Conceiving a Learning Organization Model in Online Education

Conceiving a Learning Organization Model in Online Education

Kam Hou Vat (University of Macau, Macau)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch059
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Abstract

As online technologies and information resources rise in salience, experience has shown (Vat, 2000, 2001, 2002a, 2002b) that online education must be based on theories of learning and instructional design principles to guide usage of the tools and resources for mediating collaboration and social exchanges within communities of learners (CoL). Relatively recent discussions in the literature (Cobb & Yackel, 1996; Marshall, 1996; O’Connor, 1998; Vygotsky, 1978) suggest that learning is increasingly viewed as a constructive process occurring during one’s participation in and contribution to the practices of the community. This is supported by a current shift (Brown et al., 1993) from the cognitive focus on knowledge structures presumed in the mind of the individual learner, to a constructivist focus on the learner as an active participant in a social context. Indeed, we have been witnessing classroom culture being enriched with tools such as the Web-based search engines that mediate knowledge building and social exchanges among peers as participants in discourse communities (Bonk, Medury, & Reynolds, 1994; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Fabos & Young, 1999). These communities open opportunities for learners to interact with multiple perspectives, which challenge their existing knowledge constructions and impose cognitive conflicts (Piaget, 1952) requiring negotiations. The theme of this article is to investigate strategies to enhance learning and knowledge sharing in the learners’ communities through the idea of a learning organization model. Its aim is to develop the collective intellect of the CoL through appropriate design of information system (IS) support so as to expand its capacity to adapt to future challenges.
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Introduction

As online technologies and information resources rise in salience, experience has shown (Vat, 2000, 2001, 2002a, 2002b) that online education must be based on theories of learning and instructional design principles to guide usage of the tools and resources for mediating collaboration and social exchanges within communities of learners (CoL). Relatively recent discussions in the literature (Cobb & Yackel, 1996; Marshall, 1996; O’Connor, 1998; Vygotsky, 1978) suggest that learning is increasingly viewed as a constructive process occurring during one’s participation in and contribution to the practices of the community. This is supported by a current shift (Brown et al., 1993) from the cognitive focus on knowledge structures presumed in the mind of the individual learner, to a constructivist focus on the learner as an active participant in a social context. Indeed, we have been witnessing classroom culture being enriched with tools such as the Web-based search engines that mediate knowledge building and social exchanges among peers as participants in discourse communities (Bonk, Medury, & Reynolds, 1994; Bonk & Reynolds, 1997; Fabos & Young, 1999). These communities open opportunities for learners to interact with multiple perspectives, which challenge their existing knowledge constructions and impose cognitive conflicts (Piaget, 1952) requiring negotiations. The theme of this article is to investigate strategies to enhance learning and knowledge sharing in the learners’ communities through the idea of a learning organization model. Its aim is to develop the collective intellect of the CoL through appropriate design of information system (IS) support so as to expand its capacity to adapt to future challenges.

The Ideal of Learning Organization

The concept of the learning organization took seed several decades ago and gained major recognition with the incredible success of Peter Senge’s 1990 book The Fifth Discipline. Senge (1990) describes a learning organization as a place where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together. At the core of Senge’s formulation are five essential learning components: personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning, and systems thinking, which may be briefly described as follows.

Personal mastery has to do with individual learning, and can be seen as the basic building block through the actualization of which the learning organization is typically constructed. Mental models are about how individuals reflect on their own knowledge, using such models to improve the internal understanding of an organization’s functions and processes. Shared vision implies a sense of group commitment to a matrix of organizational goals, while team learning describes a sharing and utilization of knowledge involving collective thinking skills. The purpose of systems thinking is to understand relationships and inter-relationships, as well as the context and the forces that affect the behavior of the organization.

To learner-centered teachers, it is not difficult to perceive that the learning organization model somewhat represents an educational context through which students can learn by dealing with others, exchanging ideas, and comparing our ideas with other people. In fact, Vygotsky’s theory (1978) suggests that we learn first through person-to-person interactions and then individually through the internalization process that leads to deep understanding. This belief in the social process of knowledge sharing is based on people’s mutual understanding of their own and others’ interests and purposes, and the recognition that their interests are somehow bound up in doing something to which they all contribute. Indeed, at one time or another, we might have experienced being a member of a great team. We probably remember the trust, the relationships, the acceptance, the synergy, and the results that we achieved as a group of individuals. Though it takes time to develop the knowledge of working as a whole, when a group of people who over time have learned to enhance their capacity to create what they truly desire to create, this is, in fact, an instance of a learning organization.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Appreciative Settings: A body of linked connotations of personal or collective interest, discrimination, and valuation which we bring to the exercise of judgment and which tacitly determine what we shall notice, how we shall discriminate situations of concern from the general confusion of an ongoing event, and how we shall regard them.

Learning Organization: An organization that helps transfer learning from individuals to a group, provide for organizational renewal, keep an open attitude to the outside world, and support a commitment to knowledge.

IS Support: An information systems (IS) function supporting people taking purposeful action. This is often done by indicating that the purposeful action can itself be expressed via activity models, a fundamental re-thinking of what is entailed in providing informational support to purposeful action. The idea is that in order to conceptualize and so create an IS support which serves, it is first necessary to conceptualize that which is served, since the way the latter is thought of will dictate what would be necessary to serve or support it.

Knowledge Sharing: A process of leveraging the collective individual learning of an organization such as a group of people, to produce a higher-level organization-wide intellectual asset. It is supposed to be a continuous process of creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge accompanied by a possible modification of behavior to reflect new knowledge and insight, and produce a higher-level intellectual content.

CoL: Acronym referring to the community of learners whose learning is fundamentally a social phenomenon. Namely, a CoL focuses on engagement in social practice as the fundamental process by which we learn and so become who we are.

Collaborative Learning: Learning is integrated in the life of communities that share values, beliefs, languages, and ways of doing things. What holds the learners together is a common sense of purpose and a real need to know what the other knows. The essence is the underlying process of shared creation involving two or more individuals interacting to create shared understanding where none could have existed on its own.

Constructivism: A theory of learning based on the idea that knowledge is constructed as learners attempt to make sense of their experiences. It is assumed that learners are not empty vessels waiting to be filled, but rather active organisms seeking meaning: regardless of what is being learned, learners form, elaborate, and test candidate mental structures until a satisfactory one emerges.

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