IIMS 96 contents
[ IIMS 96 contents ]

Turning ocean liners: Managing interactive technology innovation

Anne Gooley and Stephen Towers
Queensland Open Learning Network
The Queensland Open Learning Network (QOLN) has been working with education and training organisations for the past five years advocating, and assisting with, alternatives to existing delivery methods. While a few organisations have the flexibility and capacity to take advantage of these methods, most organisations have substantial investments in existing infrastructure and practices that restrict innovation. Understandably, it has required considerable persuasion, justification and support to motivate these latter organisations to consider and trial alternative delivery modes. As a consequence some of the ocean liners are starting to tum, but without a pilot, many are in uncharted waters.

Interactive technologies such as CD-ROM, teleconterencing (audio, audiographic, compressed video and one way video, two way audio conferencing) and electronic mail remain radical innovations for most organisations. Organisations require accurate and detailed conceptualisation of the innovation context (environmental, organisational, technical and human) in order to achieve successful outcomes. However, there remains a tendency for most organisations to have a technocentric view of change management, thereby ignoring resources and requirements for the social infrastructure. This paper presents and discusses a preliminary framework, conceived from praxis (exemplified by implementation experiences of the QOLN) and theory, for managing innovation of interactive technologies.


Since the middle of the 1980s there has been considerable emphasis by Australian federal and state governments to increase the provision of, and access to, education and training programs utilising open learning and flexible delivery strategies (Flexible Delivery Working Party, 1992; Senate Employment, Education and Training References Committee, 1994, 1995; Department of Education, Queensland, 1994). The transition to these delivery methods involves integration of the new media (Rice 1984) whose communication properties are formative and remain an enigma for both users and researchers (Ruchinskas et al., 1990; Shulman 1990). At one end of a continuum are the constitution of new organisations that embrace these technologies (eg. Open Learning Australia, OpenNet and Queensland Open Learning Network), while at the other end of the continuum are organisations with a long history of traditional face to face delivery (Universities and TAFE Colleges). Somewhere between these two are organisations that have a history of using alternative delivery strategies that have primarily relied on "print based" delivery strategies. For convenience, these latter organisation shall be described here as "distance education providers". We recognise that this is a simplistic view and somewhat limited definition of "distance education". However, for the purposes of this paper, the descriptor is used to delineate those organisations that utilise primarily "print based" delivery strategies operating under face to face organisational or systemic parameters and those innovative organisations that have the potential to variously integrate a range of media relatively free of the traditional working structures.

Perhaps it is less problematic for newly created organisations to embrace the new media. Even though these organisations are forging new directions, they have the advantage of being able to develop their structures to accommodate the new technologies and are less concerned with the need to change existing organisational structures and culture to incorporate new delivery methods. On the other hand, organisations with a lengthy tradition of delivery methods - either face to face or distance education - must consider many potential contextual impediments to change if they are to utilise the technologies to their fullest potential rather than duplicate present strategies. Incorporating information and communications technologies is not a simple matter of supplementing or substituting for a previous delivery method (Shulman et al., 1990) - it requires considerable conceptualisation and careful change management.

On face value, distance education providers should make the transition to adopting other delivery modes more easily than face to face organisations. In the past distance education provides have incorporated audio tapes, videotapes, computer applications and audio conferencing. Apart from a few exceptions, we suggest that for most of these organisations these have been marginal activities. There are isolated examples where institutions, courses or subjects have partially or wholly utilised such media but they are hardly pervasive throughout distance education providers. For most distance education providers "printed materials" remain the dominant mode of delivery. In the past, the two traditional obstacles to utilising the new media have been its cost (Rice, 1984) and its emergent nature (Svenning and Ruchinskas, 1984). Moreover the impetus for use has tended to be institutionally driven in the form of special projects rather than a result of student or other client demand.

Recently with the pervasiveness of powerful personal computers and low cost telecommunications gateways (eg. AARNet and Internet), there has been a resurgence of interest in the new media for education and training purposes from new and old players. Furthermore, demand is coming from a new direction:- the clients, including students, organisations requiring training for employees and people living in rural and remote communities. Even though the new media's "time may have come", we offer two further constraints from our observations and experience that appear to influence how communications and information technologies are appropriated by distance education or traditional face to face providers.

