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Post-secondary technical institutes and vocational college institutions are called on to train and educate students for careers in technical areas. These careers often require student mastery of both academic and vocational skills. This is especially true today as occupations require more cognitive skills (Rojewski, Schell, Reybold, & Evanciew, 1995). The need to mix cognitive skill and traditional occupational skills reflects a growing maturity within the profession and recognizes that effective workers must be able to solve problems and make decisions in highly complex and ill-structured environments (D'Ignazio, 1990). Recent cognitive research also suggests that individuals often acquire knowledge in different ways depending on the context in which the information is learned and utilized (Schell & Rojewski, 1995).
Company X is the world's largest oil company. Its training division is in charge of developing a local workforce to reduce the company's dependency on foreign workers. The job skills training department designs and develops curriculum to support training of apprentices who are not employees of the company. Those apprentices in the Industrial Training Department (ITD) are typically graduates of Company' X Academic and Job Skills Training Units, in which they spend approximately one year studying English (a requirement of all employees), math, and other academic subject areas in addition to their job skills program. Entrants into the program must be Saudi nationals who have recently graduated from high school. The apprenticeship program goes back nearly forty years to the early 1970's and has grown to its current size and training scope. The company projects 1600 graduates in 2011. At the time of the research, there were approximately 3580 trainees enrolled throughout the training system.
Company X training programs need to provide trainees with a learning experience that is more efficient at transferring knowledge/skills/attitudes, more interactive and interesting. Better graduates will emerge after completing a program that will encompass enhanced core academic and job skills content, supported by the introduction of learner-centered activities.
This research reflects the views supervisor, trainers and trainees from five different jobs have about training and development in Company X. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with the five supervisors to bring about their perspective about the effectiveness of their respective training program and then to relate it classroom observations and to the Principles of Adult Learning Scale (PALS) questionnaire developed by Pr. Gary J. Conti. The questionnaires were administered to trainers and trainees by the researcher in each of the five core jobs to evaluate if the strategies currently used efficient and effective. Data was collected from 5 supervisors, 5 trainers and 60 trainees by the members of the action-learning team. The surveys, observations, interviews and audit reports analysis formed the basis to elaborate on the problem to be tackled by the action-learning team.
This study demonstrates that the use of action-learning can be an efficient tool in changing Company X training design and delivery philosophy from what was found to be a traditional teacher-centered approach to a brain-based learner-centered one.
The key findings on this study include that:
The idea debated by the action-learning team shaped the strategies to change the curriculum and generated innovative learner-centered concepts that can be applied to Company X's technical training.
The principles of action-learning were transferred into the curriculum design framework and became the basis of the learner-centered strategy. Therefore, the design of the curriculum is aligned with AL principle in the sense that: trainees work together cooperatively in a small group to find solutions to real-life problems, the teaching methodology focusses on student centeredness, knowledge is shared with others, problem solving skills and critical thinking are now part of the design blue prints.
Action-learning broke down the relative isolation of most curriculum developers' work, allowing them to affirm and reaffirm what they do as well as to critique it within a supported, problem sharing and solving atmosphere.
Input provided on suggested curriculum design models during action-learning enabled the team to develop skills that could be applied into everyday practice. In other words, what participants learned from others was applied to their daily work.
Action-learning fostered inter-unit collaboration as participants involved other units within the organisation had the key to their problem, or as they reached out to others to test and implement their solutions.
I wish to express my most sincere appreciation and gratitude to Pr. Trevor Kerry for his patience and thorough review throughout the development of this dissertation and past assignments. I would also like to thank Dr. Michael Reakes and the rest of the department for their assistance and help in the development of my program of study at Leicester University.
I would like to wish my deepest thanks to Mr. Mohammed S. Shuwaikhat, who was instrumental in getting me started with the research, supported it and recognized the value of having it sponsored. Without your help, guidance and support, the dissertation wouldn't have been successful.
I am also sincerely grateful to Mr. Mitchell Proctor for his advice and help in reviewing, editing and proof-reading this thesis. Mitch: "I love you" in a friendly manner!
My wife, Josée Drolet and my children Camille and Anais Magnan observed me from a distance while I worked towards my degree. The completion of this master degree will mean a lot to them, mostly "seeing more of me".
Above all, I would like to thank Almighty God for the mercy and blessings granted upon me and for giving me the opportunity to conduct this research.
iii. Table of contents
iv. List of Tables and Figures
Table 3.1 Certifying Body's Findingsâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦
Table 3.2 Sample Groupâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦...â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦
Table 4.1 Factor Score Valuesâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦..
Table 4.2 Teaching Preference Styleâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦
Table 4.3 Teaching Style Categories â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦
Table 4.4 Index of Learning Stylesâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦
Table 4.5 Project Scope and Deliverables â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦
Table 4.6 Design Principles â€¦â€¦â€¦.â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.
Table 4.7 Design Blueprint...â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.
Table 5.1 Action Planâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.
Figure 2.1 The 4MAT Systemâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦..
Figure 2.2 The Continuous Action-learning processâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦...â€¦
Figure 3.1 Action-research System Modelâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦..â€¦â€¦
This study tackles curriculum redesign to develop learner-centered curriculum for a large range of technical subjects. The researcher had some doubts about the validity of this subject as it was considered, at the time, an outdated subject that had outlived its utility and relevance. More recent discussions with colleagues, however, now confirm its educational validity, and the researcher takes a lesson in the importance of clarity of purpose for any curriculum redesign. As a result of this study, it is recommended that (Company X Job Skills Unit) provides a study guide linked to the textbook (Boyd & Taffs, 2004); that students attend classroom sessions supported by learner-centered activities, practical classes and portfolio assessments. The researcher was encouraged by the practical implications of the brain-based theory adopted Bernice McCarthy's 4MAT System. 4MAT is a constructivist model of pedagogy which believes that effective instruction must go through four essential phases of learning: learner motivation, conceptual mastery, application of ideas, and creative synthesis.
