Learning from Experience: Towards a Formal Model for Contextualization of Experiences for Quality Development


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Learning from Experience: Towards a Formal Model for Contextualization of Experiences for Quality Development
  7. Internationale Tagung Wirtschaftsinformatik (WI2005) 23.-25. Februar 2005 in Bamberg Learning from Experience: Towards a Formal Model for Contextualization of Experiences for Quality Development Markus Bick, Ulf-D. Ehlers, Jan M. Pawlowski, Heimo H. Adelsberger University of Duisburg-Essen  Abstract: Quality development in e-learning becomes more and more important. A variety of quality approaches have been developed to improve educational proc-esses in this field. The implementation of these approaches, however, often lacks  success. One important reason is that experiences and recommendations are not  systematically utilized for the implementation processes. The following article  suggests a formal approach to collect and share experiences and recommenda-tions to help users of quality approaches enhance their success by reusing experi-ences of others. Based on knowledge management principles, the contextualiza-tion of experiences will help to transfer them from one specific situation to a dif- ferent context. The suggested approach is a result of the European Quality Obser-vatory, an analysis and information platform for quality approaches in European e-learning.  Keywords: Experience Sharing, Quality Management, Knowledge Management, Quality Decision Process 1 Introduction The number of quality approaches that have been developed for the different edu-cational fields, along with the large number of methods (such as criteria lists, guidelines, management approaches), has grown to an unmanageable amount (a comprehensive overview can be found in [EhPG2003]). However, it is not just the number which makes it difficult to select a suitable approach, but the often diver-gent intentions and recommendations of the approaches as well. On the European level, this problem becomes even more severe because of different cultural con-texts, languages, and educational systems come in, resulting in a vast multitude of diverse regional and differentiated sectoral approaches. Therefore, the decision which quality approach is suitable for an educational or-ganization is a highly complex task – which envisioned as a decision process – can  7. Internationale Tagung Wirtschaftsinformatik (WI2005) 23.-25. Februar 2005 in Bamberg 768 M. Bick, U.-D. Ehlers, J. M. Pawlowski, H. H. Adelsberger  be called the Quality Decision Process . This paper describes how experiences made by users of quality approaches can be described and structured in a standard-ized way and thus become searchable and accessible. We show how the quality decision process  as well as the process to use and implement quality approaches can be supported by using knowledge management principles: the formalization and reuse of experiences to improve quality development. The proposed method for this ambitious aim is to construct a formal model which allows to analyze experiences, and to specify recommendations against the back-ground of their contexts. The difficulties and the boundaries of such an approach are quite clear from beginning: can there be something like a generalization of ex- periences – defined as perceptions in a specific context – at all? The methodology we propose to enhance quality development is based on formal description models to enhance decision processes and to make recommendations according to certain characteristics. We provide solutions to analyze and compare quality approaches and thus improve the fit between organizational and individual requirements and the selection of quality approaches resp. strategies. With this work we reach beyond a methodology for choosing and recommending quality approaches – developments which are already implemented in the “Euro- pean Quality Observatory (EQO)”, a European portal for e-learning quality. The mechanisms already implemented there provide support for quality development in e-learning through profile based recommendation mechanisms [MaSa2004]. With this paper we are also looking into combinations of knowledge management approaches and quality development because we believe that apart from  finding   the appropriate solution, the implementation process is of critical importance for the success of every quality project in organizational contexts. 2 Knowledge Management for Quality Development in E-Learning 2.1 Quality Development in E-Learning – a Learning Cycle Building on Experiences Quality in e-learning decides over success or failure for this form of learning. This is quite clear today – on a national level as well on an international level. How-ever, because of the nature of the concept “quality”, what it means is highly de- pending on perspectives and contexts, and how it is achieved is a field of great de- bates. Today, it is apparent that quality on the one hand is a very important factor on all educational levels in European education, but on the other hand is a moving target without clear cut definitions, understandings, and ways to achieve it. We  7. Internationale Tagung Wirtschaftsinformatik (WI2005) 23.-25. Februar 2005 in Bamberg Learning from Experience 769 have described reasons and dimensions for that in [Ehle + 03b, Ehle2004] which state that quality in e-learning in Europe is a field of great diversity: Many differ-ent approaches on different levels, for different educational sectors, contexts, and target groups compete with each other in the area of quality management, assur-ance, and assessment. Not only different techniques and methods to enhance qual-ity in e-learning are used here, but also different levels of educational quality in the various approaches, and different concepts of quality itself can be recognized (e.g., pedagogical quality, technological quality, economical quality, etc.). Ap- proaching this field on a European level (i.e., beyond the borders of national dis-courses) makes it even more complex. The problem with finding a suitable approach for a specific educational purpose, e.g., improving the learner support in an e-learning course for secretaries, is no longer that there are too few approaches to choose from, but rather that it is diffi-cult to structure the divers field of approaches properly, and to map a set of re-quirements against the approaches available. The European Quality Observatory (http://www.eqo.info) addresses this problem by providing a formal model for de-scribing quality approaches and thus making them comparable and searchable in a database. However, it becomes more and more evident that quality development is not only a matter of  finding a suitable approach but also strongly depends on an appropri-ate implementation  process, and moreover on aspects which vary from context to context: Staff trainings, motivational conditions, organizational restructuring  processes, costs, and alike. Depending on how much quality development focuses on changing, resp. redefining individual work patterns, believes, and values, it can  be envisioned as a learning process itself. For organizations, we consider three  possible groups of strategies for quality development. The first group of strategies we call official external strategy , the second we