Firstly, the provision of distance education courses has usually existed as a supplementary activity either within an organisation (eg. university) or within a system (eg. school or TAFE system). Therefore, the structures that bind the operational parameters of distance education providers are directly appropriated from organisations and systems established to provide face to face delivery. For example, most distance education providers attempt to deliver courses that replicate the way courses are delivered for face to face situations including timetables, assessment procedures, holidays and course format. Enrolment procedures and awarding qualifications also follow the procedures of their host organisation/system. Reinforcing these are the skills, knowledge and attitudes of teaching and administrative staff. Teachers come from a face to face background and those academics that have formal educator training have been trained to teach in a "face to face" settings. Even those who have no formal education training have probably acquired the bulk, if not all, their education from face to face situations. Furthermore, most "distance education teaching" is undertaken in conjunction with, or in addition to, face to face classes which reinforces the apparent synergy between the two delivery modes. Similarly, administrators usually come from a face to face background and will probably ultimately return to the same environment. Their actions tend to be influenced by their skills and knowledge of face to face education and training provision. Even if some administrators and teachers have spent their entire career within such organisations their roles and procedures have been shaped either directly or indirectly by organisational structures or human agency that have their foundations in the tradition face to face delivery. For example, procedures for student enrolment, examinations, course marketing and student support services may have been operating for decades. Funding structures within organisations and supported by external funding agencies also constrain the delivery service. Formulas for distributing funds have been developed for face to face delivery usually omitting capital costs such as classrooms because they have been in existence for some time or have been funded through separate sources. As for other operational parameters, funding for distance education activities has also been developed to fit within these parameters. Furthermore, much effort in research of distance education is comparison of its efficacy with that of face to face and this has tended to transfer to its incorporation the new media (eg. Simpson et al., 1992; Simpson et al., 1993; Radford et al., 1994) rather than considering it has different communication properties (Shulman et al., 1990). We argue that all these structural properties have helped maintain distance education as a subset of face to face learning strategies which influences how these organisations view communication and information technologies.

Secondly and complementing the first, most large distance education providers have huge investments in their existing infrastructure. They probably have hundreds of subjects in this format with each subject representing hundreds of person hours to develop. There are also tremendous sunk costs in the infrastructure for designing, developing and delivering courses both in terms of capital (eg. warehousing, publishing and printing operations, computer systems for administrative purposes) and human resources (eg. instructional designers, editors, printers, page layout, dispatch, student support and administration). Considering the risk associated with the new media and its unknown properties, there seems little reason to abandon a system that has been refined over decades and has worked well.

We argue that despite the intentions of enterprising (or perhaps deviant) individuals, the investment in infrastructure, coupled with the operation parameters for distance education operation, tend to maintain distance education towards the status quo, emulating face to face delivery as the penultimate defacto standard (Contractor & Einsenburg, 1990).

The provision of face to face education and training represents an even stronger model of a self reproducing system. Such provision has existed for many hundreds of years and institutionalised - both physically and socially - as the norm and the optimum mode of learning. Western society is enculturated into attending such institutions. Throughout its long history, it primacy has never been challenged and almost all activity has served to reinforce its dominance which is manifested in the temporal and spatial structures. For example, the periods for learning and the locations of buildings are distributed to suit this mode. Power, in the form of rules and resources, are pervasively entrenched in organisational and political structures. Billion dollar budgets are framed around the way face to face education is conducted through resource allocation formulas developed and refined over considerable time. Furthermore, education and training staff are virtually restricted to learning how to teach exclusively through, and using, this mode. As with distance education provision, but many times greater, the investment in face to face delivery infrastructure is considerable - buildings, staff, administrative structures and systems - so that alternate delivery systems must address these realities.

The new media has the potential to disrupt all of these traditional structures. Teaching staff require new skills to develop courses that fully utilise the capacities of each medium (eg. course designed for delivery by AARNet/Internet, CD-ROM and teleconferencing (video conferencing, audiographics conferencing, audio conferencing) with respect to the intended target audience (skills, knowledge, size), subject content (dynamic or stable) and budget. Administrative systems will also require rethinking including subject and assessment timetables, and student support service. Funding models have to either accommodate large up front costs and low recurrent costs (as associated with interactive computer managed courses delivered using on line or off line technologies) or low up front but higher continuous recurrent costs (as associated with forms of teleconferencing). There are many other ramifications for students, existing staff and policy makers.

