Throughout my entire university career, this semester has made the most profound impact on my ability to engage with the content and truly re-evaluate the education paradigm. Across several weeks of my reflective journals, this has been the underlying theme that was prevalent in my writings. When reflecting back holistically on what I have learnt from this course, it could not be attributed to any single theory or application; but a fundamental change in my thought patterns and a change in my personal perception, interpretation and reaction to the environment (Zhu, 2014c). The course objectives for this paper can be summarized into: “To foster self-development through: (a) the integration of theory and application, (b) experience in running a firm whilst being part of a management team and (c) critical evaluation” (Smith, 2014a). This was something I paid particular attention towards as I was incredibly sceptical at how the formatting of this paper could achieve them. This reflects the traditional educational institution I have been part of for the last four years and at any indication of abnormality, I become cautious. I have always believed a learning institution should be comprised of a master spreading their wisdom to the disciples and in a course without such a traditional master; I was sceptical of how learning could be achieved.
My scepticism was further reinforced by our first set of instructions detailing us the specific models of personal reflection we must adhere to in our weekly reflections (Smith, 2014b; Zhu, 2014a). I found this approach to be incredibly specific provided the ambiguous nature for the rest of the course. I make this argument on the basis that learning as a process is incredibly varied depending on the requirement and information that is learnt. To simply narrow down true “reflective writing” into 4 steps as illustrated by Daudelin (1996) or Klob (1976) tends to create arbitrary criteria to which we must allocate subjective interpretations (Zhu, 2014a). This will create a myriad of problems in the interest of free thinking because I believed it restricted my independent thoughts to a very rigid flow of formatting. For example, while reviewing the works of Margretta’s (2002) article on business models, I feel as though I was able to achieve higher level thinking without actually engaging in any one of the learning cycles (Zhu, 2014b). While the argument can be made that this was merely my interpretation of the problem recognition step, I believe the whole concept of labelling it under a particular framework to be arbitrary as it does not add anything of value to the discussion.
As I interpreted, Bloom’s taxonomy (2008) has provided a much more flexible model in the actual depth of understanding and therefore learning in general. At the lower levels, only basic understandings and applications can be made as the individual is applying knowledge towards something out of passive association; as one advances further up on the taxonomy, the active, internalization of thinking will enable the individual to truly utilize the knowledge they have used as an extension of themselves (Nentl & Zietlow, 2008). This is fundamentally different than the learning cycles as I believe this provided me with the freedom to expand my thoughts to beyond a systematic application of theory and truly allowed me to engage with the content of the paper. With this in mind, the scepticism was maintained for the reflections as the semester progressed. But, as it progressed, I became increasing disillusioned with the purpose behind the assessments as the readings and our endeavours in mikes start to drift further apart. In week 6, I decided to specifically address my concerns with the course (Zhu, 2014f). I specifically listed the problems I had with the prescribed learning process and sought to find some form of resolution in my own reflective processes. However, I soon realized that I have underestimated the purpose of this course and Peter had corrected me in my assumptions directly (Smith, 2014c). Peter recognized my criticism of the learning models and acknowledged their limitations for someone more advanced in reflective writing (Smith, 2014c). While it may be beneficial for those who are not as proficient, the purpose behind Daudelin or Klob wasn’t there to restrict one’s thinking, but rather provide the necessary groundwork to facilitate such learning. Although I have not specifically engaged in the steps, I will still reflecting.
