This lecture covers the basics of psychological theories of organisation and learning. It also discusses how these theories can be applied in the training of computer users and how to help them develop their skills and expertise.
Work has changed from consisting of routine tasks to involving a great deal of planning, design and development. This change of the nature of work has taken place in most sectors of working life, in particular in the manufacturing industry. Healthcare and education are exceptions though. In these two sectors, the tasks have not changed much over the years.
There are several factors underlying the changes in working life; for instance, changes in the world economy, and the rapid technological development. New technology allows routine tasks, i.e. predictable tasks, to be automated. The remaining tasks, to be performed by human beings, are more complex, more innovative and less predictable. Naturally, this is not true for all types of work and all workplaces, but it is definitely a trend. The new technology and new work require more coordination and collaboration between all actors involved in finding solutions that support efficient, productive and healthy work. The technological development is very rapid, offering opportunities that we cannot refuse. At the same time, new technology in the workplace often requires major reorganisation and that the users make tremendous efforts to learn how to use it and adjust their work practices to it. The users also have to continuously develop their skills and expertise to fit the new work practices and new technology. It is no longer possible to learn how to perform your tasks once and for all.
The organisation is an instrument independent of the characteristics and skills of the individual members; no need for informal processes.
...not responsive to external changes and to the internal dynamics.
Example: Scientific management.
How should work be organised so that the goals of the organisation can be achieved, in the new situation with new technology and new work practices? Traditional organisation theory provides support for reorganising work and managing the changes. These theories are based on a rational view of organisations. They emphasise the importance of having clear, well-defined organisational goals and a strong formal structure for achieving the goals. The traditional theories prescribe the formalisation, regulation and standardisation of all activities, to make them fully predictable. Each activity must be related to the organisational goals and to some efficiency goal. There are many advantages with the rational approach to organisations. For instance, having explicit goals makes it easier to change the organisation to achieve efficiency, in that the organisation can be viewed as an instrument. Moreover, the organisation is independent of the characteristics and skills of its individual members. There are no needs for informal structures and adjustments to individual needs and particularities in the situation. Everything should be fully predictable and prescribed by means of roles in the organisation. The rational view requires stable, non-changing organisations. These theories cannot accommodate major and rapid changes within or outside the organisation.
Describes flexibility and the adjustment of the organisation. Emphasises the importance of real work practices and processes.
...it is difficult to relate processes to the organisational goals and efficiency goals.
Example: Sociotechnical systems approach.
The rational organisation theories have been criticized in theories suggesting that the informal goals may be the most important ones in an organisation. The formal goal of an organisation may be to manufacture a certain number of products with a certain level of quality, whereas the informal goal may be that the workers want to keep their jobs. Such informal aspects may carry more weight within the organisation than the formal aspects.
These theories also emphasise the importance of socio-emotional factors within the organisation and try to describe the informal structures. They focus on the impact of irrational factors, external relations and changes within the organisation. The advantages include great flexibility and ability to adjust to changes. Moreover, the real work practices and processes have precedence over rational planning and formal goals. The drawbacks include difficulties to relate the processes in the organisation to its business goals and efficiency goals. Such problems take on even greater significance in modern organisations. Earlier, the formal goals against which you could measure the efficiency of an organisation were implicit in the analysis of the organisation and in any planned measures to change the organisation. In modern organisations, where rapid changes take place continuously regarding external factors as well as the computer tools, it becomes very difficult to analyse the impact of the informal processes on effectiveness, because we cannot relate them easily to the formal goals of the organisation.
Takes flexibility into account, but always related to the business goals of the organisation. Facilitates efficiency evaluations of the relations between organisation, work, technology and learning.
Example: Activity theory.
Current organisation theory combines formal and informal factors, since they complement one another. This is nothing new. Earlier on, different levels of the organisation were often described by means of different models. The technical level was described with models from the traditional theories whereas staff-related matters were described with models based on informal processes. Today, we know that there are informal processes that are not socio-emotional to their character, cannot be described as irrational, and are not independent of the formal goals. On the contrary, several studies show that informal structures that help in achieving the formal business goals often emerge spontaneously. The purpose of these informal structures is to coordinate the participants in order to meet the work demands, make up for the weaknesses in the formal structures, redistribute the knowledge and expertise within the group and make optimal use of technology.
Current theory and models combine the advantages of both the traditional theories and sociotechnical (open system) theories. They take flexibility into account, but always relate it to the business goals of the organisation. They also make it possible to evaluate the efficiency of each combination of work, human beings, technology and organisation.
We need stable circumstances to be able to plan and predict our work. Stability is also important when we design training programmes for users. Continuous changes in the organisation and in the work tools, on the other hand, make it difficult to plan work in detail and more or less impossible to design complete training programmes. We do not know what kind of problems we may face in the future. When we know the problems and their solutions, we can provide proper training to the users. But there will always be problems that we cannot predict and thus cannot identify any solutions for in advance. In order to handle such, unpredictable, problems we need informal processes. Informal knowledge building and transfer can be supported and encouraged. For instance, by
The informal processes must be continuously monitored and formalised when they have become established in the organisation. The formalisation of informal processes must leave room for new informal processes to emerge. There will always be a need for such processes, due to the continuous and rapid changes.
Another important matter is ethical usability, i.e. the impact of new technology on society at large, on the environment and on the people who will use it or come into contact with it in some way. Precautions must be taken so that the new system does not conflict with that kind of aspects. It is important that we develop and use tools with which we can measure the impact of a new system. The users and the systems developers should receive training in how to use such tools so that they can conduct systematic analysis of the future situation with regards to the interests and values of the different groups of stakeholders. It is important that no groups or sectors of society are affected by the new system in negative ways. Ethical usability requires processes and structures in the organisation to make sure that such issues are taken into account in the systems development process.
The above provides a brief introduction to organisation psychology and learning. In order to complete the picture you should read the literature and visit the links listed below.