1.1 Background and Context
Company X job skills unit's mandate is to develop job skills courses for the apprentice program for non-employees (APNE). The department`s work is performed by a team of 24 people from different backgrounds, primarily ranging from engineering, technical editing, military training, computer science, and health and safety. Very few come from an educational background. Curriculum developed by the job skills unit provides training, which leads to qualification for apprentices non-employees (APNEs) in the craft, operations, or technical job families.
The curriculum is normally instructor-led and paper-based. Any curriculum project, whether new or revised, are carried out via the ISD process and follows curriculum writers templates to help training analysts develop instructional documentation.
Company X job skills unit faces many issues with regards to developing training materiel for APNEs. First, the foundation for designing content is based around a dated adult learning model that no longer suits the current generation of learners. Second, the content is written using a specific set of editorial styles to fit a document design format geared towards helping learners read and memorize the content, rather than facilitating knowledge acquisition and transfer. Finally, training analysts are more concerned with the organization and lay-out of their training documentation than the learners' need.
Most staff is 50 and above, may feel they lack the knowledge to undertake this task, and may genuinely think this is just a bad idea.
1.2 Scope and Objectives
In this research, I seek to establish the methods to transform Saudi Aramco's job skills curricula from a teacher-centered model to a brained-based learner-centered model via Action-learning. JSDG need to look at a more efficient cost effective manner to deliver training for the ITC. The motives driving to restructure JSCDG's curriculum model are as follows:
The new Saudi generation is significantly different than the previous one. Company X seeks to provide students with a learning experience that is more efficient at transferring knowledge/skills/attitudes, more interactive and interesting, and of shorter duration.
The objective of this research outcome, in the long term, would be to improve students test scores, increase students' engagement and retention, and increase qualification success. For this study, the problem researched is centered on developing a learner-centered brain-based course design model with potential transferability across other programs of instruction in technical education for Company X.
The following research questions will guide this study:
What are the issues with JSC&TU's current instructional development model with regards to Saudi Aramco's apprentices program for new employees?
How might a learner-centered instructional development model help resolve the issues from our current instructional model?
What are the issues related to the implementation of a learner-centered model?
How might Action-learning support a sustainable change in Company X curriculum design unit's instructional design model?
Literature Review & Analysis
2.1 Why a Brain-Based Learner-Centered Model?
Traditional instruction focuses on rote memorization and recall with a delivery system which is teacher-directed. Traditional assessment has focussed on multiple-choice and true or false tests which are designed to measure whether the students can answer the information contained in the textbook or delivered by the teacher. This traditional model is being challenged for not maximizing the learning potential for all students, especially where higher levels of thinking skills are involved, such as in trouble-shooting Brooks (Brooks, 1993).
Many researches (Brooks, 1993; Caine, 1997) have been conducted on maximizing student's learning from which new instructional systems design model have emerged. But no definitive answers have originated from them. As Warrington (2007) summarises, the traditional or "factory model" of training was developed as a result of the industrial revolution, emphasizing which addressed obedience, orderliness, respect for authority and a standardized curriculum. This paradigm of instructional design created a "one-size-fits-all" model of education.
In the 21st Century, leaders and educators alike are calling for changes to meet the demanding needs of a technologically changing, competitive, and more global society (UNESCO, 2000). One area receiving heightened attention is the research in brain-based learning and its application to curriculum design and development. The neuroscience, biology, and pedagogic research are enlightening us on how the brain works, and its implication for the classroom (Abbott, 1997).
Researchers in brain-based learning (Caine, Caine, McClintic, and Klimek (2005), Erlauer (2003), Jensen (2005), Slavkin (2004), Wagmeister and Shifrin (2000), Wolfe (2001)) believe that traditional instruction may hinder the brain from learning. In light of this new information, administrators, curriculum developers, teachers, and other practitioners in education, have become interested in brain-based learning because their work requires an understanding on how the brain receives, processes, and produces information (Bucko, 1997). It is believed that brain-based learning has already had a dramatic impact for the teaching and learning process (Sylwester, 1994).
2.2 How Brain-Based Learning Impacts Education.
Specifically based on conclusions from research in neuroscience, professors from major universities have incorporated this information into books about learning. In accordance with the suggestions of Marian Diamond, U. C., Berkeley; Howard Gardner, Harvard University; Renate and Geoffrey Caine; Thomas Armstrong; Candace Pert, Eric Jensen, classroom practices can be modified by applying new theories of teaching and learning based on recent findings.
Advocates of brain-based learning insist that there is a difference between "brain-compatible" education, and "brain-incompatible" practices and methods which can actually prevent learning.
Hart in Human Brain and Human Learning (1983) claims that teaching without an awareness of how the brain learns is like designing a glove with no sense of what a hand looks like-its shape, how it moves.
Hart says that if classrooms are to be places of learning, then "the organ of learning," the brain, must be understood and accommodated.
Although all learning can be, in the broadest sense, considered brain-based, Caine and Caine (1991: 31-32) define brain-based learning as learning which acknowledges the brain's rules for meaningful learning, and organizes teaching with these rules in mind. Caine and Caine describe the core principles directing brain-based education:
The brain is a parallel processor. It can perform several activities at once.
