Within our complex educational institutions, e-learning is now establishing itself as a new medium for teaching and learning. Although its success depends largely on the contributions of individual staff members, the successful implementation and practice of e-learning activities on an institutional level requires a closer look at the whole learning enterprise. Developing activities that support critical decisions involving significant financial investments, changing work practices and changes in policies and procedures require new organizational strategies.
We will see that there is a real need for shared
understanding and meaning within our educational organizations to foster
the growth and development of practices that are conducive to meeting the
demands of a knowledge-based society. This paper examines some of the organizational
challenges of implementing, managing and supporting the change that educational
technology brings, and suggests a few proposed solutions for success.
"In our schools, every classroom in America must be connected to the information superhighway with computers and good software and well-trained teachers... I ask Congress to support this education technology initiative so that we can make sure this national partnership succeeds."
--President Clinton, State of the Union, January
E-learning is very serious business these days, and governments are pouring millions of dollars into infrastructure. For example, the Canadian province of Quebec announced in May 2000 that it would invest 35 million dollars in infrastructure to connect institutes of higher learning (CACOL, 2000). Recently, the Illinois Board of Higher Education in the U.S. committed over 400 million dollars to establish Internet-based education, including wiring remote communities with fibre optic connections (IBHE, 1999). In Britain, 24 million pounds is being invested to bring fibre optic connections into the home (Bates, 2000a). In Japan and Europe similar incentives are taking place. Even here in Ontario, Georgian College is building a 24 million-dollar 'Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning' and Cambrian College in Sudbury just received millions of dollars towards improving education through technology.
Solutions are not only about infrastructure and technical hardware, or even bricks and mortar, but more importantly include people, and the environments in which they work. Technology is often thought of as replacing certain skills, when in fact it is more about people using technology skillfully. Assuming that large capital investments in infrastructure, tools and facility areas alone will address and solve a host of organizational problems, and even important teaching and learning issues, is perhaps one of the biggest errors in judgement that higher education has made in the past few years. Our collective experiences have shown time and time again that the human issues are the ones that will ultimately determine whether new methods and tools in the work place will fail or succeed (Shum, 1997). Infrastructure and tools are necessary, but so is developing an organization and its workers to improve the environment and the practices within it. With substantial investments in educational infrastructure, the stage is being set for organizations to realize and establish their place in our new globally networked society.
Ideally, the structure of effective education offered should match the structure of environment or society into which students will ultimately go, and where they are going has changed dramatically in the past few years. Surpassing the movement of physical goods that have long been the basis for social interaction, computer networks allow for the increased exchange of knowledge, ideas and intelligence. Our educational institutions must now play a more expanded role in the development of individuals, communities and nations with and through this technology – along with its many associated challenges.
Educational organizations must transcend traditional
exclusive ownership practices at all levels, and develop new approaches
that consider all requirements - from individual learners up to those of
the society in which these individuals will work and live. Beyond technical
issues alone, the real concerns regarding e-learning may in fact be more
cultural, socio-economic and environmental in nature than previously assumed.
Our educational organizations must themselves reflect the types of collaborative
strategies that they are now beginning to incorporate into their teaching
practices. What is needed is a revised foundation and new organizational
structures in the e-learning arena that will ensure that the goals of our
society are being met in a timely and efficient manner. The complex levels
of understanding and activity that this requires, suggests that restructuring
approaches in scholastic organizations cannot rely solely on administrators,
HR specialists, IT specialists or visionaries. Clearly, there is a need
to establish improved ways of doing things.
GUIDANCE FROM ABOVE OR BELOW?
“Some may object to the federal government playing any role in this (e-learning) area. But the national interest is clear. The health of our post-secondary institutions and the potential of e-learning to make new lifelong learning opportunities available to all Canadians are crucial… to economic health…”
“Our vision is to develop by 2003, the Pan-Canadian Online Learning Service that would provide a comprehensive suite of facilities, services and infrastructure to participating, publicly funded Canadian post-secondary institutions, their learners and their faculty members.”
