Co-designing tools for workplace learning: A method for analysing and tracing the appropriation of affordances in design-based research

Sebastian Maximilian Dennerlein*, Vladimir Tomberg, Tamsin Treasure-Jones, Dieter Theiler, Stefanie Lindstaedt, Tobias Ley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
39 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Introducing technology at work presents a special challenge as learning is tightly integrated with workplace practices. Current design-based research (DBR) methods are focused on formal learning context and often questioned for a lack of yielding traceable research insights. This paper aims to propose a method that extends DBR by understanding tools as sociocultural artefacts, co-designing affordances and systematically studying their adoption in practice.

Design/methodology/approach: The iterative practice-centred method allows the co-design of cognitive tools in DBR, makes assumptions and design decisions traceable and builds convergent evidence by consistently analysing how affordances are appropriated. This is demonstrated in the context of health-care professionals’ informal learning, and how they make sense of their experiences. The authors report an 18-month DBR case study of using various prototypes and testing the designs with practitioners through various data collection means.

Findings: By considering the cognitive level in the analysis of appropriation, the authors came to an understanding of how professionals cope with pressure in the health-care domain (domain insight); a prototype with concrete design decisions (design insight); and an understanding of how memory and sensemaking processes interact when cognitive tools are used to elaborate representations of informal learning needs (theory insight).

Research limitations/implications: The method is validated in one long-term and in-depth case study. While this was necessary to gain an understanding of stakeholder concerns, build trust and apply methods over several iterations, it also potentially limits this.

Originality/value: Besides generating traceable research insights, the proposed DBR method allows to design technology-enhanced learning support for working domains and practices. The method is applicable in other domains and in formal learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-205
Number of pages31
JournalInformation and Learning Science
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Affordance
  • Appropriation
  • Design-based research
  • Health care
  • Informal learning
  • Sensemaking
  • Workplace learning


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