We are not saying that education and providers are change-adverse with respect to the new media, only that their organisational structures tend to contain the way that the media is appropriated. For example, many distance education providers can point to the incorporation of state of the art technologies for improving the typographical and educational quality of their materials, but basically these technologies reinforce the institutionalisation of print as the logical medium and require only minimal changes to the overall operations of the organisation. This in turn, through print's substitutive stance, reinforces the supremacy of face to face delivery. Again, the aim here is not to suggest that face to face delivery mode is incapable of change. There obviously have been many changes in how people learn but they have not previously challenged the delivery mode. Indeed, the previous discussion on the maintenance of distance education provision exemplifies this observation.

This discussion is intended to be an indicative list of inhibiting factors restricting different modes of learning. There are many others in addition to, and within, the categories and examples listed previously. Other further areas could be outside the organisational structure such as professional bodies, legislation and employers. Of interest here is what Giddens (1979; 1984) terms structuration, that is the maintenance of organisation structures and human agency through their recursive and mutual interaction.

The discussion at this time is not intended to suggest that distance education or face to face delivery of education and training is under serious threat or terminal ... at least not yet. It is intended to highlight modalities that reinforce the structural properties and human agency. There are at least two possibilities that arise from this situation: First, there is the potential that those within these systems may not recognise the need to consider change until the opportunity has passed. A useful analogy is the profound effect that word processing has had on organisational structures. At first these were dedicated machines, directly substituted for type writers in the typing pool - like distance education for face to face. Within a relatively short period, individuals within organisations found that the new media provided them with greater control and improved efficacy and the typing pool disappeared into history along with many typists. Secondly, the new media may be restrained by the dominance of the structures and adopt a form that is subservient to face to face delivery and be constrained to emulate this mode. However, as illustrated, the new media has a short, albeit powerful history of radically altering the fabric of society.

Both face to face and distance education providers of education and training are like ocean liners, once they are on course and at full speed, they have considerable momentum and therefore take a long time to change direction. This situation is fine when there are open seas, but can be disastrous when approaching a coral reef.

In response to this situation, we offer the first stage of a tentative framework for organisations adopting and implementing information and communication technologies that considers four contextual realities (environment, organisational, technical and human). The framework is developed from theory and praxis but is not intended to be a panacea and is at this time incomplete. Space also restricts the level of detail that can be articulated in this paper. The framework seeks to identify structural properties and human agency that facilitate and inhibit the appropriation of communication and information technologies for education and training purposes. Those that facilitate adoption and implementation can then be strengthen while those that inhibit, can be ameliorated through facilitating structural properties or intervention strategies.

At this stage the framework is mainly concerned with assisting established organisations to incorporate flexible delivery and open learning methods utilising information and communications technologies. While it is essential that the approach considers the past structures, it must not be constrained by them.

The remainder of the paper firstly presents the theoretical framework developed by the literature and secondly its application to one technology audiographic conferencing in two case studies.

Theoretical framework

Nature of innovation

The nature of an innovation was traditionally described in terms of the innovation characteristics, type or attributes (Zaltman et al., 1973) but recently there has been a trend to describe innovations in terms of 'radicalness' along a radical-routine continuum (Nord and Tucker, 1987; Damanpour, 1988; Tornatzky and Fleischer, 1990). Nord and Tucker (1987, 41-42) defined routine innovation as "the process of introducing "something" that can be implemented with only minor adaptations of existing organisational routines and that fits within the existing norms and values of organisation members". Radical innovation is defined as "the process of introducing something that is new to the organisation and that required the development of completely new routines, usually with modifications in the normative beliefs and value systems of organisation members." Therefore, radicalness can be thought of in terms of the extent of departure from existing practices: radical innovations "produce fundamental changes in the activities of the organisation and represent clear departures; from existing practice" whereas routine innovation "result in a lesser degree of departure from existing practice in an organisation" (Damanpour, 1988, p. 550). For example, new types of knowledge; specialists; and, values, goals, power structures, and cognitive systems (Normann, 1971).

The full impact of radical innovation occurs during implementation when original intentions developed during initiation are manifested as tensions and conflicts. Radical innovations often fail due to unrealistic expectations, ill conceived technologies or unskilled participants, technology is not well developed or unavailability of appropriately skilled personnel. Nord and Tucker (1987) contend that innovation radicalness is instrumental in influencing implementation and successful implementation. "The more radical an innovation, the more learning and unlearning must take place, and therefore the more modifications must be made in existing structure and processes" (Nord and Tucker, 1987, p. 12). Routine innovation integrates into existing social contexts whereas radical innovation results in new organisational structures and procedures.

