Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to report on the innovative employment of students as technology mentors as part of a Blended Learning Program (BLP) that supported a group of ownermanagers of small businesses to adopt appropriate information and communication technologies (ICT) to enhance their work practices. Design/methodology/approach: This discussion uses various evaluations undertaken throughout the project to examine why the technology mentor role is vital in supporting small businesses to develop digital literacies. The participants' self-reporting of their ICT skills as well as their progress in using ICT was also assessed by technology mentors in the course of the program and reported in mentor reflections. Academic staff also evaluated the performances of technology mentors in relation to each business. Finding: Participants in the BLP pilot program singled out the technology mentors as being essential in promoting their uptake of ICT and in their ability to use specific technologies at work. Research limitations/implications: Findings are based on a pilot program involving six learners and two technology mentors. While this is a statistically insignificant number of evaluations, both the findings and the model of the BLP remain of interest. This model has the capacity to address a long-standing and global challenge to support small businesses in the use of ICT. A scaled up version of the program is required to validate the findings. Practical implications: In the final evaluation, participants all self-assessed as having increased ICT knowledge and skills. They provided specific examples of how they now use ICT. The BLP could be taken up by local and state governments who periodically attempt to support small businesses in the uptake of technologies. The BLP could also be applied to vocational education students in business, information technologies or information systems. As well as supporting small businesses to adopt ICT, this model also provides an important alternative to resource-intensive work-placement programs that are designed to develop students’ employability skills through work-integrated learning. Originality/value: Less effective attempts to support small businesses often involve face-to-face training for unrealistic periods of time that foreground technology rather than real world, useful and relevant outcomes (IBSA, 2013). This BLP successfully supported owner operators of small businesses to identify, apply and evaluate a range of software applications (“apps”) and online programs to enhance their work practices.
Woodley, C., Burgess, S., Paguio, R., & Bingley, S. (2015). Technology mentors: Enablers of ICT uptake in Australian small business. Education and Training, 57(6), 658-672. https://doi.org/10.1108/ET-08-2014-0095