--Canadian Advisory Committee for Online Learning,
Recognizing the impact on regional and national economic health, government bodies are now actively pursuing the means to promote the development and diversification of their nation’s citizens through educational technology. Typically, this initially appears to translate into gross government funding as previously discussed, but many factions are now forced to take a more serious look at how our educational systems are organized and managed, as the complexities that these types of change can bring are now becoming understood - perhaps for the first time. It is recognized that expensive structural changes will be required at the institutional level, and recommendations are calling for new forms of collaboration, not only in and among institutions, but also to include provincial, territorial and federal governments (CACOL, 2000). The issues go beyond hardware and even structure, central control, and action. For those school systems that did not read the sign-of-the-times and invested in hardware and tools alone, a major wake-up call is coming. I believe that it is now time for universities and colleges to focus on how individuals, in both internal and external communities, create shared meaning and practice to develop their organizations. Unfortunately, most of our traditional educational organizational structures and the workers within them are not presently posed to compliment this type of significant change.
The mechanics in the garage are not racing car drivers, just as the technicians in the IT department are not educators. However, both types of individuals belong to an enterprise – a body with a common purpose that is dependent on all of the inter-play among and between each of its members. Crucial to such an approach are integrated and multi-stage interactions and processes, which develop and function in order to meet the goals of the enterprise. These interactions and processes encompass a variety of human and organizational factors on many levels, articulated in form of lunchroom conversations and storytelling, to documented policies and procedures.
Our traditional educational organizational structures
do not seem to mirror either industry or society. It is interesting to
note that in this day and age of promoting workplace collaboration, flat
management and knowledge sharing, hierarchy remains the dominant model
in our educational culture. Income levels between administrators and front-line
workers seem to be an obvious indicator of this, and with the perpetual
proliferation of new technologies, the chasm of pragmatic knowledge between
these two factions may also be widening. Subordinates may have more current
and viable knowledge than their managers, and their roles seem to be shifting
rapidly and becoming more multifaceted, while the roles of the organization
itself are not (Saunders, 1998). Knowledge-workers may actually own most
of an enterprise’s knowledge, and this may not be healthy for an institution.
Unless there is a significant cultural change in an organization, the efforts
of a few individuals to invoke change will be in vain (Bates 2000a, Bowden,
1998a). What exactly does this ‘cultural change’ entail? To fully understand
the (educational) organizational requirements for progress and change in
a knowledge-based society, we need to consider a number of critical factors,
including social contexts, integration pragmatics and technology designs.
“In our view, changes now under way have so many ramifications that they have created a need to rethink the whole learning enterprise - both the respective roles of learners, instructors and institutions and their relationship to the society and the economy as a whole.”
--Canadian Advisory Committee for Online Learning,
Any e-learning incentive should not be driven by technology, but by the pedagogical goals that the technology is enhancing in the enterprise, as the technology is all about the actual activities in teaching and learning. This includes how it is defined, who does it, to what purpose, and how these activities connect with others within an organization – and even society. The technology itself does not shape learning experiences, but rather the organizational culture and environment does (Saunders, 1998).
The human experience began with the sociological tradition of man’s struggle for survival through his domination over nature. Realizing the success of this through advances in social actions, the opposing force of nature has now been reconstructed into a cultural form. We now live in a world that is rich in social interaction and social organization, and this has become the basis of our modern human existence. Clearly, communication technology is propagating and empowering this existence, and one does wonder if the change is driving new technologies, or if new technologies are driving the change. We have invented the tools, and they may in fact be re-inventing us.
In a communication-rich, networked society, the movement of money and investments is globally situated, while labour for the most part remains individualized. The working class comprises a number of subordinate functions that are segregated, but also contribute value to a global economy through knowledge (Castells, 1996). Those functions that are not visible or considered nonessential may in fact become devalued and loose their structural meaning. Staying connected and establishing a node in a globally networked society ensures not only presence, but also survival.
Labour is becoming more knowledge-based, and some workers have been displaced, or re-integrated into the workforce in new ways. Those with knowledge of how to use and incorporate new technologies are highly sought after, and they typically update and maintain their skills through lifelong learning. Individuals with multifaceted skills are highly sought after, and their ability to contribute and function within teams and groups has become of paramount importance to employers. When we think of a knowledge-based society, we think of computer networks, and we think of our educational systems – the places where knowledge is supposed to be created and transformed. To survive, these learning environments must be ‘wired-in’, and like knowledge workers, they must learn to continually re-interpret and respond effectively to changes and needs. Rather than draw on knowledge from archaic models, organizational knowledge must be actively reconstructed according its context of purpose. Perhaps this lifelong organizational learning could be referred to as situated organizational constructivism.
