Learning and 'Unlearning' in a Turbulent Educational Environment: Insights from a Collaborative Team-Based Management Development Project
Tertiary education in New Zealand is undergoing its greatest upheaval in 100 years as the result of two major changes. Firstly, from reform of the entire system driven by central government. Secondly, from externally-driven change resulting from the rapid influx of international students, primarily from North East Asia, seeking tertiary education in New Zealand. The paper discusses some student-manager and teacher experiences resulting from the latter, that is, externally-driven change The paper draws on interviews and observations from collective-learning projects carried out with two cohorts of MBA students, one made up of indigenous ‘Kiwi’ students and the other international students.
The paper flows from experiences of working with two cohorts of MBA students. The first cohort was made up almost entirely of indigenous ‘Kiwi’ student-managers. The second cohort was made up of 80% international student-managers. As part of the assessment for both courses, students were responsible for conducting research on the effect of changes to New Zealand’s employment law on human resource management practices in local organizations. The projects were team-based, steered by a leader who, in both cohorts, was a ‘Kiwi’ student-manager. The reason for this was purely practical; local knowledge and access to local organizations. Both cohorts were provided with the same research brief, the same electronic platform for intra-and inter-group discussion and the same guidelines that emphasized process and reflective learning as a major goal of the exercise.
Faced with the same task, each cohort responded very differently, leading to markedly different team dynamics and learning outcomes. Among both cohorts and the groups within them, the ‘leaders’ role was severally tested but for very different reasons. Among the international cohort, cultural differences in students’ understanding of the meaning, nature and role of ‘leadership’ led to strain between the ‘leader’ and group members. Both cohorts also experienced major problems with ‘unlearning’ previously acquired models of learning. Based on their education and life experiences, the international cohort had difficulty coping with an ambiguous, relatively unstructured, participative task, undertaken in an ‘alien’ cultural environment, ‘led’ by a ‘Kiwi’ member of their class. The result was a crisis of expectations as varied models of learning, cultures and societal experiences clashed. In the ‘Kiwi’ cohort, similar tensions arose as again group ‘leaders’ and members faced the need to ‘unlearn’ previously acquired highly structured models of learning and shift their thinking to a collaborative, ‘reflective’ model of learning.
For learners in both cohorts, and the teacher, the experience was challenging and often uncomfortable.
The paper discusses the barriers to developing effective collaborative learning in education organizations whose internal and external cultures are experiencing major change, requiring them to adapt quickly to new challenges.
Glyndwr Jones (New Zealand)
Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management
Department of Leadership and Strategic Management Waikato School of Management
University of Waikato
Glyndwr Jones has teaching experience in high schools, polytechnic and universities in Britain, Canada and New Zealand. Area of expertise; human resource management and management development.
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)