From eLearning to ulearning a blended learning framework for effective organisational change

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From eLearning to ULearning

  • A blended learning framework for effective organisational change

Liam Brown1, Vincent Wade2, Eamonn Murphy3

1Enterprise Ireland,4500 Atlantic Avenue, Westpark, Shannon,

2Knowledge and Data Engineering Group, Trinity College Dublin,

3Enterprise Research Centre, University of Limerick,
Keywords: eLearning, Blended Learning Framework, Workplace Project, Change Management Programmes

A framework is proposed as to how blended learning can be deployed as an effective mechanism to facilitate and support continuous improvement and change management programmes within organisations. The framework supports the current drive in education to move from tutor centred approaches to learner centred approaches. The framework also takes the relevant pedagogical and technological considerations into account and implications for the design of future programmes are posited based on feedback from the current programmes.

The framework has been deployed through an initiative known as ULearning. This an innovative connector of industry and academia, addressing individual and corporate skills gaps through professional flexible learning. ULearning courses allow progression from Specialist Diplomas (SD), to Masters (MSc) and on to Professional PhD at the pace of individual participants. The guiding principles are that individuals can earn professional industry certifications and academic qualifications while at work and through courses designed with contextual content based on individual needs.

Programme delivery is a blend of on campus face to face lectures, tutorials and workshops; on-line content; technology enabled peer supported learning and workplace based projects and assignments all supported by learning facilitators, and course coordinators. The framework has been extensively evaluated through 4 consecutive cohorts of students from industry over a 2 year period. Evaluation results have been incorporated into the framework and are presented as part of this research study.

  1. Introduction

The global downturn has had a profound effect on not just on the prosperity of organisations but on their very survival. Organisational resilience is often dependent on how well change management and continuous improvement programmes are implemented. Critical to success is the training and education of management and staff in how best to embrace and lead such change management and continuous improvement programmes. Many studies have identified the urgency in developing innovative learning models to assist individuals, educators and industry in delivering the required training and upskilling to Ireland’s graduates to ensure their continued employability into the future (Hunt 2007). There is hence a need for a flexible delivery framework that will support the current drive in education to move from tutor centred approaches to learner centred approaches. To be effective, the framework must also take the relevant pedagogical and technological considerations into account.

One of the most significant challenges that has emerged in the training and education of management and staff in recent years is the time away from the workplace that would be lost to education and training and could negatively impact short term organisational results purely because the manager or staff member was not onsite when required. The inherent flexibility of Technology Enhanced Learning allows these organisations to educate the workforce in such a fashion that is not disruptive to the short term organisational performance, but at the same time will have a significant impact in both the medium and long term time horizons. A secondary challenge that has been identified is the cost of training and education provision – This is particularly true of the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector where cost and resource constraints are always to the fore.
There is an urgency required to establish a proven framework as to how eLearning can be deployed for organisational improvement given the many drivers for change that have emerged in recent years. The major competitive threats from both an Irish and a European perspective include the rising cost of labour, energy, Euro/Dollar/Sterling currency fluctuations and of course environmental impacts. The other rationale for the urgency of the work is the organisational landscape of Irish and European industry given its dependence on the manufacturing sector coupled with the current global economic downturn. The importance of manufacturing and related activities is critical to both the Irish economy and indeed from a European perspective where it is estimated that in total 75% of the EU GDP and 70% of employment in Europe is related to manufacturing (EU_Commission 2004). Put another way, each job in manufacturing is linked to two jobs in services. Hence the reliance on services cannot continue in the long term without a competitive EU manufacturing sector.
Productivity within the manufacturing sector has been recognised as a key factor in fuelling Ireland's extraordinarily economic growth in the mid to late 1990s. The Annual Competitiveness Report (FORFAS 2008) confirms that productivity is a key long-term determinant of a nation’s living standards. From an Irish perspective, the focus needs to be far more encompassing than just addressing the cost base. Ireland is ranked 22nd in the World Competitiveness Rankings, lagging behind Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark in terms of productivity while the cost base in these countries is on a par if not higher than in Ireland (Porter and Schwab 2008). Implementation of continuous improvement methodologies in particular lean thinking is an effective means of driving productivity improvements. New ways of working and learning need to be developed to address these productivity gaps and continuous improvement methodologies hence the imminent requirement to develop a framework for Technology Enhanced Learning for Organisational Improvement.

  1. Programme

The Diploma in Quality Management: Lean systems is an accredited industry focused Programme in Quality Management whose aim is to train workers in generic, transferable business/quality management skills to enable employees to become flexible and adaptive in the constantly changing business environment. The programme is a level 9 NQAI (National Qualifications Authority of Ireland) special purpose award and has been designed with progression in mind. For those who successfully complete the diploma programme, there is an option of taking a further diploma and a significant industry based project to achieve an MSc. in Quality Management, Technology Management or Information Technology as outlined in figure 1 below. This can eventually lead on to participants being awarded with a professional PhD.

Materials are taught using a blended model of written materials, face to face tutoring, on-line material and work based projects. The course is accredited by the University of Limerick and is deployed though the Atlantic University Alliance of Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Figure 1: Progression Routes
The first cohort of 22 students commenced the programme in March 2006. Further cohorts have commenced every academic term to date. In total, there have been in excess of 300 industry based students enrolled on the programme to date with in excess of 50 students enrolling on the programme that commenced in February 2009. A number of these students have gone on to complete the MSc in Quality Management and indeed a number of students have enrolled directly onto the MSc in Quality Management from the outset. Overall the approach and programmes have been very favourably received. The evaluations revealed that the attendees were highly satisfied with the content and quality of the programmes. The unique differentiator from other academic programmes is the fact that measurable targets (mainly financial) must be achieved by the students. A further compelling attribute is that the programmes act as a conduit to coherently communicate the voice of industry into academia. This is a key principle in ensuring effective delivery of relevant content (Holford 2009). The project is now at a very exciting stage as it reaches out to a wider target group across the business sector.

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