So then, our institutions of learning must become adaptive learning institutions, comprised of communities of learners. Of course all individuals regularly learn within an organization, but when learning is communally based with shared values and meaning, the organization itself may learn, and new practices may be routinely designed and embodied in it. This type of structure could be considered the microcosm of our global economy, and we must consider the sociological and cultural aspects of learning within the organization rather than the psychological ones alone.
I vividly recall working for organizations where individuals kept skill secrets to themselves in an effort to maintain their importance and their employer’s need for them specifically. I have also observed how technology has moved some of these previous specialist skills into more ubiquitous practices, usually with a loss of quality, but surprisingly within some level of tolerance. Many professions have become devalued with the advent and proliferation of intuitive software, clipart, stock photographs, canned music and the like. These ‘skills in a box’ seem to be melding into some sort of recipe for alchemist’s soup, as a solution for any problem. Today, individuals with multifaceted skills are highly sought after, and their ability to contribute and function within teams and groups has become of paramount importance to employers.
We have seen that knowledge is a dominant feature in our post-industrial society, and that knowledge-workers comprise an enterprise. If knowledge is the basis for all that we do these days, then gaining an understanding of what types of knowledge exist within an organization may allow us to foster internal social structures that will facilitate and support learning in all organizational domains. Blackler (1995) expands on a categorization of knowledge types that were suggested by Collins (1993), being: embrained, embodied, encultured, embedded and encoded. It is important to note that these knowledge types could be indicative of any organization, not just those that are knowledge-based.
Embrained knowledge is that which is dependent on conceptual skills and cognitive abilities. We could consider this to be practical, high-level knowledge, where objectives are met through perpetual recognition and revamping. Tacit knowledge may also be embrained, even though it is mainly subconscious.With the identification of these knowledge types, we consider how they contribute to the ‘brain’ of the organization. An archaic way of running an organization would be to follow the orders of a dictator who only serves to promote himself and his ideas. The trend today is towards more collective interpretations and negotiations of communal memberships and practices, which lead to knowledge creation. Participating members can bring various forms of knowledge together to create a more embrained and encultured knowledge of the enterprise, which will result in improved embedded and encoded knowledge – that becomes part of the organization’s daily activities and operations. We can refer to this process of learning being socially constructed from practical collaboration as occupational learning (Saunders, 1998). This whole type of process should be ongoing and fostered so that many types of knowledge (situated, abstract, implicit and explicit) will always feed back into a collective group of receptive knowledge and activity builders. Of course we can argue that most of the learning in the work place is situated, as it is all context based and oriented to what is transpiring at any specific moment in time. How it becomes encoded in the organization itself however, is another matter.
My first experience with ‘collaborative teaching’ was not a positive one. A supervisor had proposed a construct, which he assumed would work. The objective was to correlate and synchronize educational content and its delivery time across core subjects to enable the marking of one major project per semester across all subject areas. In theory it made a lot of sense, especially in that it could give students a wonderful integration tool for their knowledge. In practice however, it was a nightmare. We (the instructors) had to increase our collaboration to the point that we almost had to sit in each other’s classes on a daily basis in order to coordinate our own individual teaching activities. Holidays and missed days threw a monkey wrench into the machinery, by upsetting crucial timing for content delivery and testing. It was the most stressful time in my teaching career. However, the whole department learned from the experience, and came to develop an integration scheme for the next academic year, which was portfolio-based, but not necessarily time dependent on specific activities. This type of learning could be considered occupational learning, and included much informal discussion and negotiation.
One can only imagine the complexities of coordinating a multitude of efforts on an institutional level. New technology often disrupts practice, and too many committees and teams can be very counter-productive if not implemented properly. Already over worked staff can become quite disillusioned or even hostile if asked for increased participation without increased support. Conformity, longer meetings and the burden of teamwork may actually create a very negative and uncooperative working environment. There is also a danger that communal learning activities will become performance oriented alone, in that individuals falsely meet imposed guidelines or standards at a minimal level. Occupational learning must be encouraged to flourish and guide routine practices in the workplace in ways that promote the social distribution of skills in the enterprise, and are non-threatening to an individual’s well being (Saunders, 1998). The organization’s reward systems must be in harmony with new directions in very practical ways (Bowden, 1998a), and should include patience and support.
Should the acquisition of one type of knowledge
be promoted or favoured over another? Saunders (1995) identifies and defines
four contexts of learning (Figure 1.).