The brain perceives wholes and parts simultaneously.
Information is stored in multiple areas of the brain, and can be retrieved through multiple memory and neural pathways.Â
Learning engages the whole body. All learning is mind-body: movement, foods, attention cycles, and chemicals modulate learning.Â
The human quest for meaning is innate.
The search for meaning comes through patterning.
Emotions are critical to patterning and drive our attention, meaning and memory.
Meaning is more important than just information.
Learning involves focused attention and peripheral perception.
We have two types of memory: spatial and rote.
We understand best when facts are embedded in natural spatial memory.
The brain is social. It develops better in concert with other brains.
Complex learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by stress.
Every brain in uniquely organized.
Learning is developmental.Â
The implication of these principles for training analysts and trainers has a direct impact on decisions relating to curricula, instructional methodology, instructional material, and assessment.
2.3 How Brain-Based Learning Helps Shape Knowledge Acquisition.
The brain's learning capacity is endless. Caine and Cain (1991, 1997) report that each healthy brain is equipped with a set of incredible features:
An enormous capacity for memory
The ability to self-correct and learn from experience
An inexhaustible capacity to create
Theory on brain research has led to a comprehensive, instructional approach to maximize student learning, and to meet student's individual learning needs. The research on brain hemisphericity acknowledges the fact that there are differences in learning styles and that our definition of intelligence may be too limited. Keefe (1987: 16) defines learning styles as, "characteristic cognitive, affective, and physiological that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment". We could argue that this addresses the "how" of learning. How do we process and experience knowledge? How do we organize and retain information? Do we approach learning sequentially or randomly?
The affective components of learning include personality traits related to areas of responsibility, motivation, persistence, and peer interaction (Dunn and Dunn, 1978). In other words, do we prefer to work alone or in groups? Are we cooperative or competitive?
Traditional instruction has always emphasized abstract receiving and reflective processing, where learner-centered instruction allows for all receiving and processing styles. In learning centered instruction, curriculum emphasizes the skills of intuition, feeling, sensing, imagination and syntheses, as well as the traditional styles of analysis, reason, and sequential problem solving. Instruction should be designed to connect with all learning styles by using alternating combinations of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation (UCF Faculty Centre for Teaching and Learning).
The various theories on learning available from Jung, Myers-Briggs, Mok, Keirsey and Bates, Hanson, Silver and Strong styles share the belief that people learn differently. Learning depends on the capacities, intelligence, gender, sex, culture, personality traits, and motivation amongst others of individuals.
One widely used model used is Bernice McCarthy's 4MAT System. McCarthy (1997: 46) states that, "The 4MAT system knows the distinctive style that each learner brings to the classroom, while helping each student grow by mastering the entire cycle of learning styles".
4MAT (McCarthy, 1981) is a constructivist model of pedagogy which believes that effective instruction must go through four essential phases of learning: learner motivation, conceptual mastery, application of ideas, and creative synthesis.
The 4MAT system is a model for instructional design, based on the research of learning styles and brain hemisphericity. The 4MAT System is based on left and right brain hemisphere, and emphasizes staff development. Dr. McCarthy tells us, that if all teachers taught in each of the four learning styles 25% of the time, all students in any class on any subject would be reached (The Dunn & Dunn learning style model, 2001). Instead of focusing on the student's learning style, she focused on staff development training all teachers to include all four learning styles in presenting each learning task.
The work of John Dewy, Anthony Gregorc, Karl Jung, David Kolb, David Merrill, and Helizabeth Wetzig influenced McCarthy (1980). David Kolb's experiential learning theory is the basis of the 4MAT system. Kolb`s research highlighted how experiential learning relates to cognitive development.
This theory espouses the belief that learning is a continuous process by which individuals refine and integrate a distinct set of independent systems that give meaning to life's experiences (McCarthy, 1997). Kolb's model identifies a process through which four modes of human experience are engaged at different levels to create a complete level of understanding. The interaction between and among the modes of concrete experience (CE), reflective observation (RO), abstract conceptualization (AC), and active experimentation (AE) is required for learning (McCarthy, 1980).
Honey and Mumford (Sadler-Smith, 1996: 29-37) translated Kolb's work into a classification system of learning styles based on the interaction between the modes: activists, reflectors, theorists, and pragmatists.
Activists like practical work such as labs, field work, observation exercises and using visual source material for information.
Reflectors like to learn by watching others, by taking time to consider observations of their own experience.
Theorists like lectures, reading papers on topics, considering analogies.
Pragmatists like simulations, case studies, homework.
Thus the four types might approach learning in different ways. For example, students must learn to weld a pipe using an electric-arc welding machine. Activists might just start using it and feel their way into it. Reflectors might have a go at using it and then take time to think about what they have just done. Theorists might begin by reading the manual. Pragmatists might start the task, but make frequent references to the student manual.
The four types of learning in Kolb's theory can be seen as cyclical stages through which a learner can progress watch, think, feel, and do, as well as categorising specific kinds of learning experience.
The 4MAT system (McCarthy, 1987) expanded on Kolb's theory by combining research on brain hemisphericity. According to Bernice McCarthy, developer of the 4MAT system, there are four major learning styles, each of which ask different questions and display different strengths during the learning process. According to McCarthy, "4MAT benefits teachers by giving them a framework to design learning activities" (McCarthy, 1990). This is also the case for instructional designers who design programs of instructions, as well as classroom and workshop exercises. Figure 1 shows the 4MAT system.
