Instructional Design & Technology as a Dynamic Capability

OL and IDTI find it almost impossible to discuss Instructional Design & Technology (IDT) without having conversations about organizational learning and dynamic capabilities. Having the ability to reconfigure competencies when the environment changes is a major concern of business leaders in maintaining competitive advantage.

IDT should be part of the firm’s portfolio of dynamic capabilities since it is about designing instructional methods to help people acquire competencies but the difference is developing new competencies versus reconfiguring competencies. The challenge is that instructional designers typically work within design processes for the former that may inhibit their own abilities to do so in the latter. We need to be flexible and adaptable to different organizational learning situations. This is especially true when a firm needs to reconfigure its competencies because of disruptive innovations and technology.

Market Leaders often find themselves in situations where their resources, processes, values, business models, and supply chains that made the firm so successful in the past are now traps preventing them from shifting the firm to what is clearly a new technology or innovation entrance into the market. We call this disruptive when it threatens the status quo and challenges management to literally turn the organization without losing the business. It is important for IDT professionals to understand the challenges of disruptive innovations in order to define how the profession can help a firm with as a dynamic capability.

This 2-part presentation is a case study on Kodak who filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after over a 100 years of being the market leader.

You can also look at the problem from the opposite side: The Innovator’s Dilemma where Clay Christensen describes disruptive innovation theory.

In Kodak’s case their sustainable competitive advantage was impacted by the influence of digital photography (which they actually invented). Kodak is an important lesson because digitization is a disruptive innovation that will potentially influence all market segments. This next video produced by McKinsey Global Institute drives home in my mind how digitization will create disruptive innovations that affect all of us in IDT regardless of what market segments we  work in.  Why every leader should care about digitization and disruptive innovation .

The cases above are about innovations in technology. As instructional designers our perspective might be that this is the realm of specialists like engineers where our role engages once the technology has matured and people need skills to use the technology. But technology is more than the products we use and it may help to understand how it relates to dynamic capabilities and competencies.

In Project-Driven Technology Strategy: Knowledge – Technology, McGrath’s states that technology is competence. He cites Betz who defines technology as the knowledge of the manipulation of nature for human purposes. We often think of technology as the gadgets and devices we use daily, but it is actually the knowledge that made such devices possible. According to McGrath, if we accept this then we can see that knowledge is the basis of skill and skill is a competency; therefore, technology is competence.

He goes on to say that specific knowledge which gives the firm a competitive advantage is a core competency. These along with resources form what we know as capabilities. We can see from the history of Kodak that capabilities, including the business model, can only sustain a competitive advantage if they are adaptable; what we call dynamic capabilities (DC).

IDT needs to be a dynamic capability that helps in re-configuring competencies. From an organizational learning perspective this means that IDT professionals need different approaches to building competencies depending on the organizational situation.

In A Framework for Integrating Organizational Learning, Knowledge, Capabilities, and Absorptive Capacity (from the Handbook of Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management, 2e), Vera, Crossan, and Apaydin propose a framework that brings these fields together to influence dynamic capabilities (DC).

Figure 8-3 Integrated Framework

In this framework they see organizational learning interventions in three situations. Single-loop which means that lack of a capability or competence can be solved with training since the underlying workflow and business processes have not changed; this is essentially the existing operational capabilities of the firm. Double-loop are instances where training alone cannot solve the problem because changes are needed in the underlying business processes; the capability needs to be modified. Think of upgrades to operational capabilities. Deutero-learning is “learning-to-learn”; new capabilities must be developed from the organization’s experiences, acquisition of new capabilities, or from changing conditions like disruptive innovations.

From my experience, management makes the connection between IDT and single-loop learning; and sometimes double-loop learning. Their focus tends to be on training employees on well established procedures or new procedures that have already been vetted. Indeed, this is an important mission for IDT. The question is whether there is a role for IDT at the deutero-learning level where things are less defined, evolving, and messy. In some cases the training may coincide with creating new capabilities.

Avila University recently completed a graduate certificate program at Cerner Corporation. During the last course, the company went through significant organizational changes that directly impacted participants. The learning organization was undergoing decentralization so a new major challenge was how to create a learning community to sustain best practices and improve the ability of the community to influence organizational learning. We decided that the course needed to turn with the organization; that is to adapt to the current changing environmental situation.

We had a rough idea of what we needed to accomplish in the course in terms of learning outcomes but not much more. Our approach was to let the class lead their own exploration of the challenges, to find answers and propose new organizational learning frameworks. We used a constructivist approach that was focused on solving real-world problems while learning new concepts and processes that could be applied to the situation. It was a great experience for us and one that leads me to believe that we need more study in our field on how to design instructional methods that work well at the deutero-learning level. If we could do this then the value of IDT as a dynamic capability would increase.


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