Figure 1. – Saunder’s four types of occupational learning contexts, showing the knowledge types emphasized for each
Occupational learning processes involve more than realizing these types of categories (that can overlap). We must also consider the surrounding organizational and cultural settings. These include a variety of role cultures. Formal roles and jobs exist within traditional hierarchical role cultures and power cultures. Achievement cultures are comprised more of informal task oriented teams assembled on the basis of expertise. Support cultures are participative and humanistic, relying on interactions. It is also important to realize that these types of representations may not always represent the actual dynamics of the workplace, however, each one of these cultures affects the way in which individuals will act and relate within an organization.
In order for an organization to become a learning one, a shift from a mechanistic to a more organic form of organization is required (Saunders, 1995). Solving complex problems on a routine basis requires the coordinated efforts of multidisciplinary teams. It would be difficult to have an educational organization with a completely flat structure, so we’re really talking about communities or organizations within the organization. I understand this to mean devolution of responsibilities to lower levels, with a high level of communication, trust and informality existing between all levels in the organization. Maintaining a sense of community and providing performance incentives and ownership to employees are a few factors that could contribute to a more organic environment.
Simply having or creating knowledge is not enough. Knowing relates more to situated skills and pragmatic knowledge. Traditional established methods of solving ‘tame’ problems are not viable for solving ill defined ‘wicked’ ones typically found in a knowledge-based workplace (Rittel, 1972 in Shum, 1997). Tame problems can be understood explicitly enough that established linear methods can analyze and solve them conclusively. Wicked problems require complex judgements concerning various levels of abstraction. They have no objective measure for success and may require experimentation and discovery methods in an attempt to solve them. Even then they may never be solved, as right or wrong solutions do not exist, perhaps only ones that are better or worse. Usually, wicked problems involve a multitude of stakeholders.
If occupational and organizational learning are socially constructed understandings, we must not separate the individual from the collective, or the social from the technical. All stakeholders need to know what is going on and why. New ways of conceptualizing these multidimensional processes of knowing and doing are required. Engestrom (1991, in Blacklard, 1995) suggests that it is neither the individual nor the organization that provides us with a division for conceptualization and analysis, but rather, socially distributed activity systems (Figure 2.).
Figure 2. – Engestrom’s Socially-Distributed Activity System Model
We must be realistic when dealing with most theoretical constructs, as they do not always reflect accurately what people actually do. However, critical to this model is the relationship between agents, their community and their perceptions of how their activities fit in. These relationships are affected by additional factors within the community, including the language and technologies, implicit and explicit social rules and the role system. The dynamics of this model are not harmonious, as needed change occurs by engaging tension and conflicts in a healthy manner. To better understand this, we consider the diagram below (Figure 3.) where the potential for these conflicts would be evident in an institute attempting to improve teaching and learning with technology.
Figure 3. – A Practical Example of Engestrom’s Socially-Distributed Activity System Model, Illustrating a Potential Conflict
The model suggests that the individual is an integral component of a larger social and cultural structure, which is under continual revision and transformation. The balance and situational knowledge within this type of activity system is constantly in flux, and the structural representation can be reconfigured to address various (specific) activities within or between the various factions in the system. Through conflict, argument, interaction, negotiation and compromise, the knowledge and subsequent behaviours of the participants will develop. Thus, a collaborative community is created. A negotiation and realization of meaning takes place through the interplay of participation, and reification (Wenger, 1998). Through this social and negotiated process, abstractions and implicit and tacit knowledge congeal and become explicit. This not only creates meaning for the community and its individuals, but an opportunity for the organization to capture this meaning into contextual, cultural practices on an ongoing basis.
Activity theory suggests that knowing becomes part of something that individuals and organizations do, rather than something that they have. In other words, organizations should focus more on the types of systems that promote knowing and doing instead of on the ones that simply focus on the types of knowledge required to do something. This improves the actual working practices rather than the performance of individuals alone. To this end, ethnographic studies can play a key role by providing useful data for formative evaluations and subsequent restructuring strategies.
Knowledge, knowledge work and knowledge workers
are all fundamentally situated within an organizational culture, which
as we have seen, is somewhat of a microcosm of our global networked society.