call official internal strategy  and the third groups of strategies we call implicit strategies : •   Official External Strategy : Quality strategies or instruments coming from ex-ternally adopted approaches (e.g., ISO, EFQM, BAOL Quality Mark) •   Official Internal Strategy : Quality strategies that are developed within an or-ganisation but still apply to the organisation as a whole or parts of it specifi-cally •    Implicit strategies : Quality development which is not part of an official strat-egy but rather left to individuals’ professional activities. For the two official   strategies, quality development is part of the official organiza-tional policy. Quality in these cases can be envisioned as a learning cycle rather than an isolated single occasion. It usually aims at changing organizational proc-esses and addresses actors to change their “traditional” patterns of behavior. Qual-ity development in those cases deals with applying new rules and proceedings but it will only be successful if it aims at stimulating awareness for quality improve-  7. Internationale Tagung Wirtschaftsinformatik (WI2005) 23.-25. Februar 2005 in Bamberg 770 M. Bick, U.-D. Ehlers, J. M. Pawlowski, H. H. Adelsberger ment on the side of the organizations’ members. Therefore, quality development in an organization always builds on changing behavior, competencies, and be-lieves of its members. At this point it becomes quite obvious that mechanisms which apply to learning and knowledge management processes also apply to or-ganizational change processes in form of quality development. To enable organ-izational actors to learn from others’ experiences, e.g., of previous implementation  processes, therefore bears important potential to raise success of quality improve-ment processes in education. It becomes clear that one important factor of quality development – apart from a methodology and a value model – is knowledge man-agement which aims at stimulating learning processes in actors’ competence de-velopment processes. Our research in this field addresses aspects of success and failure in implementa-tion of quality improvement strategies. It means to explore, classify, and assess the impact which quality approaches have on the various processes of the educational environment, and to gain knowledge about implementation processes. Therefore – apart from describing quality approaches – we are concerned with finding formal, generic description categories for experiences and recommendations which users of quality approaches have. In order to make such experiences reusable, they have to be analyzed according to the related context. The identification of such attrib-utes enables transfer of experiences into different contexts. This leads to the conclusion, that research on the experiences which organizations’ individual actors make, during and after the implementation process of quality ap- proaches, is necessary. More knowledge is needed about the context factors which determine success or failure of quality approaches, and about how quality ap- proaches can/should be adapted according to those contexts. In addition research about the possibility of transferring relevant experiences from one to another con-text is necessary. The aim is to derive generalizable knowledge from the analysis of subjective perceived effects of the implementation and use of quality ap- proaches in specific contexts. Learning from experiences thus means to find rec-ommendations from implementation and usage experiences. 2.2 Learning to Share Experiences from Knowledge Management Reuse and transfer of knowledge is one important element for improvement – as we have seen both in the field of knowledge management as well as in the field of quality development. As described above, the reuse of experiences can become an important factor for quality development in education as well. However, espe-cially in the field of education, reusing and assessing experiences for quality de-velopment purposes is fairly new ground. In the following we show how knowl-edge management concepts can be applied to the above mentioned learning and decision processes. This work is based on previous work as described in  7. Internationale Tagung Wirtschaftsinformatik (WI2005) 23.-25. Februar 2005 in Bamberg Learning from Experience 771 [ABLP2004]. During the past decade, knowledge management has emerged as one of the most important and widespread management issues. Knowledge man-agement finds its srcins in a desire to learn from mistakes and to hinder the “re-invention of the wheel” in organizations [ReRa2001]. In the past decade, the im- portance of knowledge as a key resource has become well established (cf., e.g., [Druc94; Maie2002]). We use a definition of knowledge management by M AIER   which is on the one hand general enough to support all kinds of different knowledge areas and on the other hand regards management in a functional sense: “Knowledge management is defined as the management function responsible for the regular selection, implementation, and evaluation of goal-oriented knowledge  strategies that aim at improving an organizations’ way of handling knowledge in-ternal and external to the organization in order to improve organizational per- formance. The implementation of knowledge strategies comprises all person-oriented, organizational, and technological instruments suitable to dynamically optimize the organization-wide level of competencies, education, and ability to learn of the members of the organization as well as to develop collective intelli- gence.”  [Maie2002, 55] Although M AIERS ’ definition has a slightly technocratic notion and it could be de- bated wheather it is possible at all to stimulate individual competency develop-ment through external strategies, we still want to use an important distinction. Ac-cording to this definition, two approaches to knowledge management exist: hu-man-oriented   (  personalization strategy ) and technology-oriented   ( codification  strategy ) [HaNT1999; Lehn2000]. This terminology shows the two sides of knowledge management which can be differentiated between (see also Table 1): •    Human-oriented/personalization strategy : Knowledge is closely tied to the  person who constructed it. Knowledge is mainly shared through direct person-to-person contacts. Information and communitcation technology (ICT) just supports people to communicate knowledge, not to store it. One example in our context is experience sharing within a community or within an organiza-tional context in which activity patterns change and people share their experi-ences because of quality development processes. •   Technology-oriented/codification strategy : This strategy addresses the com- puter technology resp. ICT: Information is (carefully) codified and stored in ‘databases’ where it can be accessed and used easily [HaNT1999]. The formal model of experiences is an example which could be used in the frame of such a strategy to supply people with a standardized set of infomration. Besides this, more recent knowledge management approaches suggest to follow a holistic  approach of knowledge management, bridging the gap between human-oriented and technology-oriented knowledge management [Albr1993; Lehn2000]. Hansen et al. [HaNT1999] identified certain strategy-mixes within their survey: A
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