Figure 2.1- The 4MAT System
In the 4Mat System (McCarthy, 1990), educators sequentially design lessons focusing on four issues:
Personal Connections: How can I help students make connections between the content and their immediate lives?
Concept Development: How can students integrate this information and see how it fits within the overall course?
Practical Applications: What can students do in the learning environment using the information to see it at work?
Creative Integration: How can students apply this information in original and more complex ways?
The research on learning styles support that individuals learn in different ways, differences in learning style are related to personnel motivation and performance, learning is a continuous process of differentiating and integrating experiences, and learners expand and refine differing modes by experiencing them (McCarthy, 1997).
The review of literature presents noticeable implications for instructional design and methodology. The traditional mindset of the "factory model" of education and training, which dominated educational practices for a century, has been redefined (Darling-Hammond, 2003, p. ix). Teaching which emphasizes on rote memorization and the learning of unrelated, isolated facts does not facilitate the transfer of learning or utilize the brain efficiently. Leslie Hart (1983 p.xiv) states, "As the consequences of long evolution, the brain has modes of operation that are natural, effortless, effective in utilizing the tremendous power of the amazing instrument. Coerced to operate in other ways, it functions as a rule reluctantly, slowly, and with abundant error".
The brain continually seeks meaning and thrives in an environment rich with complex and meaningful challenges. For instructional material to be effective, the information should be presented in a way for the brain to extract pattern, rather than impose it (Caine and Caine, 1991). Instructional designers must redefine the way they write training material by developing meaningful, connecting, and linking knowledge. They need to develop a rich selection of methods and approaches which continually augment the learning experience. Several approaches compatible with brain-based learning are currently used to teach. Thematic units of instruction, cooperative learning, integrating the curriculum through interdisciplinary teaching, and whole language instruction are a few of these teaching methods.
Curriculum designers need to write instructional material that engages student's interest through relevant life experiences in an atmosphere of curiosity and self-discovery. The curriculum must be built around the unique talents, strength, weakness, and learning styles of the student in the classroom. Activities which are meaningful to students must be organized (McCarthy, 1997).
The goal of brain-based learning is to provide maximum benefit to all students without using a "one-size-fits-all" formula. The more we approach meaningful, challenging, and relevant learning in the classroom, the more responsive learning will be to our apprentice population which must be prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
2.4 3. What are the issues related to the implementation of a learner-centered model?
Rather than being seen as exceptions to the rule that schools cannot change, the development of a small number of innovative practices and schools may instead reflect the rule that schools can only change through the monumental effort, unusual resourcefulness, and strong leadership of key individuals or groups (Hatch, 2000: 581). Several factors that can restrict curriculum innovation have been identified in the literature. These relate to both the agent of change (instructional designers) and the context in which the innovation is taking place.
They include issues of time, expectations, unavailability of required instructional materials, lack of clarity about the reform, instructional designers' lack of skills and knowledge, and the initial mismatch between the "residual ideologies" and the principles underlying the curriculum innovation.
Other obstacles relate to organizational arrangements such as role overload, rigid scheduling of time, reporting systems, and failure of administration to recognize and understand its role in change (Nolder, 1990; Gross et al. as quoted in Snyder et al., 1992). Research into curriculum dissemination and implementation, and factors determining their success, found a focus with the work of Fullan and Pomfret (1977), who studied 16 case studies of attempted innovation in American schools and found that all of them had resulted in some degree of failure. For nearly two decades, researchers examined the phenomenon of educational change, discussed its characteristics and determinants, listed the skills of the 'change agent' and suggested ways in which the process might be improved (Fullan, 1993).
All of this research has a common theme, and that is that curriculum change is a complex and difficult process and requires careful planning, adequate time, funding, support and opportunities for teacher involvement. Much of the literature recognizes the difficulty of determining a single model to suit all.
Smooth and successful curriculum change is enormously difficult and time consuming and cannot be accomplished without potential implementers becoming personally involved and accepting the change on their own terms and according to their own constructs of reality.
United Kingdom researchers (Kelly, 1982; MacDonald & Rudduck, 1971; MacDonald & Walker 1976; Rudduck, 1991; Stenhouse, 1975) long have stressed the importance of a strong participation role in curriculum change and the need for involvement of key personnel in the development and decision making process. However, ownership is fragile, very difficult to define or measure, and has many levels.
The human face of collaborative teams working creatively on defining and filling their own needs can be capricious and tense with conflict and emotion.
On the other hand, collaborative development often needs to be steered and coached, and sometimes top-down decisions need to be made on theoretical issues which are outside training analysts' knowledge and experience. Also, training analysts might need to be coached to cooperate in change.
2.5 What is Action-learning?
Action-learning (AL) is defined as a method that enables small groups to work regularly and collectively on complicated problems, take action, and learns as individuals and as a team while doing so (McGill and Beaty, 2002: 12). The most common applications of Action-learning are in professional and managerial learning and development (Revans, 1998). Revan states that AL is widely used to manage a work-based project or program in which set members are involved and for which they have a level of responsibility and are therefore able to realistically influence their actions. It is also used to find and implement solutions to an issue that concerns how set members operate in their work context, and one that they wish to improve and that could benefit from the support and challenge of the other members.
Action-learning usually involves:
Participants tackle real problems (no "right" answer) in real time
Participants meet in small stable learning groups (called "Sets")
Each Set holds intermittent meetings over a fixed program cycle
Problems are relevant to a participant's own workplace realities
A supportive collaborative learning process is followed in a Set
Process is based on reflection, questioning, conjecture and refutation
Participants take action between Set meetings to resolve their problem
By these means, Action-learning seeks to throw a net around slippery experiences, and capture them as learning. The individual makes sense of an experience by conceptualizing it and generalizing the replicable points; and he plans for future actions based on the learning gathered.
