Using computers in the workplace : a study of informal learning and perceptions of computer literacy in a manufacturing company

Barnett, Jean (2004). Using computers in the workplace : a study of informal learning and perceptions of computer literacy in a manufacturing company. EdD thesis The Open University.



The personal computer has become a common feature of the workplace, underpinning the jobs of many people. The achievement of some level of ability to use a computer is now regarded as a necessity, and this is reflected in UK government education policy. At the same time, the workplace has gained recognition as an important site for learning. This research study focuses on the need for people to learn to use computers in the context of the wider debates about workplace learning. Formal courses and training programmes cater for the need for adults to achieve some level of ability to use computers, often referred to as computer literacy. However, such courses may not be sufficient or effective for some people, and the precise meaning of the term computer literacy is unclear. The research study explores the learning strategies that people employ in order to acquire their computer knowledge and skills. It asks: how computer technology has affected individuals in the workplace, what individuals think computer literacy means, how people learn to use computers and whether this learning is transferred between home and work.

Using an interpretive methodology with survey and case study approaches, these questions are explored within the context of one workplace, a manufacturing company situated in the UK. The methods used are a questionnaire, semi-structured interviews and a respondent diary. The study explores the viewpoint of all employees of the company, not just managers or those responsible for staff development.

From the analysis of the data it is argued, inter alia, that:

(i) the computer has had an impact on the working lives of the people at the site ofthe study, bringing changes that require them to have some level of computer ability,

(ii) computer literacy is not easily defined but there are perceptions of it as: related to the needs of the job; having levels; and involving affective factors,

(iii) people may use a number of different strategies in order to acquire their computer ability, with a preference for informal learning,

(iv) computer learning is transferred between work and home, and people may develop higher levels of computer ability than is required for their work.

The study confirms informal workplace learning as a major means of acquiring computer skills and knowledge. Although a model of such learning remains elusive, it is suggested that it may be situated, not at the social-anthropological level of a community of practice, but at the level of individual relationships, with aspects of mentoring. The study indicates that a number of issues require further research: the need to include affective factors in provision for computer learning, the consideration of alternative models of situated computer learning and the place of self-direction in the acquisition of computer literacy.

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