About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Understanding the Patterns of Organizations and Students

I just spent a wonderful week in Georgia (the US state, not the country) for Thanksgiving. We were visiting relatives. Our cousin's husband works in the construction industry and was telling us some of the recent initiatives he and a colleague had developed to improve safety.

"Bob" is a middle manager who worked his way up through the ranks. He supervises groups of workers on large constructive projects (commercial and industrial). What struck me as he described his "training" programs was how well he understood the students, his workers. Not a trained educator (he has a high school education), he intuitively knew how to get a concept across to those that would benefit from the training, engaging his workers, teaching them what they needed to know about safety, and motivating them to use what they learned.

This led me to wonder what he was doing differently from the "fancy" paid outside trainers they had brought in for training in the previous years. It also get me to thinking about the in-house-outside training debate that often comes up in training departments.

Differences between in-house and outsider training

Yakhlef (2002) had an interesting study looking at the impact that outsourcing IT services had on an organization. He found that there was a shift in knowledge from within a department to a mediator between the outside contractor and the end-user. The middleman became more and more important as functions were taken outside of the department and created in a distributed means both within and outside the organization.

The same could be said for having outsiders do the training. In some cases, this is a goal as an organization would like to change its culture. But more often than not, organizations are looking for subject matter "experts" rather than looking for experts in the "field". In other words, Bob's company might have looked for someone who has studied the roots of accidents and then delivers this to the workers.

However, what organizations should be looking at are those outside the organizations that understand the patterns of behavior of the students. To do this, they may have to interact with the workers, have an expert in the community of practice, or have someone from inside the organization as a team member. In other words, having an engineer who understands the types of time constraints workers might feel which might lead to them cutting safety procedures is more important than having someone who is an expert on the safety procedures that will cut accidents. In the first case, a trainer can identify those situations that workers are most apt to let down their guard and give ways to counteract the temptation to cut corners. For example, if there is a deadline for completion of a project, a supervisor might not have a worker who comes to work without the proper equipment go back and get the equipment. However, with an understanding of how much time lost might be the result of improper equipment, the supervisor might take the up front time so as not to lose time due to accidents.

Implications for instructional design and transition into the workplace/community

It seems to me, therefore, that it is important that instructional designers and university professors have a good understanding of the behavioral and communication patterns for organizations and communities of practice.

The following are questions that we must either ask as we begin a training assignment, or teach our students to ask as they transition into the workforce:

  • Who decides what knowledge is important? What are the organizational, departmental, and group power structures in which someone is working?
  • What is the usual way of communicating within the organization, department, and work groups? How might this be the same or different from the field in which a worker has been trained or is working (i.e. how do engineers communicate, how do accountants communicate, how do nursing personnel communicate)? What are the communication structures and formats used by the organization? by the field? Which technologies will accommodate those structures and formats?
  • Who controls access to information? Who controls storage of information? What information networks are available to a worker within a community of practice? within a group? within a department? within an organization? What are the prerequisites to gaining access to information (i.e. training, trust by a superior, expertise, position, need)?
  • Who are the reference groups that influence worker perceptions? work practices? perception of risk? organizational culture?
  • What is the epistemology (belief in what "knowledge" is) of students, workers, the organization, and the field of expertise? How do workers resolve conflicts between epistemologies? For example, in business there is the belief that the bottom line is the main measure of success. However, healthcare workers are taught that they should do anything humanly possible to save a life. How do healthcare workers resolve the dilemna of saving a life at an exhorbatant price if the patient cannot pay (thus putting the organization into the red)?

    Yakhlef, A. (2002). Towards a discursive approach to organisational knowledge formation. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 18, 319-339.

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