The set provides the forge in which an individual's actions are shaped through their own personal reflection and the questioning insight of fellow set members. According to Revans, a key point is that actions and outcomes still remain the responsibility of the individual participant. Action-learning provides a practice field for learning to occur, whilst recognizing that real responsibility lies outside any classroom environment: it lies with the participants who must own the business outcomes. Further, in using the organization itself as a learning laboratory, it does not require any special set of conditions to be in place before it can be effective. Action-learning works well in a bureaucracy, in a flat organization, in firms culturally hostile to education and development, in firms encouraging self-actualization (Smith & Peters, 1997).
It does so because its whole ethos is learning about the surrounding context, and learning to be effective within it, thus leveraging the prevailing culture to its own advantage.
As a result, the development needs of the organization's managers, executives and high-potentials are satisfied through activities which focus on the significant current and future needs of the organization. This leads to the justifiable charge of Action-learning as a narrow (but deep) learning agenda, rather than a broad but superficial one.
This development is addressed as a business service provision; geared to provide precisely what is required, when it is required, where it is required, in the form in which it is required.
2.6 What is the Action-Learning Framework?
The Center for Applied Research (2005) describes the action-learning framework has having four phases. Learning occurs in each one.
1. Frame - Define the specific problem the group is trying to address, explore the assumptions made in defining the problem. Tie formal learning to problem definition.
2. Charge - Set explicit goals (deadlines and performance expectations) for the project team to accomplish, and describe the process and staffing required.
3. Act - Execute project work, following an agreed upon workplan. Connect to executive sponsors and other key stakeholders for guidance and approval.
4. Reflect & Review - Step back from action and reflect on experience, linking team work to personal development.
Consolidate lessons learned and incorporate them into the project as it unfolds. At the end of the project, distribute lessons learned to the larger organization in a meaningful way.
The process is iterative. The lessons learned by the project team should increase understanding of the issues and lead to a re-framing of the problem.
Figure 2.2- the continuous Action-learning process
Having established what Action-learning is, who should be involved, and how it could aid transition, it is important to establish what the barriers to a successful Action-learning process could be.
Clearly Action-learning could be a powerful tool but there will be things that will get in the way of it being successfully implemented into any organisation (Marquardt, 1996: 406). Some of these barriers are real and some are merely perceived. Some are internal and some are external.
2.7 Barriers to Organizational Change
Changing the way we do "business" creates chaos. But within chaos is an array of opportunities. Bush (2006 p.45) suggests that change can be inhibited by existing structures within an organisation; this can be explained further by O'Neill (2006) who implies that permanent teams who may have settled work and social patterns are likely to be highly resistant to change. This concurs with the teachings of Barbour (2005 p.45) who found that "members are truly interdependent on each other and are close socially". O'Neill went further to suggest that collaborative management models such as Action-learning may only experience the essential early success where individuals can elect to work on the basis of existing friendship groups or where they feel that they personally will gain more by collaborating than by acting in isolation (2006 p.85).
Goals and Objectives
Undefined goals and objectives can be a barrier to Action-learning. Fabian and Simpson (2002) suggest that staffs are likely to have uncertainties and insecurities at times of change. Therefore, clear goals and objectives must be an integral part of the Action-learning process.
Organizational culture is "the pattern of shared basic assumptions - invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration - that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems" (Schein 1985).
Leadership commitment is identified in the literature as an important and major factor to successfully implement Action-learning. In successful implementation in any organization, leadership and culture play a major role. Some of the characteristics of leaders have been identified as their being visionary and transformational; they promote and approve of team work, learning, involvement, and collaboration. The leadership style of managers can drive an organization to success by helping them attain their goals and objectives (Rad, 2006).
Low tolerance of change
Resistance is an inevitable response to any major change. Individuals naturally rush to defend the status quo if they feel their security or statuses are threatened. Folger & Skarlicki (1999) claim that "organizational change can generate skepticism and resistance in employees, making it sometimes difficult or impossible to implement organizational improvements". Undoubtedly, resistance to change is a key topic in change management and should be seriously considered to help the organization to achieve transformation.
In summary, apprentice trainees need an instructional model that will challenge the learning potential and better prepare them to join the workforce. The traditional model does not prepare trainees adequately, especially where higher levels of thinking skills are involved. Traditional teaching and learning models, which convey a formal, abstract process, are often far removed from the specificities of real world practice. The current model was established in the early 1970 and was not revised since then. The traditional model is no longer appropriate to provide trainees with the skills, knowledge and attitude required to meet a fast changing and rapidly growing company.
From this situation emerged a need to revise the current education model with one that can focus in developing future employees that are capable of thinking and solving problems. Curriculum change is a complex and difficult process and requires careful planning, adequate time, funding, support and opportunities for designers and trainers involvement. To achieve this ambitious goal, action-learning appears to be the "tool" of choice. Action-learning provides a tried and true method to assist individuals and organisations to adapt to a rapidly changing world and to handle difficult situations changing a curriculum more effectively. This approach is considered to be one of the most important concepts to have emerged in management and organizational development.
This action-research is based on the following research questions:
What are the issues with JSC&TU's current instructional development model with regards to Saudi Aramco's apprentices program for new employees?
How might a learner-centered instructional development model help resolve the issues from our current instructional model?
What are the issues related to the implementation of a learner-centered model?
How might Action Learning support a sustainable change in Company X curriculum design unit's instructional design model?
