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Category: Research
Teaching and Learning Forum 2006 [ Refereed papers ]
Delivering on outcomes based education in a graduate school of business through the use of strategic learning drivers

Richard K. Ladyshewsky
Graduate School of Business
Curtin University of Technology

The cost of investing in education and training is increasing for individuals and businesses. These parties want assurances that these investments will result in the expected outcomes espoused by the academic program. This research paper investigated the use of three strategic learning drivers to promote transfer of training into the workplace. A qualitative methodology was applied. Students enrolled in a management unit engaged in a six week peer coaching program that involved goal setting and reflective journaling. At the end of this experience students were required to write a report describing their learning experiences and goal achievements. This report was graded and applied to their final grade. Following this assessment they were invited to submit their reports for this research. Forty-six per cent of students enrolled in the unit submitted their reports. These reports were then analysed using qualitative methods. Transfer of training of key communication and self talk skills were evident in the students' reports. The peer coaching process was a valuable adjunct in achieving these espoused learning outcomes. The use of three strategic learning drivers appeared to support transfer of training to the workplace and provided evidence of success of achieving stated unit specific learning outcomes. Factors which supported and detracted from the outcomes are also described.


Introduction

Investment in higher education for individuals and businesses is becoming a costly initiative in today's environment. Individuals and business want to know that the investment they make in learning will lead to desired outcomes. Unfortunately, the research on transfer of training is not good. Cromwell and Kolb (2004), report that only ten to fifteen percent of employee training results in long term transfer to the workplace.

In spite of this poor outcome on transfer of training, leadership and management development is still a common initiative undertaken by companies and individuals. In Western Australia, for example, the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) reports that 42 per cent of respondents spent one to five days on training with a further 28 per cent spending more than ten days on training annually (Australia 2004b). Coaching is an important component of leadership development to support transfer of training (Leonard and Swap 2004). An AIM survey found that coaching was employed in only 38 per cent of respondents. A further 34 per cent reported very little, if any, coaching as part of their leadership training (Australia 2004a).

The results of these surveys illustrate that investment in education and training are substantial, however, strategies to support learning could be improved. Strategic learning drivers such as coaching do not appear to be used consistently, thus lessening the potential for transfer of training into the workplace.

Literature review

Transfer of training is defined as the degree to which trainees effectively apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes gained in a training context to the job (Newstrom 1986). For training to be considered successful the learning must be generalised to the job context and maintained over a period of time (Broad and Newstrom 1992). Baldwin and Ford (1988) provide a comprehensive description of three factors which influence transfer of training: trainee characteristics; training design; and work-environment factors. Trainee characteristics are the abilities, skills, motivation and personality factors of the trainee. Training design factors include the didactic versus experiential focus of the program. Work environment factors include supervisory and peer support as well as constraints and opportunities to perform learned behaviour on job.

While academic programs can influence trainee characteristics somewhat by being selective about who they admit to their courses, the area where there is the most potential for influence is in training design. By shifting away from the traditional didactic approach to one that employs strategic learning drivers it becomes possible to extend learning into the workplace. These strategic learning drivers are: goal setting (Locke 1996), reflective journaling (Kerka 1996), and peer coaching (Ladyshewsky 2001; Ladyshewsky and Varey 2005; Ladyshewsky and Ryan 2006). Collectively they are embedded into an experiential learning framework (Kolb 1984) driven by assessment.

Goal setting is key to driving learning outcomes in a desired direction and there has been extensive research illustrating this principle (Locke 1996). Locke states that when challenging and specific goals are put into operation, the motivation to achieve increases. The challenging nature of the goal inspires people to work towards them. The specificity of the goal moderates performance because it focuses energy towards achieving the outcome in a prescribed manner. The incorporation of peer coaching (PC) may further escalate goal achievement. This occurs through the feedback process in which the learner gains information from their coach about their progress towards the goal (Locke 1996).

Reflective learning journals encourage learners to engage with their learning by examining their experiences in applying the learned material (Kerka 1996). Questions, insights, dilemmas and progress towards goals are all noted in the journal. This information can be reviewed later to increase depth of understanding, to map progress, and to share with their peer coach to gain further insights.

