As Strong as the Weakest Link: Organizational Behavior Models and Implementing Blended Learning

Award Winner: 
2011 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award
Author Information
Author(s): 
Christopher Whann
Author(s): 
Suzanne Hayes
Author(s): 
Katherine Jelly
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
SUNY Empire State College
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

At SUNY Empire State College, faculty and administrators are actively involved in using blended learning in their programs and are slowly expanding blended approaches to new sectors of their institution. In the process, they use organizational behavior models to illuminate the structural and procedural barriers to successful implementation of a blended learning program, propose ideas to avoid pitfalls that lead to failure, and identify key contributors to effective professional development for faculty.
Organizational behavior models illuminate patterns of interests, conflict and power that can breed success or assure failure. In a learning organization, there are many opportunities to develop and implement good ideas. Thus Empire State College’s Center for Learning and Mentoring emphasizes community to enhance its learning organization by expanding learning opportunities.
 
Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Blended learning models enhance faculty opportunities to work effectively with students, and they can also improve student access to learning. However, the organizational structures of educational institutions must recognize and address obstacles to approving and implementing blended models that achieve “buy-in” from stakeholders. At SUNY Empire State College, faculty and administrators are actively involved in using blended learning in their programs and are slowly expanding blended approaches to new sectors of their institution. In the process, they have used “organizational behavior” models to illuminate the structural and procedural barriers to successful implementation of a blended learning program, proposed ideas to avoid pitfalls that lead to failure, and identified key contributors to effective professional development for faculty.
Organizational behavior models date at least to Allison and Zelikow (1971/1999) and illuminate patterns of interests, conflict and power (Morgan, 1998). These factors can breed success or assure failure. In a learning organization, there are many opportunities to develop and implement good ideas. Blended learning is in principle a good idea, and workshop leaders want to give faculty room to explore both challenges and potential in various models.
 
 
 
 
 
Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

From the Center for Mentoring and Learning and Office of Academic Technologies: Qualitative evidence from testimonials from Blended Workshop participants’ evaluations of workshops:

 
"My understanding of the ways in which various modes of learning can be integrated with each other has been enhanced."
 
"Better understanding of ‘presence’ and interactive tools."
         
“Faculty presentations gave me a great sense of the variety available and put the
ideas into a quick, accessible “package” in one set of presentations – demonstrated
the ease of putting the ideas into practice.”
"...helped me clarify [the] possibilities..."
 
" Have a better understanding and less fear of the technology tools."
 
"...I've learned to potentially see online, in person phone communication and technology components (liniks, tools, etc.) as useful to expand the learning and knowledge of college ...educational opportunities favorably..."
 
"I feel I am open to more possibilities of how to approach it [blended learning]...
 
"This is an important piece of the work we do at ESC and I'm glad to see you will be continuing and developing it further...."
 
"I am now more motivated to add to my current use of ANGEL and create a web site in the Commons."   
 
"Keep offering this workshop! We need to keep putting the idea of blended learning upfront!"
 
“Today’s discussion helped me to see it really doesn’t have to be all figured out beforehand.
It lessens the pressure.”
         
“I enjoyed being able to talk about my work in teaching and not only scholarship in
my area of expertise.”
 
“Have a better understanding—and less fear—of the technology tools”
 
“I now know there are many different models of blended learning, so it is less mysterious.”
 
“Am now enthusiastic about approaching my tech person!”
 
“This workshop really served as an opening exposure to what tools are out there and to get me started on how to think about them.”
 
And an example suggestion that is implemented in workshops:
 
“Collect good examples/best practices as you visit different centers and share these
as you move around the college.”
 
