The Role of Internet Technology in Higher Education: A Complex Responsive Systems Paradigm

The Role of Internet Technology in Higher Education: A Complex Responsive Systems Paradigm

Robert J. Blomme (Nyenrode Business Universiteit, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7316-8.ch010


This chapter introduces the perspective of complex responsive systems for organizational and individual learning. It also discusses how these systems may profit from the use of Internet Technology. Using Herbert Mead's perspective on interactions and learning, the authors discuss the theory of complex responsive systems as learning systems. They also elaborate on the implications of this perspective for the use of Internet Technology as a driver for individual and organizational learning.
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For the past forty years, the topic of organizational learning has been well discussed (cf. Pawlowksy, 2000) and this discussion might be of importance to understanding how professionals including teachers and lecturers, develop, maintain and disseminate knowledge in organizations for higher education (cf. Simons, 1999). Cyert and March (1963) and Argyris and Schön (1978) can be ranked among the most important early thinkers on the concept of organizational learning; since the nineteen-nineties, organizational learning has become an increasingly important concept in individual learning and knowledge development (Senge, 1990). In individual learning, the role of the organizational context has been regarded as increasingly relevant to formal ways of learning, for instance in education programmes, training courses and coaching outside the organization (Blomme, 2003; Revans, 1982; Wenger, 1998) but also to informal ways of learning which is important for knowledge sharing and dissemination (Simons, 1999; Blomme, 2003). The latter is especially important in organizations for higher education in which knowledge is an important resource for its primary processes and therefore should be developed, disseminated and maintained (Blomme, 2003).

Within the organizational context, individuals develop activities and practices in which they can ensure the transfer of existing knowledge and contribute to new knowledge by responding to and reflecting upon other organizational members (cf. Wenger, 1998). While many perspectives on organizational learning adopt a cognitive perspective defining the learning individual as a key factor in organizational learning, we introduce a different perspective and one that is not often used: an emergent perspective on organizational learning which emphasizes the responsiveness of the individuals as a condition for organizational learning (cf. Edmondson & Moingeon, 1998; Stacey, 2001; Blomme, 2003). Founded in chaos theory, the theory of complex responsive systems emphasizes the relationships between people and how the quality of relations and interactions may contribute to individual as well as organizational learning (cf. Stacey, 2001). This perspective on organizational learning is rooted in the work of George Herbert Mead who developed his ideas in the twenties of the last century and the work of Ralph Stacey and colleagues who used Mead’s ideas for the development of a framework for learning, knowledge creation and change within organizations.

In this chapter, we shall develop the above-mentioned perspective on organizational learning. First, we shall discuss George Herbert Mead’s work on interactions and how these can contribute to individual learning. Secondly, we shall consider the work on complex responsive systems published by Ralph Stacey and his colleagues and based on the work of Mead. The subsequent and remaining issue, seen from the perspective of complex responsive systems on organizational learning, concerns the question how Internet Technology can be used in attempts to support organizational learning. The application of Internet Technology in formal training and development situations has been studied extensively (cf. Salmon, 2005; Barczyk, Buckenmeyer & Feldman, 2010; Sangra, Vlachopoulos & Cabrera, 2012; Li, Lau & Dharmendran, 2008). Here, we shall discuss the potential learning contributions of Internet Technology as a distance learning tool for complex responsive systems.

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