Engaging the students in this strategic learning process is driven by having the learning embedded within the context of an experiential learning cycle, which is driven initially by assessment. Learners also need support on how to set goals, maintain a reflective journal and engage in peer coaching. The learning strategy is embedded within a four stage experiential learning cycle (Kolb 1984). The first stage involves having a concrete experience, which is followed by the second reflective stage. In this second stage, attending to feelings and current practice is examined. The third stage involves drawing conclusions from the experience and reflections. The fourth stage involves applying the new learning and insights to a repeat experience where the new skills and understandings can be applied.

The journaling encourages participants to reflect on their experiences in learning (Kerka 1996). Further, peer coaches can ask learners to divulge some of their thoughts, questions and actions that they have recorded in their journal for discussion. This increases the depth of the reflection stage and supports the conclusions that emerge from the coaching.

The experiential learning cycle is predominately a single loop learning experience but when integrated with PC, double loop learning experiences are more possible (Argyris 1991). Double loop learning takes place when coaching facilitates the reshaping and restructuring of the coachee's underlying beliefs such that they become capable of doing different things.

In several reviews of the literature, it has been reported that when these strategic learning drivers are employed, statistically significant gains in performance are achieved (Ackland 1991; Joyce and Showers 1995; Skinner and Welch 1996). The increases in performance and achievement that stem from PC can be understood by exploring the concept of cognitive development theory (Sullivan 1953; Piaget 1977; Vygotsky 1978; Vygotsky 1986). These theorists argue that peer interaction promotes cognitive development because of the occurrence of critical cognitive conflicts. When a learner is engaged in a task or problem, and through discussions with another peer, becomes aware of a contradiction in his/her knowledge base, the learner experiences a lapse in equilibrium. The learner will initiate strategies to restore equilibrium, for example, by engaging the peer to work together to find a solution that both can accept. This inquiry, which is framed around a task in problem based learning, enables the learners to further construct their understanding of the phenomenon under question. This reconstruction, is characteristic of the constructivist approach reported in the literature (Biehler and Snowman 1997).

For PC to work, the partnership must be based on trust and respect, and participants must receive adequate support on how to build successful coaching relationships (Zeus and Skiffington 2000; Ladyshewsky 2001). Since peers are at an equal level, the coaching discourse is far less threatening (Damon 1984; Damon and Phelps 1989). Learners can be more open and inquisitive with one another and explore more fully areas of critical cognitive conflict.

This strategic learning approach challenges many of our teaching and learning frameworks. Many education programs are not geared up to provide learning in an experiential manner with ongoing coaching. Instead, learning tends to be grounded in rational and objective knowledge practices which cause people to interrogate the learning and data rather than considering the intuitive ways in which we experience our work practices (Segal 2001). Management education programs, in this instance, need to move beyond the traditional education program where content is provided in lecture format as the major strategy for advancing professional development. More learner engagement and critical reflection is needed to assist students in transferring their learning to their work and practice environments (Bubna-Litic and Benn 2003). The building of confidence and transfer of learning to the workplace cannot find expression in short term learning relationships such as lectures, seminars or workshops. Instead, Popper and Lipshitz (1992) argue that ongoing learning relationships, which are inherent in coaching, are much more effective in promoting transfer.

Support for this strategic approach to learning can be found in the literature. Cromwell and Kolb (2004) found that peer support reinforced the trainee's use of the learning on the job. In another study, Holton, Bates, Seyler and Carvalho (1997) report that peer support was one of five factors with the highest correlation with learning transfer (r = 83). Toegel and Conger (2003) in another review of the literature found that those who demonstrated the most enhancement in their professional growth were those who had positive attitudes about the process and engaged a mentor or coach to support them in the development process. Similarly, Olivero (1997) reports on a public sector training program which was followed by coaching. They found that eight weeks of coaching increased productivity by 88 per cent whereas training alone only produced benefits of 22 per cent.

This study examines the use of these strategic learning drivers in a post-graduate management education unit.

