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Taming the Lone Ranger: The Creative Development of Elearning Technologies within UK and US Higher Education Institutions
Andrew Whitworth, University of Manchester
Angela Benson, University of Alabama
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This paper discusses how the creative use of elearning technology is both fostered and retarded by universities. It uses the organisational configurations developed by Mintzberg (1989) to characterise universities as professional organisations. Professional members of these organisations, in this case academics, retain considerable autonomy but the organisation as a whole finds it difficult to amalgamate and benefit from their creative energies. The result is what Bates (2000) has called a Lone Ranger approach to elearning.
However, Mintzbergs work also shows that universities as a whole find innovation difficult. These large, mature organisations cannot simply reinvent themselves as innovative organisations. This is one reason why Bates suggests the Lone Ranger model of elearning innovation will die out as individual universities, and the market as a whole, consolidate around a few big, commercial providers of elearning solutions.
Yet how does such consolidation accommodate future innovation? We address this question through qualitative case studies of online programs in both the US and UK, looking at the different ways elearning developments may be organised. We show how innovation continues within these mature, professional organisations, with varying degrees of health:
* at one extreme there is failure, with creativity eradicated by commercialisation or political infighting
* innovators may be marginalised
* innovators are keptor keep themselvesat arms length, retaining some independence, but without the organisation benefitting from their creativity
* finally there may be accommodation of each by the other, and thereby, organisational learning and positive change.
We support these claims through analysis of interview data from a range of different stakeholders (academics, developers, planners) in each of our case studies.
We conclude that far from having been exiled, the Lone Ranger is alive and wellworking, without institutional support, on the next generation of elearning technologies. We suggest that if universities want to retain their ability, as organisations, to learn, creativity must bloom somewhere, despite understandable organisational imperatives towards consolidation. We learn about these technologies best in teaching settings which by definition, administrators and developers do not enter. Lone Rangers will continue to work on creative solutions to the problems posed by developments in elearning technology.
Bates, A. W. (2000) Managing Technological Change: Strategies for College and University Leaders. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.
Mintzberg, H. (1989): Mintzberg on Management, London, Collier Macmillan.