This study adopted action-research as a methodology to creating change in Company X training and development. In this study, action-research and action-learning are synonymous. The main difference lies in that action-research is the reporting of the findings where action-learning is the process used for the action-learning project. This approach is supported by Hase in "Developing Learner Capability through Action-Research: From Pedagogy to Heutagogy in the Workplace" (2006). Using action-learning created a paradigm shift in Company X job skills unit. Employees who became members of the AL team were no longer isolated in their practice. In other words, the AL team became a community of practice where members connected through shared problems, explored new possibilities to solve them, learned from each other and acted to deliver results to the organization.
3.1 What is research?
First it must be established exactly what educational research is. Research is the orderly investigation of a subject matter for the purpose of adding to knowledge. Research can mean're- search' implying that the subject matter is already known but, for one reason or another, needs to be studied again. Alternatively, the expression can be used without a hyphen and in this case it typically means investigating a new problem or phenomenon (Borg and Gall, 1989). Within the realm of educational planning, many things are always changing: the structure of the education system, curriculum and textbook s, modes of teaching , methods of teacher training, the amount and type of provisions to schools such as science laboratories, textbooks, furniture, classroom supplies, and so on. These changes may lead to an improvement, or a worsening, in the quality of an educational system.
In comparison, Pearson (1995:15) tells us that researchÂ is the systematic process of collecting and analyzing information to increase our understanding of the phenomenon under study. It is the function of the researcher to contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon and to communicate that understanding to others. There are many types of research methods available to a researcher. Research methods are used to determine, discover, interpret, and devise facts. The word research and its derivative means, "to investigate thoroughly".Â Research methodsÂ are used to come up with "new knowledge". Through investigation and discovery processes, research methods help to advance many different scientific fields. In summary, research is a powerful activity and is conducted for specific reason: to answer a particular question or to solve a specific issue (Depoy and Guitlin, 1998).
3.2 Qualitative or Quantitative Data?
This research used quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis. Kerlinger argues that "There's no such thing as qualitative data. Everything is either 1 or 0" (Miles and Huberman, 1994: 40). D. T. Campbell asserts that "all research ultimately has a qualitative grounding" (Miles and Huberman, 1994: 40). Many other researchers agree that these two research methods need each other more often than not. However, because typically qualitative data involves words and quantitative data involves numbers, there are some researchers who feel that one is better (or more scientific) than the other. Another major difference between the two is that qualitative research is inductive and quantitative research is deductive. In qualitative research, a hypothesis is not needed to begin research. However, all quantitative research requires a hypothesis before research can begin.
Defining the role of the researcher is another key difference between the two. In quantitative research, the researcher is ideally an objective observer that neither participates in nor influences what is being studied. In qualitative research, however, the researcher learns about a situation by participating or being immersed in it. These basic underlying assumptions of both methodologies guide and sequence the types of data collection methods employed.
Although there are clear differences between qualitative and quantitative approaches, some researchers maintain that the choice between using qualitative or quantitative approaches actually has less to do with methodologies than it does with positioning oneself within a particular discipline or research tradition.
The choice of which approach to use may reflect the interests of those conducting or benefitting from the research and the purposes for which the findings will be applied. Decisions about which kind of research method to use may also be based on the researcher's own experience and preference, the population being researched, the proposed audience for findings, time, money, and other resources available (Hathaway, 1995).
Some researchers believe that qualitative and quantitative methodologies cannot be combined because the assumptions underlying each tradition are so vastly different. Other researchers think they can be used in combination only by alternating between methods: qualitative research is appropriate to answer certain kinds of questions in certain conditions and quantitative is right for others. Others think that both qualitative and quantitative methods can be used simultaneously to answer a research question.
To a certain extent, researchers on all sides of the debate are correct: each approach has its shortcomings. Quantitative research often prompts responses or people into categories they might not belong in, in order to make meaning. Qualitative research, on the other hand, focuses too closely on individual results and fails to make connections to larger situations or possible causes of the results. Rather than discounting either approach for its downsides, we should find the most effective ways to incorporate elements of both to ensure that their studies are as accurate and thorough as possible.
It is important for researchers to realize that qualitative and quantitative methods can be used in conjunction with each other.
For the purpose of this research, qualitative data were collected in parallel to quantitative data and consisted of the following:
Trainers and trainees questionnaires
In-depth interviews with trainers, and
Document Analysis (especially evaluation reports and gap analysis reports)
Action-research is known by many other names, including participatory research, collaborative inquiry, Action-learning, and contextual action-research, but all are variations on a theme. Put simply, action-research is "learning by doing" - a group of people identify a problem, do something to resolve it, see how successful their efforts were, and if not satisfied, try again. While this is the essence of the approach, there are other key attributes of action-research that differentiate it from common problem-solving activities that we all engage in every day.
Gilmore, Krantz and Ramirez (1986: 161) define action-research as: "Action-research...aims to contribute both to the practical concerns of people in an immediate problematic situation and to further the goals of social science simultaneously. Thus, there is a dual commitment in action-research to study a system and concurrently to collaborate with members of the system in changing it in what is together regarded as a desirable direction. Accomplishing this twin goal requires the active collaboration of researcher and client, and thus it stresses the importance of co-learning as a primary aspect of the research process."
Several attributes separate action-research from other types of research. Primary is its focus on turning the people involved into researchers, too - people learn best, and more willingly apply what they have learned, when they do it themselves. It also has a social dimension - the research takes place in real-world situations and aims to solve real problems. Finally, the initiating researcher, unlike in other disciplines, makes no attempt to remain detached, but openly acknowledges their bias to the other participants.
