Most modern organisations are drowning in information, but often short on knowledge. And as we all know, without knowledge there is no meaningful learning or action. Therefore it is wise for Senior leaders to get knowledge before taking action. I wanted to share what effective knowledge seeking behaviour from leadership teams looks like.
Some years back I was working with a senior leadership team (SLT) in a distance-learning University and had been asked to sit in on the SLT meeting and listen, watch and contribute as I saw fit. At one point the leadership team were being asked which face-to-face tutorial locations should be closed (or moved) from a long list. Distance learning organisations sometimes operate hybrid models of both onscreen and face-to-face learning. The research suggests that when designed right, this blended mix improves engagement and in consequence learning. And it can be quite a significant expenditure institutionally. From the SLT discussion it was clear that student attendance at these tutorials was decreasing.
This piqued my curiosity, and it was at this point that I asked the SLT what they knew about ‘who was attending, who wasn’t attending and why?’ The discussion that followed made it clear that whilst some disparate bits of work had been done, nothing comprehensive had been carried-out that would help them make informed operational decisions.
I proposed to the group that a rapid piece of field research was conducted on two different modules, for two different qualifications (the popular high volume ones), to gain knowledge and answer who was attending, not attending and why. And what was learned could form the basis for a useful strategy for action. The SLT agreed, and expanded this to include onscreen tutorial attendance and also those who accessed course materials. Additionally, it was an opportunity to get another perspective of venue quality. I was asked to plan and conduct the research. Working with technical teams, faculty leaders and teaching colleagues.
Onscreen, face-to-face and accessing materials
Gathering the data around onscreen tutorial attendance, face-to-face tutorial attendance and those who had accessed course materials (books, videos and interactive learning courseware), and then crunching it took a few months. There were some unusual rules around recording attendance, and so I had to gather these and make them visible to senior leaders.
For both qualification modules I processed these it’s an end-to-end holistic module view. The statistical findings themselves were very surprising for the senior leaders. Although I obviously can’t talk about what was found due to client confidentiality.
Patterns of tutorial attendance
Whilst the statistical findings of whole module attendance (and engagement) were critically important, it was the face-to-face interviews and discussions that brought the whole exercise to life. These face-to-face meetings allowed me to understand who was coming and why, and also get a snapshot non-attendance too. These I turned into a useable guide, The Human factors of attendance and non-attendance at face-to-face tutorials.
Tutorial attendance in a geography
The critical student observations
In a Bristol tutorial, one student made a critical observation that could have formed the basis for a hypothesis and for further rapid experimentation and a potential critical breakthrough strategy to increase attendance. And at a tutorial in Exeter, another student made important observations on the design of technology in tutorial design. The key thing is that statistics are not enough on their own, and face-to-face is critical. As Peter Drucker observed, ‘you can’t spot a diamond by flying above a forest.’
The Senior Leadership Team’s desire to ‘get knowledge’ had resulted in visibility of venue suitability and quality, evidence and data on who was attending onscreen and face-to-face and why, visibility of some of the rules encoded into the technology and some further mini rapid experiments to conduct to see if tutorial attendance could be improved (by better meeting Student values and needs). It also had the emerging basis for tutorial venue choice and location. Delivered within months.