Study design

The participants in this study were post-graduate business students enrolled in a unit entitled managerial effectiveness. A total of 76 students were enrolled in this unit. Two of the learning outcomes for this unit related to: the application of management models and principles of managerial effectiveness to the practical business environment; and the ability to critically evaluate and review their own managerial effectiveness skills.

The learning outcomes were aligned to the development of skills in the areas of communication and self talk and were driven by assessment. Following completion of lectures on self talk and managerial communication, all students were required to interrogate the material and set skill development goals for themselves in their working and/or personal environments. Students were required to maintain a reflective journal for six weeks. They were also required to nominate a peer coach from within the class and to meet with this person weekly over the course of 6 weeks to discuss their progress and learning challenges. The PC relationship was reciprocal. This reflection, journaling and coaching structure was adapted from Riley-Doucet and Wilson (1997) who describe a three-step learning structure where learners critically appraise their learning, engage in peer discussion and engage in reflective journal writing.

In addition to the content lectures for the assignments, students in the unit received six hours of instruction on coaching and adult learning principles. Students also received references on coaching in management education and a guidelines manual describing how to go about building their PC relationship. At the end of the PC experience, participants had to submit a report noting key learning points from their studies, how these points could be understood from the perspective of the workplace, what they had observed, and how this material has supported them in building their self talk and/or communication skills. They also had to report on their PC experience. The assignment was worth 15 percent and was a maximum of 1200 words.

It was only after the journals were graded and returned to the students that they were then invited to submit their reports for this evaluation. This was done to avoid students writing for the instructor and biasing their reports. A total of 35 students (46 per cent) agreed to submit their report for inclusion in this study. The study received ethical approval from the University's Human Research and Ethics Committee and students were assured of confidentiality. Names that are reported in this paper are fictional (John and Mary).

Data analysis

Denzin and Lincoln (2000) refer to the concept of a net to describe the principles that contain an investigator's ontological, epistemological, and methodological framework for their research. Ontology, epistemology and methodology choice is aligned to the nature of the research being undertaken and whether a qualitative or quantitative focus is adopted (Guba and Lincoln 1994). Ontology refers to the assumptions one makes about the nature of knowledge and the relationship of the people within. In other words, how the nature of reality is viewed. In this study, a transcendental realist ontology was applied which asserts that social phenomena exist not only in the mind but also in the objective world and that some lawful and reasonably stable relationships are to be found among them (Miles and Huberman 1994). Epistemology refers to the relationship of the researcher to the nature of knowledge and how things will become to be known. In this study an interpretive epistemology was used to make sense of the data and the methodology was qualitative. Data was coded using nVIVO as a tool. The coding process involved drawing meaning from the text in the written reports and then assigning a coding property. Through a process of constant comparison, codes were then aggregated into categories of meaning or themes.

Figure 1 provides a conceptual map for the various categories that emerged as a result of the coding process. Two major categories emerged from the learners' reports and the PC process. One category related to learning. The other category was more process oriented describing things that influenced the learning experience.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Conceptual map

