Using Technology to Reintegrate Learning and Doing: IBM's Approach and its Implications for Education

Using Technology to Reintegrate Learning and Doing: IBM's Approach and its Implications for Education

Chris Allen Thomas (University of Pennsylvania, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-739-3.ch005


“Learning” has classically been subdivided into education and training. Whereas education occurs in classroom-type settings and takes one away from work, the vocational nature of training means that much of the learning goes on in the process of work or preparing for work. In addition, pressures arising from globalism and the transition from a manufacturing-based to an information-based economy have led to an increased need to train our workforce. In order to survive and remain competitive in this changing landscape, companies such as IBM have over the past two decades taken a renewed look at learning and embraced technological innovations that allow training to dovetail seamlessly into work. This chapter looks at some of the learning solutions IBM has developed to meet these challenges. The solutions have implications for how we as a society view the construct of education.
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The Educational Paradigm

The American model of education has a number of characteristics that distinguish it from what we conceptualize as “training.” Its focus is on the development of skills and knowledge in the largely decontextualized setting of the academic classroom. Actual application of science, mathematical, or technological learning is often neither required nor offered. This traditional approach to education as an end in itself is carried over into college, at least to the undergraduate level, where “applied” learning as a focus for majors is often only offered at the Master’s or Doctoral levels. Learning that serves specific vocational aims, or training, is largely absent from U.S. education. Vocational education, originally based on a master-apprentice model of learning (the dominant model prior to the adoption of a national education policy), has lost a great deal of status as a result. In fact, even today highly-skilled workers who lack formal socialized education are referred to as “uneducated” in our society, and they are portrayed as deficient in this respect. A further consequence of socialized education is the segmentation of modern life into an “educational” phase and a “vocational” phase such that education precedes vocation. Adult education (U.S. Department of Education, 2007) refers largely to the education of adults who desire the development of personal skills, socialization into the U.S. or citizenship, while adult training consists of a series of career development moves and is not considered “education” per se.

Public education is non-vocational; the skills it promotes are considered social goods by society regardless of future employment. However, although public education is non-vocational, it is responsible for developing both the work-ethic and the skill sets children will need as they enter the workforce. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are the skill areas that have been identified in public education as most needed in an information- and technology-based society. Collectively, they are frequently referred to as STEM-skills.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Blended Learning: Learning that blends together multiple modalities, especially face-to-face and computer-based, in delivery.

Digital Native: One who has grown up with advanced technology, knows the terrain of an interconnected, globalized world, and moves about it comfortably.

Digital Immigrant: Someone who grew up before the widespread use of modern computers and has had to modify learning habits to adapt to computer technology.

Information Society: A society based on the creation, distribution, diffusion, use, and manipulation of information for significant economic, political, and cultural activity.

Academic Model of Learning: Based upon an educational approach to learning in which the development of knowledge and capabilities occurs through a process of educational events removed from actual practice.

Adult Training: Any of a series of career development moves involving learning as adults.

Innovative Learning: Learning in which the primary focus is on how information is structured and delivered outside the traditional role relationships seen in academic and experiential models of learning.

Communities of Practice: A process of social learning in which a network of professionals with shared interests or a common problem come together over an extended period of time to share insights and knowledge, to investigate solutions, and to collaborate on innovative approaches.

Experiential Model of Learning: Learning occurs during the course of actual practice, for instance, on the job training (OJT), either through observing or through doing.

Value Chain of Information: Systems that allow for the most frequently asked questions at any particular level of expertise to be served up at that level, effectively creating a value chain of informational access.

Adult Education: The education of adults, often for the development of personal skills, socialization into the U.S. or citizenship.

Corporate Directory: A knowledge directory that links all employees in a network centered on competencies and expertise levels.

Transformational Learning: Learning in which one goes beyond education to be transformed in some meaningful way.

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