Philosophy in Program Management

By Matuszowicz, Peter F. | Adult Learning, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Philosophy in Program Management


Matuszowicz, Peter F., Adult Learning


Philosophy keeps me well-informed regarding the direction of my program management decisions. Philosophy also keeps me well-informed and considerate regarding the needs of my staff. To many, such a reliance on philosophy, I know, seems somewhat high-brow. Yet, when questioned about my grasp of reality, I always smile at the memory of my undergraduate philosophy professor who maintained that a good understanding of philosophy enables one to ask the right questions, following which, the answers take care of themselves. A bold and flippant statement you might think. However, under the structural umbrella offered by Zinn (1998) in "Identifying Your Philosophical Orientation," I hope to convince you, the reader, that philosophy does have a very practical role to play in program management.

Philosophy in Marketing and Program Development

When advertising or selling a program, the first question I ask myself is an ethical one: Am I being honest in my representation of the program I offer and its potential outcomes? Expectations of company management are firmly rooted in behaviorist theories, whereby learners practice new behaviors that are skills-based. In this situation the teacher functions as a manager, controlling and directing outcomes. Feedback, to students and teachers alike, carries a strong environmental influence in the sense that skills being learned must contribute to increased productivity, seen as promoting economic survival of the employing organization. The same can be said of individuals who pay to attend Continuing Education classes that offer computer skills training, for example. Students who complete such courses expect to increase their proficiency in using computers and also, in many cases, improve their marketability and hence their chances of robust economic survival.

To my mind, while a behaviorist element is present, the opposite perspective, generally speaking, is encapsulated in the role of community-based adult education programs such as the ESL program that I managed until recently. Being first and foremost a humanist, I believe that all individuals are essentially positive in nature with a high degree of motivation that manifests itself in the form of self-directed learning. Under these circumstances, individuals assume responsibility for their own learning as they see the need arise. Otherwise, obvious as it may seem, why would students who speak no English attend ESL classes on voluntary basis? Furthermore, I believe that these classes are available to promote personal growth and development that facilitates self-actualization on behalf of the students in attendance.

In outlining these two opposing philosophies I ask myself whether or not my program is going to be market driven. If so, which market is going to drive the program? Do I, in selling my program, offer the industrial consumer whatever is expected at the expense of giving any consideration to the needs of students who attend classes commissioned by the said company? Or, do I consider the needs and wishes of students to the exclusion of any expectations from industry? In the case of community-based classes, do I consider the needs and expectations of students without regard to any other issues? Or, do I take a liberal/classic stance and view my program as a means of permitting the teacher, as "expert," an opportunity to authoritatively transmit knowledge and completely direct the learning process?

If only things were this simple! My experience in building a program is that one must be prepared to promote a variety of philosophies that moderate those already outlined. For example, programs and classes in industry most certainly need to be behavioral in nature. However, integrating a progressive philosophy into the program can successfully modify this approach. The progressive philosophy stresses the integration of experiential learning into the curriculum. In other words, the curriculum needs to contain opportunities for students to develop new skills that a company requires its employees to practice. …

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