The interplay between organizational structures and society can be reciprocal,
as can the interplay between individuals and other components (i.e. – tools,
rules, technology, etc.) within an organization - as any or all factions
can continually shape and transform the other. Organizational learning
develops from collaborative activity, and this requires an appropriate
collaborative culture (Mulholland et al., 2000). The behaviour of individuals
and the organizational culture must be embedded within the principles of
a learning organization. It is critical in any type of organizational restructuring
or reform to address the very culture of the organization itself. With
this understanding, we now look at a few ways to integrate these concepts
within the structure of an enterprise.
“Online learning should not be the responsibility of some isolated department but should be fully integrated with the other responsibilities of all faculties and departments across the institution. To this end, the implementation plan should reflect the views of multiple users and allow for new forms of collaboration, and partnership across the institution…”
--Canadian Advisory Committee for Online Learning,
Here we consider viable and practical methods to improve the social distribution of knowledge and expertise through a community or communities of collaborative workers in an educational setting. I will draw on some of my recent experiences, and attempt to correlate them with the literature.
In a discussion with a North American colleague last year, he stated, “We've laid the tracks, put the train on it, and what we need now is freight.” More recently, a college administrator proclaimed to me that they were ready for e-learning by stating that, “the guys are all tooled-up”. The metaphors of laying tracks and tooling-up are indicative of an approach to integration that mainly addresses the hard requirements of a system. As we have previously discussed, this approach is typical to one that does not put enough emphasis on human issues – the issues that will ultimately make or break the system.
In 1996, I joined the staff of the Instructional Media and Technology Centre as one of four Supervisors. A main area of concern at the time dealt with developing some sort of standardized integration of learning technologies across the whole (11-campus) system. As one can imagine, instituting initiatives across such a large system is no small feat. Even being a relatively large centralized service with over 30 employees, we did not have sufficient resources to design and implement the quantity of courseware required to have any significant impact on learning. More critically, we were also at a physical and psychological distance from the classroom.
A number of strategies were tried. Each supervisor had subordinates in their respective areas, but each could also act as project manager for various undertakings, and oversee the work of various teams made up from departmental staff, faculty and other staff. This began to work better, but the anticipated osmotic effect was not enough. A select few individuals thought they had the answer and decided to ‘tool-up’ the system and teach instructors how to use authoring software (as part of a learning management system or LMS). Over one thousand empty course templates were placed online. Course coordinators were mandated to create courses through contributions from individual instructors.
The tools and subsequent procedural knowledge provided were not enough. With no shared vision or contextual reference for what was happening, and with little direct support at the faculty level, instructors either rebelled against using the software, or failed miserably in producing any sort of quality courseware. A committee was formed to address these issues. Included in the committee were representatives from the library system, information technology services and instructional media and technology services as well as directors, program managers and supervisors and quality assurance staff.
Through much argumentation and negotiation between key individuals, a new structure was created that was driven more by function. An educational technologist was hired for each campus, and made responsible for their LMS (that also articulated with all other LMS’s). Today, instructors are encouraged to develop a number of small learning objects. These objects are freely and optionally available for use by other students and instructors, and some of the better ones may contribute to system-wide courseware. The large centralized unit now has a key role to play in this design, which is reflected in its new designation, being, the Department for Teacher Support and Development. This centre of expertise in multimedia production, instructional design, project management and distributed learning ensures that college standards, professional services and support are being maintained. It also prevents massive duplication of services (Bates, 2000b).
I have not included this example to criticize the actions taken by this institution (in fact, it was probably ahead of its time), but rather to provide a real-life example of how costly technological change can be when left to a few guys downstairs, or even natural evolution. It is evident that this organization experienced transformational growing pains, moving from a power and role-based one, to one that is more achievement and support oriented.
Time and time again I am witnessing similar scenarios in many of the colleges and universities I visit. Large financial investments are made in hardware infrastructure with little or no strategic vision in regards to pedagogy, faculties and students. In my opinion, the foremost driving force for this is what Noble (1997) refers to as acquiring a “fashionably forward-looking image”, which is supposed to attract and retain students and faculty. Also at the core of this recurring dilemma, there appears to be a lack of research to draw on in the whole area of teaching and learning with technology. Teaching must be considered as professional practice, and the advent of new technologies suggests that we must re-assess activities at the teacher and student levels. Addressing this root problem in a dynamic, interdependent learning environment and culture reciprocates into a vast array of support, financial and technical pragmatics affecting every aspect of the organization.