Findings

Learning outcomes

From a learning perspective, the enhancement of critical thinking and the heightening of meta-cognition were echoed in many of the students' PC reports. Pesut and Herman (1992) define meta-cognition as the internal dialogue that one emits before, during and after performing a task. Hence, meta-cognition includes such things as knowing what one knows, knowing when and how one comes to know it, being able to think and plan strategically, the ability to represent knowledge effectively and in ways that permit efficient retrieval, and the ability to monitor and consistently evaluate one's own competence. This notion of meta-cognition was further broken down into five sub-dimensions (Figure 1) describing different components of this thinking process. Alternative perspectives were events that provided learners with a different viewpoint from what they had considered previously, thus adding depth to their understanding of a learning experience.
"My peer coach helped me get clarity on my decisions relating to work place conflict and this can only improve my interpersonal relations with the people I work with. Reflecting on work situations differently and finding alternative solutions to my own behaviour will help me to increase my managerial effectiveness." (Alternative perspective)
The PC process also helped to increase self awareness. The coaching process challenged students to examine what they knew and didn't know, and this reflective process often resulted in a deeper understanding of their own knowledge and skill frameworks.
"The experience of maintaining a journal and having regular PC sessions over the course of this unit of study have allowed me to develop a much deeper understanding of not only the topics covered but of myself as well." (Increasing self awareness)
Sharing perspectives also helped learners to ground what they knew and to develop certainty about their knowledge and practice. By sharing ideas learners could challenge their own thinking and compare it to another person to assist them in gaining a deeper understanding of course material or their experiences in applying the content to their workplace.
"I shared the results of my self-assessment and challenge to seek feedback with my peer coach. It was good to discuss what I had discovered and reflect on why the feedback had gone well." (Sharing perspectives)
The testing out of ideas was another critical thinking outcome. It differs from sharing perspectives which is more about talking aloud and comparing ideas. Testing out of ideas involves the learner having committed themselves to a set of actions and wanting to validate these on another person. Through validation, alterations in the planned action can be made based on the outcomes that result.
"I thought a lot about my choice of words and how, why and when they might not be suitable. I tested these words and phrases with my peer coach. He provided feedback about context and how certain words might be received and why certain words seemed sensational" (Testing out ideas)
The last outcome which served to deepen understanding and expand learning was the gaining of additional knowledge. By having a peer coach to discuss course materials and learning experiences, the possibility of expanding knowledge increased.
"Talking to my peer coach further assisted me in identifying the negative speak and that a lack of communication between the Director and Manager and me had resulted in my emotional responses. We further identified that my typical 'fight or flight' response to a situation such as this was to 'shove it'... What I identified was that the situation represented a loss of control for me, control over my life/issues is very important. More work needed on the emotional intelligence, self-management; self-control: the ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses under control." (Knowledge expansion)
Coaching skill is also a key managerial skill and was one of the communication outcomes students were challenged to develop in this unit. The experience of coaching another student was invaluable as a means of delivering on this outcome.
"Whilst in our PC session, my peer coach and I practised supportive communication and reflective listening and at first I found it quite difficult. It was really hard for me not to interject, not to give my own opinion or solution and it fel quite unnatural to begin with. After a few sessions, we had settled into a more comfortable flow..." (Coach skill development)
As noted earlier, the focus of this strategic learning activity was to have students build skills in the areas of self talk and managerial communication. Through the establishment of personal goals, reflective journaling and PC, opportunities for skill development actually took place and produced the outcomes identified in the unit. Students used the PC experience to build their skills by buying into the experiential learning process. Further examples of learning outcomes are provided in Table 1.
"My peer coach and I ran through a couple of scenarios of how I could respond next time I felt that way, we talked about describing my feelings at these times and focusing on behaviours. I have tried this approach since then and while it was not perfect when reflected upon at our next coaching session I recognised that there was an improvement.." (Skill building)
From an overall learning perspective, numerous participants found value in the PC experience and the benefits it produced in their learning and transfer of skills to the workplace. Several recognised its value as a life long learning strategy for managing their professional development.
"I have subsequently found the PC process and the personal journaling required of this unit to be extremely useful tools that have allowed me to reflect on these experiences and to turn this into a real learning process" (Value of PC)

Table 1: Extracts of learning outcomes as reported by student participants

I used my feeling side more with Mary (that was one of the hardest things I have ever done), and what a difference. She performed very well.PC effectively facilitated the development of a strategy to manage my thought patterns.
In light of my findings on communication I have been working on when and how to use email........one of my reports made the comment that she had a noticed a difference and liked it when a message was addressed to her.This change in thinking brought a wave of relief. I felt calmer and the original anxiety lifted. I did not think about my appointment with my manager until my diary reminder came up an hour prior to the scheduled meeting. When I was reminded of the meeting I found I was actually looking forward to our discussion.
In the last two weeks I have accomplished three important tasks. Two of them have been on my to do list for the last 5 months. Without the change in my self talk I doubt that I would have had them finished.Armed with this new understanding that I can choose my emotional responses, I will endeavour to incorporate this into my working life and to maintain a consistent emotional state......I have introduced a weekly 'reflective' session into my working week....this has proven to be an invaluable exercise for me and has allowed me to commence the week feeling highly motivated, focused and in charge, quite a change from what I felt was actually a very reactionary role.
...this discovery provided me with some solace as I began to re-examine all of my insecurities in light of the associated self-talk and contemplate what reality is and what resulted from my self-talk.Through recent PC discussions I have reflected on my definition of success and matched this with my values and beliefs thus renewing my career goals for the future.
I improved my use of descriptive communication and active and empathic listening through practice.A practice I can take on is to authentically acknowledge them for their contribution to me and to others.

