Symbiotic Learning Systems: Reorganizing and Integrating Learning Efforts and Responsibilities Between Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) 1st part
Olav Eikeland, Vice-Dean R&D / Prodekan FoU, Professor of Education and Work Research. Project leader: Program for Lifelong Learning, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Education & International Studies
Abstract This article presents the idea of “symbiotic learning systems” as a possible strategy for dealing with institutional knowledge and learning challenges posed by an emerging transition from “socially monopolized” to “socially distributed” knowledge generation and distribution. As knowledge production and learning become increasingly relocated from segregated and specialized institutions for research and education and socially distributed to and within “ordinary” work life, corresponding changes are required in the basic institutionalized relationships between research, higher education, and practical knowledge application. The concept of “symbiotic learning” addresses these problems by deconstructing age-old divisions between vocational and liberal education. In order to build foundations for a changed and improved relationship between advanced organizations in work life and institutions of higher education and research (HEIs), the general preconditions for learning in the work places themselves need to be addressed. In modeling general preconditions for learning, and even in transcending the division of labor between manual and intellectual work, inspiration is found in the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, and in their search for intellectual “commons” (tà koiná) as constituting public spheres and community among individuals.
Keywords Symbiotic learning system . Organizational learning . Action research Public spheres. Counter public spheres. Commons
The following text presents the idea of “symbiotic learning systems.” This idea has grown through several attempts to deal with institutional knowledge and learning challenges posed over the last half-century at least, on a societal level, by an emerging transition from “socially monopolized” to “socially distributed” knowledge generation and distribution (Gibbons et al. 1994; Nowotny et al. 2001; Eikeland 1999a, b). The emerging “new knowledge management regime” or “new mode of knowledge production” is characterized by increased global competition and technological change, increasingly knowledge based and competence intensive work life, new ICT and social media, highly educated workers at all levels, highly educated, informed, and critical users/customers/consumers, and increasing requirements in both private and public enterprises for continuous learning, research, improvement, development, and innovation. Both private and public organizations, at all levels, become increasingly populated by highly educated individuals. Simultaneously, advanced work life is often more “up-to-date” than educational institutions concerning technological and organizational solutions. It has been evident for some time that these new constellations challenge inherited hierarchical models of organization (like scientific management and bureaucracy), which are mostly based on a division of labor between thinking and planning in the higher organizational echelons, and mere execution of systemically predefined tasks by more or less unskilled labor on “the floor” of organizations. By challenging conventional conceptions of who learns what, how, when, and where, they also challenge traditional educational institutions. Simultaneously, from a different angle, challenges requiring similar solutions concerning validity and the relationship between theory and practice or theory and experience come from an epistemological and methodological perspective.1 In industry and business, the possibilities are explored of refining and upgrading practically and experientially acquired knowledge, tacit knowledge etc. as the basis for insight and understanding and for practical measures and innovations (cf. Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995), raising questions about who should (most appropriately) research what, where, how, when, and why. The new regime is gradually (and still, in spite of financial and debt crises) changing the institutional relations between research, education, and work life (Winter and Maisch 1996; Slaughter and Leslie 1997; Teare et al. 1998; Symes and McIntyre 2000; Levin and Greenwood 2000, 2001; Jarvis 2001; Slaughter and Rhoades 2004; Barnett 2006; McNay 2006; Levin and Greenwood 2008; Greenwood 2012).2 The challenges posed by these developments are comprehensive and fundamental. They concern much more than the conventional and simple tug of war between “scientific rigour” and “practical relevance” among different but apparently unchanged social interests, organizations, and institutions. The increasing dispersion of competence, knowledge production, and learning through society and work life requires the transformation of research, higher education, and practical knowledge application, making all three continuously less “ordinary.” The institutional and individual division of labor between intellectual and manual work is at stake. Before proceeding, I will briefly explain the term “symbiotic,” introduced in working papers (Eikeland 2005, 2006) in order to describe the proposed model of collaboration between learning organizations in work life and HEIs providing 1 Cf. Eikeland 1985, 1995, 1997, 2008a, 2009. The reflexive methodology of Alvesson and Sköldberg (2000) incorporates most of the recent discussions in the philosophy of social research. Still, they seem to remain within the confines and divisions of labor of interpretive or qualitative social research, and do not see the radical institutional implications. 2 Symbiotic learning systems may be seen as a version of what Levin (2004) calls “cross-boundary learning systems,” but where the boundaries themselves move and change education for professions. The term symbiosis is Greek. It may generate associations to biology and psychology. But here, the word bíos or bíôsis is used in a “prebiological” and “pre-psychological” sense. “Bíos,” (and even more so, “bíôsis”) in Greek, originally did not primarily designate abstract “natural life” as such, common to all living things, as in the modern discipline of biology. Rather, it meant “lifestyle” or “way of living” as in “bíos theoretikós” and “bíos praktikós” in Aristotle.3 A biological symbiosis is by definition mutually beneficial, which, transferred to this case, would mean, on the one hand, that symbiotic learning does not threaten academic freedom or academic standards, on the other hand that it will contribute to the improvement of individual and collective practice in organizations. Hence, symbiosis is used to mean some form of entangled or interwoven relationship and new modus vivendi from which all partners involved—those active in learning, research, and performance—will benefit. Hence, I conclude that “symbiotic learning” is an appropriate term for what is arguably needed between work life and institutions providing education for the professions (i.e., the field of vocational education and training expanded to include research based professions and semi-professions more generally).4 The basic aim of what follows is to suggest some general preconditions for individual and organizational learning in both academic and less academic work places, and to describe how this learning, in turn, is required for an improved collaborative and institutional integration of work, learning and knowledge generation, education, and innovation, making these relations more “symbiotic.” 5 Theoretically, the general learning preconditions sought for have been developed from explicitly philosophical sources in Plato and Aristotle and “the philosophical” bíôsis extracted from their texts.6 When work place learning as systematic organizational and individual self-evaluation is achieved, it can be used both for educational purposes and for solving immediate problems and challenges and improving individual and collective practice. It can articulate tacit knowledge and competence and disclose different perspectives and common realities, and finally, it can define emergent and long-term learning challenges and research questions without being limited to a search for what is instrumentally useful merely for immediate application or acute problem solving. Instead of reducing work-based or practice-based learning to problem or project based learning , symbiotic learning reinstates apprenticeship learning in a modernized version as its core. In practical terms, a central challenge is how to optimize and accredit the use of a presumed systematized method of learning and research in the work places as a basis 3 Ancient philosophy in itself was a way of life; a bíôsis, as emphasized especially by Hadot (1995). See Eikeland 1997, 2008a. 4 The point is not, of course, that “everything” should “always” be learned while working on the shop floor of some work life enterprise. The point is even less that everyone should only learn as much as is needed for shop floor practice or only as much as needed for solving some particular niche problem or challenge. University education cannot be reduced to conventional . The general point is rather that conceptual understanding is and must be developed as experience formation, in close conjunction between relevant practice and reflection. The general educational and learning model may be seen as a form of modernized apprenticeship learning model. 5 Cf. the call from CEDEFOP (2011) for an integration of training/education, work based learning/learning organizations, and innovation. 6 For detailed references to the texts of Plato and Artistotle cf. Eikeland (1997), (2008a). for providing formal professional education by the institutions of higher education, and for the benefit of both work places and academic learning. In order for learning in the work place to serve this function (and not remain subordinate to external research as it mostly is, for example, in the “evidence based” movement), it cannot remain unrecorded, and merely informal and serendipitous. It has to become more systematic and testable. The focus in what follows is on explaining the logic and organization of this type of learning.
To be continued.