The Advising Learning Cycle: Applying Dixon’s Org Learning Cycle to VCU Academic Advising

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After class a few weeks ago, I thought about how Dixon’s organizational learning cycle can be incorporated into my advising job. Dixon argues that many times an opportunity for collective learning is lost in large organizations because each dept. is responsible for different/separate things (Dixon, 1999, pg. 64). As advisors, we can be kept in our own silos, removed from other advising units across campus. VCU is a very decentralized university, which can be good and bad. The con is that we aren’t cross trained on what other departments are doing; therefore, we simply refer prospective and current students to a million different places (major exageration, but you get my point) during orientation, individual appointments, or group advising situations. An example came up this week in fact. I was advising a student who wanted to change her major to Psycology. I looked up the change of major steps on the dept. website, but I emailed my colleague in the Psyc. dept. first to confirm that was the right thing to do. Unbeknownst to me, the website was in the process of being updated and she wanted the student to follow a different procedure. I could go on and on about examples of curriculum updates, policy changes, etc. that are updated without advisor knowledge. My frustration can be that org. learning in my professional context can be very reactive instead of proactive.

If I were to have what Dixon calls “multi-skills” or multi-functioning skills, professional advising could integrate local/departmental knowledge to the larger organizational context (Dixon, 1999, pg. 64). I would like to have the opportunity to shadow/cross train with other departmental units so I’m more knowledgeable and helpful to my advisees/stakeholders. VCU advising could have the potential to cultivate a collective interpretation on various advising initiatives. In other words, I think VCU has the potential to develop a collective, advising identity without taking away unique individual/departmental attributes. The larger framework for advising could mirror what Kolb says when he states that “organization members must act on a collective interpretation” (Dixon, 1999, pg. 66). It’s this collective learning versus individual learning that is at the heart of the organizational learning cycle. I remember in the groups and teams course, I wrote that the pinnacle of group development is when the individual can put their own personal needs and agendas aside and focus on the collective identity and goals of the group. I think this is what Kolb and Dixon are trying to say when it comes to org learning. I think this what should happen at VCU. I agree with Cook and Yanow’s argument that “organizational learning as we use the term, refers to the capacity of an organization to learn how to do what it does, where what it learns is possessed not by individual members of the organization, but by the aggregate itself. That is, when a group acquires the know-how associated with its ability to carry out its collective activities” (pg. 378). Circling back to my original post about my new boss – I am hopeful that with a knowledge management system in place, VCU advisors can capture important tacit and explicit knowledge, which can eventually lead to a collective framework for learning.