Over the shoulder learning: Supporting brief informal learning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper reviews work on informal technical help giving between colleagues. It concentrates on the process of how colleagues help each other to use a computer application to achieve a specific work task, contrasting this with the focus of much prior work on surrounding issues like the choice of whom to ask, information re-use and the larger work context of encouragement or otherwise of such learning. By an analysis of the literature and a study of office activity, some strengths and weaknesses of the method are identified. The difficulties of talking about the process of performing graphical user interface actions are explored. Various design implications for functionalities to improve the efficiency of informal help giving are explored. A consideration of informal learning can help in designing more effective, learnable, robust and acceptable CSCW systems. It also provides a different perspective on interface design as an exploration of features to support human-human interaction, using the computer screen as a shared resource to support this. In this way CSCW research may contribute to HCI research, since during such help giving, all computer systems are at least temporarily collaborative applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)505-547
Number of pages43
JournalComputer Supported Cooperative Work
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2005


  • Computer supported collaborative learning
  • Help giving
  • Informal learning
  • Interface design
  • Workplace learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)


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