Information and communications technologies have the propensity to have multiple degrees of radicalness depending upon the innovation context (Towers & Hearn, 1995). Innovation is a process of mutual adaptation between the innovation and the innovation context (Lewis and Seibold, 1993, p 348; Van de Ven, 1986) and the ramifications arising of innovation may not become evident until implementation (Zaltman et al., 1973, p 70). The literature indicates a close relationship between the innovation and existing organisational structures and individual practices in order to achieve successful implementation. Consistent with this view and the work of Goodman and Griffith (1991), the nature of the innovation viewed here as a social construct resulting from the interaction between the innovation and the innovation context.

Communication technologies are not purely artefacts and are inseparable from their milieu. Innovation utilisation is influenced by the attributes of the technology, both physical and social components (prior to adoption), the innovation process and the innovation context. Innovations and organisations go through a process of mutual adaptation where both are simultaneously modified to accommodate the organisational environment (Orlikowski, 1992).

The innovation context described here refers to physical and social context adopting and implementing the innovation. A useful starting point is Tornatzky and Fleischer's (1990, p. 152) description of the innovation context as comprising environmental context, organisational context, and technological context. These elements and their interdependent interactions are considered to constitute the nature of the innovation that significantly influences organisational adoption and implementation. In addition to these sub contexts, a fourth the "human context" has been included to focus on the activities of the people involved in the innovation process [1]. Each of these contexts is briefly described below:

Organisational context

Organisations have been defined as social systems in terms of sets of interrelated variables (Hage & Aiken, 1970,) with its structure the main attribute for specifying its operation (Zaltman et al., 1973, p. 106). Structure has received considerable attention in the innovation literature and has been defined in terms of size; centralisation, formalisation, complexity; formalisation, quality of its human resources (stratification, production, efficiency, job satisfaction) and amount of organisational slack (Tornatzky & Fleischer, 1990, p. 153). While there are inadequacies, research continues to suggest that innovation outcomes (user acceptance and realising organisational goals) are influenced by organisational structure and the relationships between organisational structure and implementation strategies (Lewis & Seibold, 1993; Leonard-Barton, 1988; Yin, 1979). Nord and Tucker (1987) found structure was a significant factor in explaining implementation especially when supplemented with patterned processes that made up the structure.

Organisational contextual features are integral to innovation but should not be considered in isolation, divorced from the other components of the innovation context. The literature on organisation with respect to innovation is vast and cuts across many disciplines. Therefore in order to narrow the scope of the conceptual framework, the discussion here focuses on elements identified in the literature discussing radicalness and innovation such as structural forms, attributes of organisational structures, power, communication and culture.

There is an argument that different organisational structures are appropriate for different stages of innovation and also for radical and routine innovation. Hage (1980) argues that while organic structures have higher rates of innovation, it occurs incremental because of the shared nature of power. Alternatively mechanistic structures, while theoretically should be more conducive to radical innovation because power is centralised and responsive to crises, will not be conducive to change because of authoritarian resistance. Ettlie et al. (1984) found that radical process innovation was most likely to occur in centralised and informal structures and less radical innovation in complex, decentralised structures. Findings indicated that implementation was aided by centralised structures that provided strategic direction and resource control with middle level management to undertake planning, higher level managers providing power as required and stability and formality at lower levels (Nord and Tucker, 1987).

Power is fundamental to organisational behaviour and has featured prominently in organisational literature and can be exercised both formally (authority)and informally (influence). Within organisations there are individuals and groups with conflicting preference for organisational outcomes. Radical innovations tend to be high risk decisions disturbing the status quo including existing power arrangements with those sections of the organisation threatened by the changes resisting innovation. The more radical the innovation the greater the tendency towards more conflict (Harvey & Mills, 1970, 183-4, 198). Power structures can therefore filter the ideas entering an organisation to accept and reject ideas (Normann, 1971, p. 205). During radical innovation organisational structures and routines are modified and replaced and leadership is seen as a prerequisite to realise innovation. Uncertainty increasing with innovation radicalness can undermine existing power structure.

Similarly an organisation's culture can significantly influence implementation. Innovations compatible with existing practices, customs, values, norms, procedures and facilities are more likely to be successfully implemented than those that in conflict with these (Glasser, Abelson and Garrison, 1983). There has been little work on culture with respect to radicalness innovations but Nord and Tucker (1987) suggested that culture may function to help people attend to certain important variables and ignore other.

