This paper talks about the introduction of a tool, named Network Awareness Tool, for the investigation of informal learning at workplace. The importance of tools like this is high, considering that "Informal learning is an important driver for professional development and workplace learning. However [...], there is a problem when it comes to making it a real asset within organizations: Informal learning activities are mostly invisible to others, sometimes the learners themselves might not even be aware of the learning that occurs. As a consequence informal learning in organizations goes undetected, remains off the radar of HR departments and is therefore hard to asses, manage and value".
In order to test the tool, a taget group has been selected, composed by teaching professionals working in school organizations. The tool is based on different theories:
- Networked Learning Theory: "Networked Learning Theory is an emerging perspective that tries to understand learning by asking the question how people develop and maintain a ‘web’ of social relations used for their own and reciprocal learning and professional development".
- Social Network Theory: "Social Network Theory asserts that the constitution of a network may influence the accessibility of information and resources and that the social structure may offer potential for the exchange of resources". The structure and the dimensions of a social network can be analysed by Social Network Analysis.
- Social Network Analysis: "According Social Network Analysis a network consists of nodes and ties. Nodes are the individual actors within a network and ties are the relationships between the actors. The impact of the structure of social networks can be studied on three levels: first the positions people have in a network (individual dimension), the relational level (ties dimension) and finally the overall network structure (network
- Social Capital Theory: this theory concerns "the relational resources embedded in social ties and how actors interact to gain access to these resources".
- Communities of Practice: "the collective advancement of knowledge and the development of shared identities comes together in the community aspect of social learning, which we base on the well known concept of communities of practice".
- Individual demographics: this is an important aspect to be taken into accounts, considering that "age and years of experience can also have an impact on teachers’ professional development. Senior employees tend to take less initiatives in their professional development".
Thanks to Learning Analytics functionalities, Network Awareness Tool can depict the "actors" involved in the social network and to track the quality and the nature of ties between actors. Also the contents of ties can be tracked using meta-tags. Using Social Network Analysis, Network Awareness Tool can design the social network structure and density, indicating to HR department what topic are particularly relevant for informal learning at workplace.