Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

A Contextual Integration of Individual and Organizational Learning Perspectives as Part of IS Analysis

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

A Contextual Integration of Individual and Organizational Learning Perspectives as Part of IS Analysis

Article excerpt


Most everyone in the information systems field would agree that systems development work typically requires an analysis of existing organizational practices and procedures (Check-land, 1981; Avison & Fitzgerald, 1988). This is the case because any new implementation or change to an existing information system can have a significant impact on the organization (Checkland & Holwell, 1998). The importance of studying organizational change, as a result of information systems development, was recognized back in the 1960's. Early work identified the significance of the individual in the organizational infrastructure. This work was described in the "Theoretical Analysis of Information Systems" where the infological equation was presented (Langefors, 1995).

"The infological equation (Langefors, 1966): "I=i(D, S, t)": where I is the information (or knowledge) produced from the data D and the pre-knowledge S, by the interpretation process i, during the time t.[ ...] In the general case, S in the equation is the result of the total life experience of the individual. It is obvious, from this, that not every individual will receive the intended information from even simple data." (Langefors, 1995, p.144).

The infological equation suggests that information systems include complex, intra-individual and inter-individual dimensions. With the inclusion of personal pre-knowledge, some of the ground work was laid (see Langefors, 1966), for what today is called soft systems development or social informatics. The infological equation includes the suggestion that individuals and their sense-making activities are to be included in the information system, (Langefors, 1995).

Although there is a wealth of literature on both organizational change (Child, 1984; Cash et al, 1994; Daft, 1998; Groth, 1999) and information systems development (Checkland, 1981; Avison & Fitzgerald, 1988; Yourdon, 1989; Alter, 1996), the focus has been on the organization as a whole. Though we have recognized the individual's contribution in the organization, there has been little research done on the individual perspective of learning especially within the context of information systems (IS) development.

Much of the current research in IS has focused primarily on various aspects of structured learning in an organization (Senge, 1990; Agre & Shuler, 1997; Travica, 1999; Eriksen, 1998; Zack; 1999). This can be exemplified by Senge's popular statement on organizational learning (1990, p. 69):

"I call systems thinking the fifth discipline because it is the conceptual cornerstone that underlies all of the five learning disciples of this book. All are concerned with a shift of mind from seeing parts to seeing wholes, from seeing people as helpless reactors to seeing them as active participants in shaping their reality, from reacting to the present to creating the future. Without systems thinking, there is neither the incentive nor the means to integrate the learning disciplines once they come into practice. As the fifth discipline systems thinking is the cornerstone of how learning organizations think about their world."

This description stresses systems thinking and integration within learning disciplines. However, it doesn't address an individual perspective in terms of reflective personal learning processes. The composition of these low-level processes may have a major impact on the organization (and information system) as a whole. It is argued in this paper that organizations, from an individual perspective, would benefit from a more formalised cross-fertilisation between ideas of organizational analysis and learning. What is needed is a systemic process for personal learning that is based on contextually dependent systems thinking.

Contextuality has to do with what Langefors (1966) describes as individual pre-knowledge as a result of the total life experience at a given point in time. …

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