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Original Research

Investigating the extent to which mobile phones reduce Knowledge Transfer barriers in Student Project Teams

Michael E. Kyobe, Mzwandile M. Shongwe

SA Journal of Information Management; Vol 13, No 1 (2011), 10 pages. doi: 10.4102/sajim.v13i1.424

Submitted: 25 May 2010
Published:  17 October 2011


Group learning plays a key role in the transfer of knowledge. In institutions of learning, it enhances students’ understanding, critical thinking, integration of knowledge and knowledge sharing. However, the transfer of knowledge in group projects is often impeded by factors such as time and budget constraints, individual and social barriers, and a lack of motivation.

Institutions of learning are increasingly adopting information and communication technologies (e.g. mobile technologies) to provide solutions to the challenges facing them. Whilst the integration of the mobile context and technologies in learning environment has been encouraged over the years, and indeed many students today can use mobile phones, the effectiveness of these technologies in reducing impediments to knowledge transfer in group learning has not been investigated.

This study investigated the extent to which mobile phones reduce the barriers to knowledge transfer in project groups. The impediments examined include the nature of knowledge, social barriers, lack of time and lack of motivation. Quantitative and qualitative approaches were used to collect and analyse the data. The sample consisted of 85 students engaged in group projects in the departments of Information Systems, Civil Engineering, Computer Science and Construction Engineering.

The results show that mobile phones reduce all four knowledge transfer barriers investigated in the project groups. We found no significant difference in the nature of knowledge shared by teams with weak and strong ties. This suggests that teams with weak social ties who normally experience difficulty sharing complex (tacit) knowledge can easily do so with the aid of mobile facilities. In addition, frequent users of mobile phones were motivated to share explicit knowledge with their peers whilst those who often work with tacit knowledge could convert it to explicit form and share it with others. Mobile features like short messaging service and multimedia messaging service (SMS & MMS or what some people refer to as ‘texting’), and email were mainly used to share knowledge and were perceived to reduce knowledge transfer time more than voice facilities.

Our findings indicate that most students do not utilise the affordances of mobile phones for tacit knowledge transfer. Sharing of tacit knowledge needs to be encouraged since it allows individuals to achieve personal goals and may lead to effective management of oneself, other people and tasks. In addition, students do not appear to recognise the role of mobile phones in enhancing knowledge transfer. More awareness of this role needs to be created in institutions of learning in order to improve group learning and student performance.

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Author affiliations

Michael E. Kyobe, University of Cape Town, South Africa
Mzwandile M. Shongwe, University of Cape Town, South Africa


mobile phones; students; knowlegde; SMS; MMS


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