Learning in Organizations

Considering constantly changing environmental circumstances, all the modern organizations need to constantly adjust in order to stay competitive. Unfortunately, organizations often tend to neglect the variability of factors, external and internal information, falling in the similar trap of not considering adjustment of structure and procedures. This is one of the scale and complexity issues that lead to the need for large scale improvement and change in an organization. A nice example can be an analogy of a journey determined on the map without considering the real-time road conditions, neglecting that revision and improvisation are the essential parts of the process.

Organizations often have many of potential areas for improvement, and one of them is the discrepancy between the canonical and non-canonical practice that appears while operating in real conditions. Differences often appear between the actual practice and the procedures described in official manuals, training courses, and job descriptions that organizations have. I often recall an example of training courses for traffic signal technicians that usually do not cover the details about the actual field equipment,
and how that information is usually received from older technicians. In addition, organizations tend to believe that there is not interrelation and compatibility of working, learning, and innovation. Finally, the bigger the organization is, the more inertia against change there is, although in order to adjust to environmental change, the needed modifications are often comparatively small.

Representations of organizations are often oversimplified as just a simple collection of individuals. However, organization and its knowledge are a combination of its individual’s knowledge and they are  often able to perform sets of actions that individuals cannot. Organizations are often characterized having the accumulated wisdom of practitioners and they have established procedures for acquiring new members. In addition, there is development of organization’s individuals in the organizational and institutional context, and vice versa – the operational consequences that the activities of these “developed” individuals bring to the organization. On the other hand, organizations can have some features of the individual, such as identity, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation sources.

Literature suggests that inside organizations there are three learning levels (individual, group, and organizational) and four related processes (intuiting, interpreting, integrating, and institutionalizing). The first two processes are related to individual, integrating is related to groups, while institutionalizing can be only performed on the organization level. I personally think that the key to initiative for change is intuiting and interpreting on the individual level. This is where it all starts – with an innovative individual. However,
the change cannot be institutionalized if there is no integration on the group level. Following structure of these levels, there are feeding forward and feeding back flows of information. In this process, some information is lost and new levels of information are added in transfer among levels. Considering that change originates on the lower levels (individuals and groups), a reasonable degree of autonomy along with simultaneous increase in connectivity could accelerate the change.

Facing the fact that modern universities are similar to companies we need to approach the issue of change in universities similar to the issue of change of any other organization. First, we need to ask ourselves is education and reaching excellence still the main identity and goal of these organizations with the specific human-related output? Next, is downskilling for the sake or reduction of short-term costs intentionally neglecting the increase of long-term and external costs? Are the present procedures providing motivation for action by individuals, considering that universities often do not have the
“champion” that will push forward for the sake of his/her own benefit? And finally, some discipline-related questions have to be posed, such as the level of influence by E.I.T. and P.E. exam’s content on the engineering curricula?

One thing is sure – universities need to continuously adapt to changing social conditions (e.g., emergence of social networking websites). This would require changes on student, faculty, and administration levels to create culture for supporting the right values. There needs to be increased communication between all involved parties – the people that implement the actual procedure, the people that create those procedures, and people affected by procedures implementation. For example, developing hypothetical learning trajectories is similar as goggling the route from A to B, having only the directions but without any real-time information. There are also issues with predefined curricula that were constructed long time ago and sometimes not even by the experts in the fields. Increase of classroom-based analysis needs to influence instructional design, and vice versa. There needs to be teaching of students for learning in groups and from groups, along with developing their capabilities for identifying personal learning styles and learning styles of their peers. Including students from organizing the curriculum up to the phrasing the exam questions, along with modifying “hidden” rules conveyed to students. Finally, self-reflection and openness to change, on the individual and on the organizational level is essential if institutional change is
to become a part of the university’s culture. However, all this has to start somewhere, and I strongly believe that we as future faculty should be those initiators of change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *