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 702-739. doi:10.3102/0034654308330970.