At this stage, the purpose of the course became clear to me. The whole purpose behind the paper’s unique structure is not created on an arbitrary whim, but rather it is there to reflect the objectives of this course (Smith, 2014a). For instance, I initially viewed the reading reflections as a random assigned task to be completed rather than tools of self-improvement. This thought process is indicative of the traditional education paradigm where learning outcomes are designed to be standardized for the sole purpose of assessment (Barr & Tagg, 1995). This has created an institution focused on arbitrary academic performance without actually teaching the valuable skills and knowledge that is required for the work force. This opinion is also voiced by Ross McDonald, the lecture for MGMT. 309 who also provides a learning experience very similar to the one offered in MGMT. 300. The process of learning has been traditionally a very passive experience for the students, while this is useful for very basic levels of technical skills; it loses its efficacy at an exponential rate as information becomes more and more complex (Fink, 2013). This is especially true for the development of the conceptual skill where people cannot simply be taught how to “be good” at the holistic paradigm, but rather it is an active learning experience for the individual to participate in (Christensen, 2010; Leonard, Barton, & Barton, 2013). The traditional learning format also prioritizes grades above learning, resulting in the seemingly endless grind of rote learning for a particular paper, yet as soon as the core assessments are over, the student will instantly unload all the things they have ‘learnt’ (Barr & Tagg, 1995; Kohn, 2000).
So this raises the question of how does this course truly differ from the rest? Simply put, the course objectives are structured to essentially facilitate self-directed learning under the principle that things learnt isn’t just another piece of trivia for us to retain; instead, genuine learning comes in the form of changes in ones behaviour due to intake of new information (Daudelin, 1996; Smith, 2014a). Under personal construct theory, we as human beings are scientists seeking to constantly test and retest the consistency of the world against our schemas (Kelly, 2003). A schema is defined as a set of procedure/value/beliefs that comprises an individual ability to operate in the world. They can be deeply rooted beliefs such as religious doctrine, or they can be fringe schemas that hold no special importance (Kelly, 2003). This is of significant importance under the context of MGMT 300 in two very different but equally compelling ways. The first is ode to the fact this course have challenged and altered my fundamental beliefs of what a learning institution should strive towards. This was initially met with resistance as this new disruptive paradigm essentially undermined what I believed was fact and activated my defence mechanisms in response. The second is the fact that through this disruption, I have changed my entire outlook on how I think, understand and behave. Upon this realization, I found this to be incredibly clever as the concept have come full circle and that in the attempt to learn, I have quite literally changed how I learn (Zhu, 2014c).
In addition, the course objectives actively sought to encourage self-learning as there is an underlying emphasis in the value of knowledge. While many other courses have “critical thinking” as a core objective, very few were capable of conceptualizing the importance of such a skill to everyday life. As I have mentioned previously, under the traditional systems, there is a large dissonance between theory and real life. This is no exception to the skills taught within the classes. While I feel like I had a firm grasp on critical thinking prior to this course, I never once felt the desire to actively seek out scenarios and circumstances to challenge anything outside what was required or convenient (Zhu, 2014g). Critical thinking was viewed as more of a requirement rather than an end goal. With Bloom’s Taxonomy and the learning cycles being utilized on a weekly biases, I have come to understand how critical thinking is an integral part of the learning process not only for the external environment but also internally as well (Argyris, 2002; Zhu, 2014c). Rather than accepting everything that is presented to us, it is important to carefully evaluate the situation and actively seek to address potential problems before reaching a conclusion.
To elaborate on this further, I must include the experiences I have learnt as a team while experimenting with the mikes bikes simulation. First of all, critical thinking is closely tied with the concept of criticism both of the self and of one’s environment (Zhu, 2014g). Criticism is essential for the continuous improvement of ideas and concepts in a never ending demand to strive for the next level (Daudelin, 1996). As Argyris (2002) have mentioned, high performance members of an organisation seemingly fail at recognizing potentials areas of improvements on the personal level. They tend to focus their concentration in an external fashion in order to protect the self and attribute failures to things out of their control. While this concept is important for workplace problem recognition, it often results in the inaction of the individual even in instances where they could improve; a complete absence of self-improvement. As it was stated earlier, learning is all about creating a connection between one’s experiences and actions. If one is incapable of incorporating their experiences into their actions, then for all intents and purposes, they haven’t really learnt anything. This problem occurred frequently at the beginning of our simulation. I would often attribute poor performance with external factors of competitors. While it is important to understand the environment one operates in, there is also a vast area of untapped potential within my own actions (Zhu, 2014g). This is reflected by our constant overspending and inability to control our costs. I had to question my actions as to why I had made them. By looking at the analytics and our ‘strategy’ it soon dawned to me that a significant part was due to the absence of reflective criticism.
