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Assembly required: self-employed workers' informal work-learning in online communities Open Access


Other title
online communities
informal learning
actor network theory
work-related learning practices
situated learning theory
sociomaterial practices
self-employed workers
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Thompson, Terrie Lynn
Supervisor and department
Haughey, Margaret (Educational Policy Studies)
Wallace, Janice (Educational Policy Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Buck, George (Educational Psychology)
Fenwick, Tara (Educational Policy Studies)
Farrell, Lesley (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia)
Taylor, Alison (Educational Policy Studies)
Department of Educational Policy Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
It seems that for many people, spaces on the web are an integral part of their lives. This may include seeking out learning opportunities in online communities. There is plenty of buzz about these cyberspaces whether they are part of new social media configurations or commercialized product-related spaces cultivated by enterprises. It is important to explore how online spaces may—or may not—create new locations of educational possibilities for workers. The subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, fusion of these technologies into work-learning practices warrants attention. This research project focuses on online communities as sites of learning, with an over-arching question of: How do self-employed workers experience informal work-related learning in an online community? Community can describe a gathering of people online that is organic and driven by a shared interest. These online spaces may also be purposefully nurtured by professional associations, workplaces, or businesses. This research project focuses on these spaces—outside the auspices of formal online courses. I draw on Actor Network Theory (ANT) to explore how work-learning is enacted in online communities and the implications of the intertwining of people and objects in multiple, fluid and distributed actor-networks. I also use the notion of legitimate peripheral participation from Situated Learning theory to explore how different possibilities for learning are shaped by locations and trajectories within a work practice and larger community of practitioners. Data was collected by interviewing 11 self-employed workers and then “following the actors” as objects of interest surfaced. This dissertation is a collection of five papers as well as introduction and conclusion chapters and a background chapter on ANT. Findings explore notions of online collectives shifting to more networked configurations, the complexity of work-learning practices unfolding in multiple spaces, contradictions between Web2.0 rhetoric and practices as different associations with knowledge and novel ways of knowing are enacted, and questions about the politics of technology that emerge from uncertainties around delegation, invisible practices, and necessary literacies. Given the need to pull objects out of the background and into critical inquiry, I also explored how a researcher “interviews” technology objects as participants in a study.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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