Figure 3.1- Action-research System Model
This study intends to use the Action-learning methodology. By its nature, Action-learning is a way of accelerating people's learning and building capability for handling challenging situations to bring about change. If a change is desired, and the means by which the change should take place is unknown, then Action-learning is a good way to proceed. This approach has been used in many organizations from different industry sectors as well as in educational environments where it is extremely effective. In response to our dynamic world of work, current organization often demands continuous employee learning and development.
In many situations, a fundamental assumption is that organizational survival is dependent on learning, keeping pace with, or advancing beyond the rate of change exhibited in the external environment (Boshyk, 2002). In the case of Company X curriculum unit, change in the way curriculum is designed is needed to support trainers in delivering knowledge, skills and attitude using a learner-centered approach. The traditional teaching model no longer suits the needs of young Saudis. The company needs a workforce whose knowledge and skills are built around critical thinking rather than memorization.
Action-learning is a problem-solving tool. It is built around a problem (in this case, a project). Giving the opportunity to those that perform the job of designing curriculum to identify solutions and to implement them can significantly increase success and create sustainable change. Research demonstrates that learning without application is ineffective. An action without learning fails to develop your organization (Dixon, 2004: 18-23).
It marries analysis and action, reflection and doing, organizational development and bottom-line performance. By uniting these efforts, you drive to results in new ways and build capability.
In "Action Learning - Improving Organizational Performance through Team Learning", the Center for Applied Research (2005) listed key principles of successful Action-learning:
Executive Sponsorship is Crucial - In order to have an effective learning process, an executive sponsor must ensure that proper resources are given to the project and oversee the process and results. In this case, the research was converted to a department initiative, resources and budget was allocated, and the initiative was tracked by upper-management.
Connect Action-learning to Real Business Issues - The thrust of the project-the problem to be solved-must be relevant to the strategy or current needs of the organization. Otherwise, the results of the project might not be seen as significant by the larger organization, and the project feels like an "exercise." Since the goal of this research was aligned with a real business-need, recognized by both the business-lines and the training department, the outcome of it was of enough significance for the company to allocate resources, time and money to it.
Learning is Continuous - Learning happens throughout the process, not just at the end.
The Future is Already Here - The Action-learning team need not start from scratch. The solution to any problem probably already exists somewhere in the organization. Action-learning uncovers and amplifies those solutions.
The Potential Solution Should Have Impact - A challenge posed by Action-learning is the perception that it produces extra work. If the process is linked to a long-standing or critical problem, however, the process will be thought of as productive rather than just extra work.
Get the Learning Noticed - Exporting outcomes from the project into the wider organization is critical. A process is needed to capture and distribute learning throughout the organization. To support this research, a number of action-learning meetings have been conducted within Company X curriculum unit, sister units from the same division as well as the Training & Development department. A fascinating outcome of this is that, although these meetings were meant to support this specific action-learning research, a number of growing initiatives to tackle similar issues are now being researched and implemented at all levels.
This process is unlikely to be without its problems. Primarily, most people are unfamiliar with the basic procedures and capabilities of Action-learning. Secondly, Saudi Aramco managers are not used to nor inclined to trust and delegate their control. Finally, managers may not be willing to provide the time that Action-learning groups require to solve this problem.
An important step in Action-learning is to clearly define the root problems to solve. Action-learning advocates questioning and reflection to prompt a deeper level of analysis, to test assumptions, and to explore possibilities. Within a group, work-based problems are discussed and reframed in a learning context. Therefore, the researcher has gathered some key finding from Company X accrediting body the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET) which conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the curriculum design, delivery, and management of Company X's apprenticeship program for new employees (APNE). The objective of the evaluation, as specified by Company X administrators, was to determine to what degree the APNE program is meeting its goals and to recommend changes or improvements that might be warranted. The data from this audit were gathered in October and November 2008 by the certifying body during sites visits. In 2011, another evaluation, which was aimed at a specific phase within the APNE program, was conducted by the Centre of Applied Linguistic (CAL), a non-profit organisation. Both organisations, ACCET and CAL came up with very similar findings.
Since these visits, the situation has not improved.
The following findings were highlighted in the ACCET report and were used to define the issues with our program of instruction and to form the basis for moving the curriculum from teacher-centered to learner-centered.
Table 3.1- Certifying Body's Findings
Program materials, including syllabi, lesson plans, instructional guides, and texts demonstrate the appropriate scope, sequence, and depth of each program or course in relation to the stated goals and objectives. Instructional materials, including supplementary textbooks, software, learning activities, visual aids, electronic links, and other teaching tools support the goals and objectives. All materials are up-to-date, readily available, and facilitate positive learning outcomes
The syllabi and objectives in the various curriculum manuals are produced with limited input from teachers or students. From the pre-determined curricula, the teachers write their own lesson plans and submit them to the local administration usually one week or more in advance of class teaching. Teacher-generated lesson plans varied widely in terms of quality, completeness, and effective integration of LCA.
Instructional methods encourage active and motivated responses from participants. Written policies and procedures are in place to ensure that the curricula are followed and that there is consistency of application by all instructional staff. The instructional methodology is consistent with current training industry standards and appropriate to the educational goals and curricular objectives, facilitates learning, and serves the individual learning needs and objectives of participants. Instructional methods provide encouragement, motivation, and learning opportunities for all participants, taking into account different backgrounds, learning abilities and styles, and prior levels of achievement.