Based on experiences at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Tony Bates (1997) suggests twelve strategies for implementing organizational change. I believe that they encapsulate critical areas requiring attention, and I have attempted to further integrate them with ideas from Dobson et. al (2001), and Laurillard.
1) A vision for teaching and learning
How learning should take place in the future, compliant with the institution’s purpose needs to be well defined. Ideally, the visioning process would include a critical mass of senior management people, with power and mandate for change. The need for accurate data is crucial here, and expertise and information from a variety of internal and external sources may be required. The results need to be widely disseminated and closely monitored for development and change.
2) Funding re-allocation
Long term plans that increase funding to technology-based teaching need to be realistic (i.e. – 3 to 5% of the total teaching budget).
3) Strategies for inclusion
To become intellectually engaged, individuals need to be encouraged and supported. Advisory committees, multi-skilled development teams and other groups can create awareness and cohesiveness.
4) Technology infrastructure
Infrastructure can be very costly, but it necessarily provides the technical backbone for operation and delivery. It should be driven by, and not lead, the institution’s vision and strategy.
5) People infrastructure
Expertise is required in technical support, media production, instructional design, faculty development, project management and evaluation. An intake of new staff may be critical to infusing innovative approaches. From my observations, Canada seems a little reluctant in this area, and prefers the old style of re-assigning and re-training to improve staff competencies.
6) Student computer access
This can be a costly endeavour as labs become outdated quickly, and not all students are able to afford computers and connections. Bulk leasing and buying and sponsorship and government may help.
7) New teaching models
Many teachers realize that the way in which they do their work is changing, but do not fully understand why or how. There are many variations with technology, and faculty must be supported to understand its relationship to teaching and learning. New staff skilled in the area of advanced learning technology may be required to infuse new directions in teaching and learning.
8) Faculty agreements and training
Changes in the way faculty are trained and rewarded are required. Increased workloads may be a problem in a rapidly changing environment with new demands. Teachers also need to understand the context of the situation before learning software. Rather than left to individual experimentation, faculty must be guided to achieve collectively, consistent with the institution’s strategic vision.
9) Project management
Due to the range of skills required in educational technology, multidisciplinary approaches and structured processes are required. Project-based teams are ideal, but still require expertise and resources they can draw on.
10) New organizational structures
Several small organizational units, committees and technology savvy leaders are recommended over many divisional departments. A large central educational technology unit can provide more coordinated support (without duplication of funds or activities), by coordinating its expertise with various faculties or divisions on an ad hoc basis, to form more project-focussed groups.
11) Collaboration and consortia
By forming strategic alliances between universities and the private sector, financial risks can be drastically reduced.
12) Research and evaluation
Rather than traditionally using the classroom as the base, research needs to be based on new paradigms and learners’ responses. Staff development initiatives should also carry a component for understanding and enhancing evaluation practices. Organizational visions should provide strategies for creating viable evaluation processes and products, and ubiquitous access to them.
What I have provided here is not a framework or
blueprint, but an outline of information for consideration. Any one of
the twelve areas briefly discussed could become an extended topic of discussion,
and rightly so. What we can see though, is that a learning organization
is a reflective and adaptive one that will experience continual improvement
towards innovation (Laurillard). I concur that it is this innovation, which
will ensure the survival of our educational institutions. We must now consider
how to capture the dynamics of these changes and their processes into organizational
memory, so that they are not lost, forgotten or continually re-worked.
We have seen that in order for individuals and enterprises to remain viable in a rapidly changing world, lifelong learning will be a critical component for survival at all levels. We have also discussed that the formal and informal knowledge that knowledge workers possess contributes to and shapes the work environment, and the environment itself shapes the workers. Educational institutions will not remain competitive if they are unable to effectively promote and teach this concept to students. Educational organizations must be structured in a similar manner, in that they learn and grow by generating and capturing new knowledge through shared meaning and action.
If we are going to bring about organizational change in the development of a learning organization, we must consider the tools and systems that will drive the organization’s learning behaviors. Western culture values results above processes, and the essential informal knowledge that drives an enterprise is often ignored (Conklin, 1996). This value is reflected in the practice of creating finished formal documents, which hold little value without their original context. Technical and cultural barriers exist that prevent implicit knowledge from being made explicit and encoded. Clearly there is a need for the management of knowledge, and a management knowledge system to preserve the most precious asset of any knowledge organization. Knowledge needs to be easily transferable, across space and time (Mulholland et al., 2000).