Because of this, it resulted in a lot of poor decisions being made on factors that were essentially irrelevant. In hindsight, it would appear that we focused too much on the strategic aspect of the simulation whereas Peter has stated himself repeatedly over the course: “It’s not about having the best strategy, but having an okay strategy with flawless execution.” This approach was echoed by Mankins and Steele (2006)as there is a dissonance between strategy planning and actual decision making. Poor performance is not the problem; it is mere a symptom of something fundamentally wrong with our decisions. While I focused on the unit based level, I have failed to examine the situation on a conceptual level in a critical manner. Because of this, decisions were made not on the things we have genuine experienced, but rather on short term reactions based on strategies I have not fully understood (Zhu, 2014d). I once was rather irritated that the theories I “applied” to the simulation did not result in any significant improvement. But now I realize the problem isn’t in the theory itself, but my poor execution. I now recognize one of the biggest problems we faced was attributed to this leap in judgement. The learning process did occur albeit on a very basic level, it did not pass through the whole process. This means while we were able to develop strategies and plans from the theory, there was an absence of synthesis and evaluation. When I recognized this problem in the later weeks, it would appear this realization was made almost entirely on hindsight and what I have learnt now, would’ve greatly benefitted me from the beginning (Zhu, 2014e).
While most of learning is an independent process of self-analysis, a predominant objective of this paper also focuses on team learning and dynamics (Smith, 2014a). The overall goal of group based learning functions beyond more than just practice for professional environments; its design is to foster the collaboration of individuals to share ideas so everyone will benefit from a collective human resource (Katzenbach & Smith, 1992; Leonard et al., 2013). Traditional teaching environments does not provide such an opportunity resulting top students typically keeping the best ideas for themselves resulting in very little interaction between those who are more capable with those less so. However, I have found that group learning is very different from independent learning based on the fact that there is now sextuple the amount of human error in the equation. Segal’s law comes to mind – “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never quite sure.” In terms of learning, this can be considered a blessing or a curse, as it opens one’s ideas up to other’s criticism which might reveal something new that is entirely novel to the individual, at the same time when ideas collide, this could result in an endless debate where neither party leaves fully satisfied (Katzenbach & Smith, 1992). Despite this, I still find group learning as incredibly powerful, because while the teams are still competing, we were given many opportunities in terms of feedback and reports to learn from one another. Because of the overall goal, team collaboration resulted in the synthesis of new ideas through a constant desire to discover where we went wrong and how I can improve to make better decisions. In a way, this is a much more extensive utilization of the learning process as there are now multiple minds working through synergy to achieve an actionable decision. As someone who used to hate team work, I can now see the real benefits it can bring to those who utilize them effectively.
By the end of this course, most of the preliminary scepticism have either been addressed directly or addressed internally. In all honesty’s truth, during the beginning, I disliked the course with a passion partly due to my ignorance and unwillingness to accept new concepts. However, as I have learnt, the entire course was dedicated to address those two factors. I have learnt to take action in my own leaning through a process of reflection. While the traditional passive format has worked well for me in the past, I now see the fundamental dissonance between knowing something and actually doing something with the things you have learnt. Because I was forced to play an active role, I took action into my own learning and genuinely made an attempt to make decisions through the integration of experience and theory. This change in thinking has been echoed in my other papers as now I realize that learning ‘knowledge’ without developing something that actually changes my actions or thinking is; for all intents purposes, meaningless. As Mark Twain said: “The man who does not to read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” With all of this in mind, I can legitimately say without exaggeration that this course, along with MGMT 309 has provided me with more practical development than any other paper. I feel incredibly relieved that I had the opportunity to finally learn how to learn.
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