Process outcomes

A variety of processes were identified which influenced the success of the coaching relationship and its concomitant learning outcomes. These included the process of selecting a peer coach and the enablers that facilitated a successful relationship. Disablers were also identified that interfered with the PC relationship.

Students were required to identify their own peer coach from amongst the class. Some students were quite unnerved by this process which raises the question whether pairings should be assigned to reduce this anxiety. Some students had no strategy and just asked the person next to them. Others had a very specific strategic intent behind their peer coach selection. There was no predominate approach that emerged from the students' reports.

"I have to choose a peer coach and this task in itself is daunting as I am usually quite reserved and private. If I don't pick someone I may end up without a peer coach and that in itself would be an embarrassment." (Peer coach selection)

"My peer coach and I had group work before. I established a trust relationship with him personally so that I had no fear to speak about my feeling or to use English..." (Peer coach selection)

"I picked my peer coach because; (a) I trusted her and (b) her work role is one that focuses on sales and marketing, as opposed to my own which is in human services, I thought these two things would allow for honesty and confidentiality but also a different perspective on the workplace and its issues." (Peer coach selection)

Regardless of who was selected as a peer coach, what appeared to support the PC relationship were specific enablers. Enablers were factors or processes that promoted a collaborative partnership and strengthened the learning process. Examples from every participant cannot be itemised here but they ranged from having a structure or formality to the process, ensuring participants read appropriate literature on the PC process, acknowledging each other for their contributions and appropriate use of listening and communication skills.
"Setting up the peer coach relationship appeared relatively straightforward in the literature.....and we spent several sessions setting up our learning objectives, sharing our personality traits and our learning profiles. The relationship took some time to develop, including experimentation on the structure of our sessions together." (Enablers)
Trust was a very important and specific enabler of a successful PC relationship. Many of the students made reference to this attribute in their reports.
"Having a peer coach is a powerful lever to gaining access to other possible truths that can show-up our own faulty thinking. This is only possible where a high level of trust is apparent and approval has been given to both express emotional thoughts and to provide supportive listening and communication." (Trust)
Support was an important process of the PC relationship. Many of the skills students were asked to develop were confronting and challenged old habits. Providing a safe environment to develop these skills is necessary to prevent relapse towards old practices, denial or defensiveness. The coaching process provided this support and boosted the learners' self-efficacy such that they developed the confidence to work on building their skills.
"One of the very first thoughts I had when starting this course was that I felt out of place and that I wasn't an experienced enough manager to benefit from this course. I found on reflection of my self-talk, talking with my peer coach and with journaling these thoughts that I turned it around to the positive in that I could learn so much from this course." (Support)
Not every participant in the unit had a successful coaching and learning relationship. These negative factors or processes were called disablers and detracted from a successful PC relationship. Time and scheduling conflicts were two disablers that emerged commonly. The skill base of the peer coach was also identified as an issue that reduced the efficacy of the experience. Experience differentials were noted as something that detracted from PC and learning.
"The only disappointment with the coaching experience was that my peer coach was not up to speed in reading her coaching notes. I felt that her probing was not deep enough." (Disabler)
From a process perspective, the learning journals and learning objectives were identified as an important and necessary component of the PC experience. They provided structure to the process and allowed learners to map and monitor their progress in the pursuit of their learning goals.
"I was able to test the questions and queries (in my learning journal) with not only my peer coach but other staff members. This discussion stimulated ideas and kept me focused on learning." (Learning journal and objectives)

Discussion and conclusion

As the cost of higher education increases, those who are investing in education will want to know that the outcomes that are being advertised will, in fact, come to fruition. By applying a strategic learning framework to a unit's design, like the model described in this paper, it becomes possible to deliver on skill based outcomes. The teaching of management skills is difficult in a traditional University setting because the classroom is not the same context as the environment in which these skills need to be put in to place. Hence, role plays and classroom based exercises, which engage the students in practicing these skills, may have little impact when it comes to transferring these skills to the workplace.

