E‐learning: ageing workforce versus digital nomads

This is a qualitative case study research (exploratory) focusing on age-related issues in use of technology in learning in the traditional industry as tail services in Australia. There are five organisations that researchers focus on in the attempt to
This is a qualitative case study research (exploratory) focusing on age-related issues in the use of technology in learning in the traditional industry as rail services in Australia. There are five organisations that researchers focus on in the attempt to answer three research questions:
  1. How is the Australian rail industry currently using e-learning?
  2. Are there age-related issues with the current use of e-learning in the rail industry?
  3. How could e-learning be used in future to engage different generations of learners in the rail industry

What interested me was the focus on the use of technology in the traditional industry. While it is not exactly 100% transferable to my research context, I was hoping to learn more about the approach, Methodology, and get some reading ideas.

It was very helpful as the research plan was clearly outlined – starting from the methodological approach, and its justification, sampling, ethical considerations. Research methods were explained. I found it interesting that y stated that lead questions were avoided and age issue wasn’t mentioned until interviewees mentioned it themselves.

The paper starts with thematic analysis of the literature on e-learning (its emergence), briefly touching on the e-learning definition (or various definitions used depending on the community and context) and outlining main reasons why e-learning is applied (“to enhance learning, improve performance, develop skills and increase levels of motivation” , being ” more accessible, efficient and cost-effective” than traditional learning and facilitating “ongoing learning and information sharing across geographically dispersed organisations“) citing the relevant sources. They state what definition they apply in the context of their research (a simplistic definition by Sevage, 2005 describing e-learning as an “instructional content or learning experiences delivered or enabled by electronic technology.” No other contrasting or complementary definitions were given.

Authors also refer to the “widespread argument that traditional organisations and industries with a predominantly older workforce, (…) are unlikely to embrace the opportunities afforded by e-learning” (it is not clear if this author’s assumption, or some opinion found in the literature) and they set out to explore how five different organisations approach that. The authors say (referring to Githens 2007) that the assumption about an older generation having problems with adopting or using technology does not mean that they are resistant towards participating in e-learning at work. What resonated with me was that in the literature there was a strong message that e-learning is not a solution to every single type of training intervention needed. Following the underlying principles of adult learning was considered as most important (again – there was no reference to the relevant literature).

Authors then discuss the implications for training in technological society recalling “information mindset” (Frand, 2000) younger generation and Prensky’s (2001) concept of digital immigrants and digital nomads. There are characteristic of the younger generation (digital nomads with the information mindset) impacting their learning approaches and preferences. These characteristics call for change how these people should be educated. These are of course not the only factors influencing learners preferences and engagement with technology and authors give plenty of those (lack of applicability, lower education standards, information literacy, self-efficacy to name just a few.


Analysing current state of learning across the case study companies, two issues were considered – type of content delivered and what systems and approaches were used.

Larger organisations included e-learning in their budgets and could have bespoke platforms

Smaller companies struggled to fund and justify e-learning expenses but had some form f blended learning and planned its increase. While cost was difficult to defend it was interesting that using e-learning for educating contractors and third parties were used as an argument to reduce the cost of it per capita.

Content most commonly covered (in all five organisations) compliance procedures, regulations, and policies. E-learning is perceived as potentially saving costs (especially when regulations are changing or involve a very specialised knowledge requiring training many individuals to teach them in a traditional way). All organisations preferred blended approach over the entirely online delivery. The approach to blending depends on the target audience and the content being covered. ” Some of the approaches to blended learning involved conducting preliminary e-learning modules that were later followed up with shorter, face-to-face, classroom-based training for extension and application purposes” p394. (This approach can be used in my e-learning artefact design ***to be added to my instructional design plan).

I was expecting to read more about the correlation between systems used and e-learning offerings (eg. what exactly was meant as an offering, what type of content or approach was most common in case of EIS, LMS or stand-alone system.

It is way more complex than only age when it comes to using technology in learning – there are many other factors.

The last research question was looking into the future and potential of engaging different generations. It came up in the research that organisations looked into increasing e-learning element not only for older but also for the younger generation recognising the potential to engage a spectrum of learners but not looking at e-learning as the sole solution.

I think like in any context, the greatest challenge identified was balancing the demands of employees and employers.

Karen Becker, Julie Fleming, Wilhelmina Keijsers, (2012) “E‐learning: ageing workforce versus
technology‐savvy generation”, Education + Training, Vol. 54 Issue: 5, pp.385-400, https://
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