The relationship between computer technologies, human and organizational disciplines is complex and interwoven, in that one continually changes and shapes the other through discourse (Shum, 1997). We know that networked communication incorporates the semantics of conversation and writing. By articulating ideas through an asynchronous online environment or hypermedia browser, individuals can converse, then consider and reflect on their knowledge and the community’s knowledge. Various artefacts can also be incorporated into the discussions. This knowledge can be validated, built-on or challenged through sharing with others. Groupware tools such as e-mail and Lotus Notes tend to make informal knowledge somewhat explicit, but they usually fail to create a coherent organizational memory. Retrieval of pertinent information from a large, unstructured database is very difficult. Quite often the dialogue is simply chronological, not contextual, and therefore with little or no real meaning. In order to truly capture and build upon the essence of what the organization does in practice everyday, the use of a tool or system must become routine as well. From my own personal experiences, people just didn’t use online forums or discussion databases unless they are mandated to, and this is far from being a routine practice. I do believe that these types of discussion spaces can be successfully organized into integral components of a larger space.
Customized organizational memory systems can be expensive to design and the data may be easier to unpack and interpret. However, no matter how automated a system is, someone will always have to construct, index and maintain the information to be encoded from a variety of sources, including meetings, collaborations and research findings.
Since wicked problems sometimes require unique
and spontaneous insights in order to (attempt to) solve them, a lack of
formality is often required in a system (Shum, 1997). On the other hand,
discussions must be made explicit and contextual enough to make sense to
many stakeholders. Graphical representation or display systems can assist
in visualizing such a structure that is non-linear and contextual. One
such system is QuestMap (Figure 4.).
Figure 4. – A Screen from the QuestMap System. Ideas, questions, discussions, references and even various media can be contextually represented pictorially.
Such a collaborative tool is more like human memory, in that memories are associative and widely distributed. Its basic components include the capture, structure and display of information. Capture could be accomplished by inputting data on a device such as a keyboard, flipchart or whiteboard. An Issue Based Information System (IBIS) such as QuestMap can provide the structure. The display component could be driven by a hypertext software system, which has the ability to link a variety of informal knowledge (ideas, assumptions, questions, decisions, viewpoints, etc.) with formal knowledge (books, documents, manuals, etc.) within the enterprise. Making this all a transparent part and routine practice of knowledge work may still represent a challenge. These types of IBIS solutions have existed for over a decade, but are still very experimental.
The types of tools and systems briefly discussed
are not total solutions to capturing organizational memory. What is evident,
is that the organization itself will have to discover robust ways of developing
essential principles for preserving the context of work as it evolves,
making capture and memory part of their everyday practices. Identifying
how critical knowledge is captured, stored and accessed can lead to the
development of knowledge models and improvements through technology. What
also appears to be critically required is a more cultural focus on collaborative
processes rather than the product. Tools or systems for improving organizational
memory and learning can support and maintain a healthy cultural shift,
and the cultural shift can not only validate, but also encourage the use
of new tools and systems.
Human issues cannot be overlooked in technology integration, as they will ultimately determine whether new methods and tools in the work place will succeed. To remain competitive, the structure of our educational organizations must reflect the types of collaborative strategies that dominate our society.
Knowledge is a dominant feature in our post-industrial society, and gaining an understanding of what types of knowledge exist within an organization will allow us to create internal social structures that will facilitate and support individual and organizational lifelong learning. Embrained and encultured knowledge can develop the creation of improved pragmatic and encoded organizational knowledge.
Organizational skills are composed of interpersonal, technological and socio-cultural factors. Organizational restructuring needs to address the very culture of the organization itself. Actually knowing relates to situated skills and pragmatic knowledge. It is contextual. Occupational and organizational learning are socially constructed understandings. Engestrom’s socially distributed activity model exemplifies a social and negotiated process that is under continual revision and transformation, indicative of a lifelong learning process.
The success of a learning environment and culture is closely interlinked with a vast number of support, financial and technical issues, which can affect every aspect of the organization. A true learning organization is a reflective and adaptive one that experiences continual improvement towards innovation.
Technical and cultural barriers exist that prevent
implicit knowledge from being made explicit and encoded into operational
memory. The management of knowledge, and knowledge management tools
and systems can help to preserve organizational memory and foster growth
BIBLIOGRAPHY AND SUGGESTED READINGS
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