Many classes observed by the team were given in lecture format, though there was always an exchange requiring student responses. These student responses were often incorrect guesses which continued until a correct response was given. Very few times was there any effective dialogue, with questions to the student answering incorrectly as to his logic in giving the response he did. Rather, the student or students would simply cycle through the available answers until a correct answer was provided, and the instructor would move on without discussion. Thus, while students were responding and at least physically involved, it is unclear that there was much intellectual give and take.
The institution utilizes appropriate and effective instructional methods and other resources to ensure sound instructional delivery.
The institution is in the process of restructuring its curricula, and part of this is to introduce what was termed "learner centered" instruction. The learner-centered model is supposed to be part of the restructured Machinist Core program, which was just being implemented at the time of the on-site visits. However, the team interviewed Supervisors in the eastern training centres relative to this, and none could articulate with any clarity what is meant by learner-centered approach, nor point to a specific memo, or other official definition of the new approach.
Instructional personnel possess the appropriate combination of educational credential(s), specialized training and/or certification, work experience, and demonstrated teaching and classroom management skills, which qualifies them for their training assignments. Instructional personnel meet all relevant accreditation, federal, state, local, and/or industry-specific requirements.
Several Lead Trainers and Supervisors indicated that all trainers had a high school equivalent. Several trainers had only primary or intermediate education, though they did possess ITD Training at Phase I and II, which is considered the equivalent of high school by Aramco policy.
The institution utilizes appropriate methods of evaluation to ensure that outcomes are consistent with the mission and goals. The institution maintains all required documentation.
Out of Policies are applied with great frequency, with little or no rationale for doing so. The Unit Test Failure policy is already quite lenient and gives students ample opportunity to redress his areas of weakness. For example: per trainee # 744206's training history, he failed the U00134 test four times but still managed to graduate. Item 6 notes an approved OOP for a second retake, noting that this is the trainee's first OOP. More interesting, it notes that the trainee had missed 44 days in a one-year program, which the institution considered "unusual" and noted that there should be "corrective action". No note of any corrective action was in the OOP documentation, although it is noted that, in conjunction with OOP's, the institution has at its discretion the requirement that the trainee take remedial training, usually one to three days.
Written policies and procedures are followed that provide an effective means to regularly assess, document, and validate employer/sponsor satisfaction relative to the quality of the education and training services provided.
Some trainers do not have practical, hands-on knowledge of Aramco processes and sometimes even equipment, and some have never been in refinery. The result of this lack of practical knowledge. Finally, it was noted that, in answer to a question posed by the certifying body's teams, the business line organisations indicated they would prefer fewer apprentices if the apprentices' overall skill level could be raised.
3.4 Sample Group
The action-learning team for this project was 14 members of staff chosen at random from the curriculum unit. One participant was selected from the five group leaders, one from the two available senior designers, seven from the 24 available designers from the curriculum writer group, one from the teaching staff, one from the graphic group, and one from the document design staff. Table 3.2 explains the sample for the qualitative research and will be used to ensure the anonymity of respondents in this report.
Table 3.2-Sample Group
Code of Interviewee
Role in Group
Document Design Staff
Graphic Group Staff
The learning preferences survey was administered to five groups of 12 students from each job of the APNE program, chosen randomly: Metals Mechanics, Welding, Operators, Process Control Technicians, and Maintenance Technicians. The teaching preferences survey was administered to one of the two teachers responsible of teaching the preceding crafts. A semi-structured interview was used with each supervisor responsible of each of the five job ladders to compare with the views collected via surveys and observations from the classroom. This enabled the researcher to reflect similarities or differences between what was compiled from the surveys, observations and interviews of the trainees and the trainers.
In this research, involving a smaller amount of subjects reduces investment in time and money. It is believed that samplingÂ can actually be more accurate than studying an entire population, which in this case is over 2600 trainees, and 650 trainers in five different locations throughout the country, because it affords the researcher a lot more control over the subjects.
Finally, having a smaller data set will allow the researcher to avoid human error when inputting and analyzing the data set. On the other hand, there is room for potential bias in the selection of suitable subjects for the research. This may be because the researcher selects subjects that are more likely to give the desired results, or that the subjects tend to select themselves.
3.5 The Data Collection Tools
Many ways to gather data are required to undertake the research and as Denscombe (2007:3) explained, there is no one right direction to take. Different strategies should be used depending on the issue to be undertaken. Triangulation requires the collection of data from a variety of sources, in a variety of ways, with a variety of perspectives. In this study, interviews, audit reports, questionnaires, and observations were used to collect data in a variety of ways.
3.5.1 The Interview
The interview as a data collection tool was considered as it provides an opportunity to collect better or more data at less cost (Ribbins, 2007). The researcher has decided to use semi-structured interviews as the method for collecting my qualitative data as it fosters a deeper understanding of the views of the interviewees. The semi-structured interview can be described as flexible, allowing new questions to be brought up as a result of what the interviewee says.
In a semi-structured interview, the interviewer has generally a framework of themes to be explored (Lindlof and Taylor, 2002: 195). The interviewing technique is employed in this research because it serves the exploratory nature of the study. It seeks in-depth information about skill formation outcomes. The latter issue and the information to be obtained are very sensitive to interviewees in this study.
Therefore, interviewing is the most appropriate approach. This can be achieved through a small sample of representatives from selected sectors rather than focusing on a large scale population. Interviewing also enables the interviewer to supplement information obtained from responses, with those gained from observation of nonverbal reactions" (Kumar, 1999:115). Furthermore, this qualitative research falls within the context of discovering possible barriers and challenges for organizational change by implementing a new instructional approach. Therefore, it is essential to prevent any possibility of misunderstanding of research questions that will be asked as the interviewer can either repeat or ex