Exploring The Decision Making Behind Innovative Use Of Technology-Enhanced Lifelong Learning In Enterprises
The paper focuses on how to optimize working and learning capacities and educational provisions in organisations through technology-supported provisions of adult education. The aim is to explore the decision-making behind a choice for a particular technology solution over others, and to identify and understand goals and motives in enterprises for taking them in use.
The study is part of a large research project, Skills development for realizing the workforce competence reserve (2014-2017) (SkillsREAL), financed by the Norwegian Research Council. The locus of this study is western Norway, a region highly dependent on oil and gas industry, with long history of full employment – indeed, labour shortage – albeit with education level significantly lower than the national average. The drop in oil price and consequent downturn in the sub-contracting industry has started to affect also other industries and sectors in the region. Hence, unemployment in the region is increasing rapidly, and both public and private sector are facing big, “new” challenges. The situation well known in most other European countries, with much more tight economies for a long time, has reached in particular this region in Norway: there is a simultaneous pressure in enterprises to be more effective at a lower cost and continually update and develop the competence of their workforce to be able to meet new standards and demands. New measures are called for and high hopes are set on harnessing new technology to this end.
While the use of advanced technology in the enterprises is already high, also for skills development, in this paper we are interested in their goals and motives for innovative use of technology-enhanced lifelong learning (TELL). Competence needs and challenges vary in organisations. We seek to understand the decision making process in terms of goals and motives for TELL and to identify arguments for choosing one specific technology solution over others. There is an abundance of literature on the role of learning and competence development in promoting innovation in enterprises, carried out in particular by economists (e.g. “learning economy” and doing-using-interacting (DUI-model) - e.g. Johnson, 2012; Lundvall & Lorenz, 2012; Nielsen & Lundvall, 2007). A recent review by Sutherland-Olsen (2015) revealed four central characteristics related to learning in innovative firms. The first one draws on Argyris and Schön (1978) and March (1991) and emphasise the importance of creating a learning environment where there is an acceptance for trial and error. There should also be room for exchange of feedback related to performance and this requires a culture open to experimentation. The second characteristic is dynamism and refers to the continuous individual and collective willingness to develop and adapt, whilst the third focuses on communication. In this context, it is important to work with communication equally between all the departments and levels in an organisation . The last characteristic is the continuous renewal of sector and firm specific knowledge. Accordingly, innovative firms find themselves in a continuous state of learning and development. The framework of learning and innovations will guide our study in regards technology-supported skills development in enterprises.
The study is qualitative and the data is collected in semi-structured interviews (Kvale, 2007) and observations (Delamont, 2004), total in five enterprises. The enterprises are diverse, from both private and public sector, representing off-shore industry, educational providers and social services. The on-going data collection will be finished by June 2016. As the economic situation in the region has rather rapidly worsened since the project was planned and started, getting access to the enterprises has been a major challenge in implementing the study. Several of the region’s largest employers have been forced to layoffs of as high as 30-40 % of their employees. Consequently, their interest in participating in research focusing on their internal affairs, such as learning and skills development, has dropped. Luckily, the situation is not equally challenging in all enterprises so that the data collection can proceed as planned.
We developed a four step model to identify and get access to cases of “good practice” in TELL. Firstly, a Reference Group (RG) was established. Secondly, six members of the RG were interviewed. The six members represented labour unions, employer association, education providers, local counties, Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, and Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning. The aim of this interview was to get access to enterprises and to get preliminary information about potential enterprises that were using technology to enhance learning and skills development. Thirdly, interviews and brief company visits were carried out in these enterprises. Fourthly, particularly interesting enterprises emerging from the third step were selected for a closer field study for “good practice” on TELL.
Any framework developed to guide inquiry on methodological issues can only contain partial truths (Seale, Gobo, Gubrium, & Silverman, 2004). The qualitative framework used in this study is no exception. To analyse and process the interviews and the observations we shall use narrative inquiry (Webster, 2007). Our starting point will be the “stories” (Connelly & Clandinin, 2006) of manager and human resources representatives. The analysis will focus on their views of the goals and motives for the enterprises’ choice of learning technology, (“reality”) and how they interpret the processes leading to these choices as well as re-construct meaning to these within the particular socio-historical context (Andrews, Sclater, Squire, & Tamboukou, 2004).
At this point our findings are still very preliminary. The findings suggest that there is a wide variety in the choice for different technology-based solution, the use of, and intentions behind TELL. There seems to be a relation between the organization’s reasons for using a specific technology and the specific type or solution they choose to work with. Two examples will illustrate this. One is that when the motives are related to external factors as a customer’s policy on health, safety and environment issues, the type of TELL is likely to be limited to online courses evaluated with multiple-choice tests. The technology used in these situations mainly serves certification purposes. In another case, when the motives are related to the organisation’s own need for competence development, the solutions tend to involve more advanced and innovative TELL. Besides new knowledge on technology-supported provisions of adult education, we expect the findings to give implications on, how to help enterprises to make informed choices to meet their various competence needs with technology-based solutions.
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