At the same time, strategies which promote transfer of material into the workplace are needed so that students can see the value of theoretical material and can start making connections of theory to practice. The use of goal setting, reflective learning journals and peer coaching as described in this paper appeared to play an important role in supporting transfer of training. By the end of a six week learning and coaching intervention, participants described learning outcomes that were consistent with those espoused by the unit. Learners also appeared to have gained an understanding of a learning framework that can be used to support life long learning in the workplace beyond their formal education. Those individuals who understood this distinction were very clear in identifying this in their reports and made a commitment to pursue this approach to learning.

The merits of peer assisted learning that have been described in the literature were replicated in this study (Ackland 1991; Joyce and Showers 1995; Ladyshewsky 2001; Ladyshewsky and Varey 2005; Ladyshewsky and Ryan 2006; Skinner and Welch 1996). This was supported by having well prepared students who understood the theory and practice of coaching. Aligning the experience to assessment, using and experiential learning framework also boosted transfer of knowledge to the workplace. The use of reflective tools such as journaling was also critical as was a time frame that supported the building of a trusting relationship. Without these components, it is doubtful that the positive results described in this study would have eventuated.

It is interesting to note that only half of the students were prepared to share their reports and the reasons for this are unknown. Some students may have not wanted to have their thoughts made public even though confidentiality was assured. Students who did not have a successful experience or who did not invest in the learning strategy may also have elected not to participate thus eliminating a valuable data set regarding why these learning systems fail in some student groups. The value of the assignment may also have reduced commitment as it was only a 1200 word journal worth only15 per cent of the entire unit. Lastly six weeks may not be long enough for the students to build trust and progress into skills practice and extending it to eight or ten weeks within a twelve week study period may be indicated.

This teaching strategy was also applied to mature age students in a post-graduate management program. Most of these students were already working, and had an environment in which to practice learning, thus increasing the possibility for transfer of training motivation. Whether the same outcomes would result from this teaching strategy in younger undergraduates with lesser amounts of life and work experience needs to be investigated further, although there is some research to suggest that peer coaching may also be of value to undergraduate students in the classroom and clinical setting {Fantuzzo, 1989 #99; Iwasiw, 1993 #35; Ladyshewsky, 2004 #219; Ladyshewsky, 2002 #220; Riggio, 1994 #58}.

The use of the experiential learning model was an easy and powerful model for the students to understand and grasp. The linking of experience, reflection and conclusion making, with the support of a peer coach made sense to the students and their journaling reflected this. They were able to see how these first three parts of the cycle, and the support of the peer coach, supported application and the building of their skills.

What is perhaps exciting about this teaching intervention is that it makes use of a powerful resource, the students. It is not any more costly to introduce into a unit, can be used in small or large class sizes, and does not add workload to the instructor, other than redesigning the unit and assessment initially.

Delivering on learning outcomes has become a greater focus in higher education. This paper has attempted to illustrate how a set of strategic learning drivers can influence learning and skills development in a situated learning context.

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Author: Dr Richard K. Ladyshewsky, Senior Lecturer, Graduate School of Business, Curtin University of Technology, 78 Murray Street, Perth WA 6000. Email: Rick.Ladyshewsky@cbs.curtin.edu.au

Richard's background is in the health sciences sector. Richard's expertise focuses on peer coaching, professional development, and reasoning. He teaches in the area of leadership and management. He has received several awards for his teaching and innovation including Curtin Business School Teacher of the Year. Richard has published extensively on peer coaching, professional development and organisational learning. He teaches and consults broadly to health care organisations, universities and professional associations around the world.

Please cite as: Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2006). Delivering on outcomes based education in a graduate school of business through the use of strategic learning drivers. In Experience of Learning. Proceedings of the 15th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 1-2 February 2006. Perth: The University of Western Australia. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2006/refereed/ladyshewsky.html

Copyright 2006 R. K. Ladyshewsky. The author assigns to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.


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Created 5 Jan 2006. Last revision: 5 Jan 2006.