         
Foundations of ESC Model of Learning Organization:
           
In 1971, Graham Allison published Essence of Decision, a study of decision making processes in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Allison and Philip Zelikow updated the work in 1999 using additional materials from the archives of the former Soviet Union and other declassified materials. In sum, Allison used three conceptual models –the rational actor model, the organizational behavior model, and the governmental [i.e., bureaucratic] politics model—to explain how one might understand decisions and use this enhanced understanding. Morgan’s (1998) discussion related to organizational behavior and bureaucratic politics models reflects patterns of interests, conflict and power.
Allison’s ideas apply not only to the Missile Crisis but to any large scale decision process.  Organizational processes and bureaucratic politics influence both decisions about implementing an organizational change such as adopting blended learning models and the actual likelihood of successful implementation. Administrators can readily identify, appreciate and understand the processes through which blended learning would be implemented. They can likewise see how intra-organizational politics can interfere with successful implementation. Allison and Zelikow’s approaches are valuable tools to enhance the understanding of weak links, pitfalls, and risks that can slow or halt implementation.
Faculty and staff at SUNY Empire State College aspire to belong to what Peter Senge describes as a “learning organization.” Senge’s Fifth Discipline (2006) offers a framework for what we have sought to do in our workshops on blended learning.
Senge advocates supporting “personal mastery;” in our case, this includes increased skill, not just in the use of technology, but rather a sense of proficiency in relation to online and blended learning, and to stay attuned to their own vision in doing so. Related to a second discipline of Senge’s, the workshops also aim to help faculty examine their mental models and assumptions, many of which may present obstacles to creative application of blended learning models.
The workshops also help faculty across different modes of teaching and learning identify common elements of their vision, so they can join a common search for effective pedagogy.
Regarding Senge’s discipline related to teamwork, the workshop leaders support faculty’s sharing of ideas and engaging in dialogue to identify effective ways to support students’ learning and using available technologies to support a shared vision. The leaders envision the possibilities for incorporating technology to meet specific learning objectives.  This approach also has value for the instructional technologists who attend these sessions.  They are exposed to the concerns and conflicts that many faculty encounter, and as a result are better prepared to work with them, in support of a shared vision.
New institution-specific but systemic questions arise all the time, but learning organization approaches help the workshop leaders to develop solutions to move past obstacles and support forward movement. In this spirit, Kotter and Whitehead’s Buy-in: Saving Your Good Ideas from Getting Shot Down (2010) offers suggestions to keep good ideas flowing and moving forward. They identify four basic ways in which good ideas are attacked: (1) fear mongering, (2) death by delay, (3) confusion, and (4) ridicule and character assassination. One can prepare against these tactics by listening, treating opponents with respect, keeping responses clear and crisp, and focusing on the whole audience not just on the detractors, all of which can go a long way toward successful implementation. Their work also identifies many more specific tools to approach critics of large-scale change, which can be useful with blended learning programs and other projects as well.
 

 

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

 

Access to improved educational offerings, like blended learning, is critical for faculty and students. The framework (of listening, treating opponents with respect, keeping responses clear and crisp, and focusing on the whole audience not just on the detractors) can aid decision makers as they develop strategies for expanding their blended offerings.  Empire State College's understanding of the decision making literature and our experience of the process suggests that collaboration among academic technologists, teaching, mentoring and learning centers, and faculty, shows much more success than “top-down,”  administration- driven programs.

 

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

 

No new technologies are necessary, but it is critical to provide training, support and access to resources for faculty members who seek help using existing technologies.

 

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

The decision making ideas are free. Workshop costs would depend on the campuses involved. In a consolidated or single campus institution, costs would be negligible. In a widely distributed, networked, statewide institution like SUNY Empire State, workshop costs involve travel from Saratoga Springs to the diverse locations. Typical travel costs include hotel and food, but workshop expenses themselves are low.

References, supporting documents: 

Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. Second edition. New York: Longman, 1999.
Kotter, John and Lorne A. Whitehead. Buy-in: Saving Your Good Ideas from Getting Shot Down. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2010.
Morgan, Gareth. Images of Organizations. Executive edition. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1998.
Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2006.

 

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Christopher A. Whann, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Business, Management and Economics, Metropolitan Center/Brooklyn, Empire State College, State University of New York, 177 Livingston Street, Brooklyn, NY 11216
Email this contact: 
Christopher.Whann@esc.edu
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Suzanne Hayes
Effective Practice Contact 3: 
Katherine Jelly