Environmental context

Environmental context is defined by Tornatzky and Fleischer (1990, 153-154) as "the arena in which a firm conducts its business". A broader definition of organisational environment is everything outside the boundaries of the organisation (Hage & Aiken) with organisational boundaries determined in terms of inputs, throughputs and outputs (Hage, 1980).

The literature has identified the following opportunities and constraints created by environmental factors (Harianto & Pennings, 1994; Ginsberg & Buchholtz, 1990; Nord & Tucker, 1987; Zaltman et al., 1973; Duncan, 1972)

Other potential environmental influences identified by Ranson, Hinings & Greenwood (1980, p. 10) include socioeconomic "physical characteristics (geography, stock of housing, public utilities), economic (markets, level of employment, types of industry and commerce), social characteristics (demographic patterns, class and ethnic patterns), stability and complexity of technology and populations and markets".

Technological context

Technological context is described by Tornatzky and Fleischer (1990, p. 153) as the pertinent technologies within and outside the organisation including the organisation's current and potentially available resources. Technological context is delineated from the organisational context in order to ascertain the influence of technology on the innovation process. They argue that technological context firstly impacts upon decision making, how organisations learn about innovations and its implementation. Prior choices and uses of technologies is thought to impact upon future selections and usage which are also constrained by the technologies available to an organisation which are different for different industries. However the internal technological context is thought to be more dominant than external context.

Some of their treatment of the technological context is concerned with the notion of radicalness with respect the potential different responses required by existing technological context to radical and routine innovation. However they view radicalness in terms of discontinuous change primarily centred on the technology itself is different from its predecessor (eg. transistors and integrated circuits) whereas this research takes a much wider definition of radicalness to encompass all aspects of the innovation context.

Here, the technological context identifies external and internal technologies that constrain and or enable adoption and implementation of video conferencing. Such as communication networks within and external to the organisation (ie WAN and LAN)

Human context

While there has been considerable research into the diffusion of innovations by individuals within a community (Rogers, 1983), this has not been directly applicable to the organisational context (Bobrowski & Bretschneider, 1994). Research has concentrated on the organisation or innovation as the unit of adoption, however, recently there has interest in how group process (Markus, 1990) and individual behaviour influences organisation innovation (Fulk, Schmitz & Steinfield, 1990; Lewis and Seibold, 1993; Lewis, 1994).

The main focus here is those people directly involved within the initiation and implementation phases of the innovation process (presented in section 2M2). Firstly those involved in information seeking, decision making and design of the innovation and secondly those involved in dissemination and usage. While acknowledging that there is potentially considerable overlap of constituents between these phases and within roles in organisational structures there is a tendency for separate constituents between phases (Mackay & Gillespie, 1992). The main constituents considered are the decision makers, designers, implementers, users and other stake holders.

Users are defined as "those individuals (alone or together as work units) who have direct and indirect contact with the innovation in the course of their formal and informal activities within the organisation" (Lewis & Seibold, 1993, p. 324; Lewis, 1994, p. 1) and whose roles are being shaped by the innovation. Users also includes sub units defined as "a group of individuals within the organisation charged with a formally defined set of responsibilities directed towards the attainment of a basic but circumscribed goal of the organisation, such as research and development, or the maintenance of fiscal records" (Harvey & Mills, 1970, p. 184). Lewis & Seibold (1993, p. 324) are critical that past research has considered users as passive rather than as actively involved in the innovation process.

People's understand the capabilities and implications of an innovation through direct experience of the innovation which shapes their behaviour and perceptions towards the innovation (Yin, 1979, p. 103) rather than through scientific research by experts (Williams, Rice & Rogers, 1988, p. 71). Organisational structure and structured implementation activities are considered to influence users' characteristics and perceptions of the innovation.

Similarly, social influence processes (Fulk, Schmitz & Steinfield, 1990) are considered to shape users behaviour towards an innovation. The interaction and mutual relationship between organisational characteristics, users' characteristics, implementation activities and the innovation influence and transmit the behaviours and reactions of users. (Lewis & Seibold, 1993, p. 345). Svenning (1982) studied individual, contextual, and innovation factors on attitudes, intentions, and projections towards the video conferencing and found that a major predictor of individual attitudes toward use of video conferencing was the individual's perceptions of opinions of coworkers and supervisors about using video conferencing.

Other roles of interest in the innovation process are boundary spanners, gatekeepers, change agents and champions. These roles can be formal and informal, as well as within, and between organisations.

Participation is viewed as facilitating the change process through increased worker satisfaction, increased "fit" between the users and the innovation (Nord & Tucker, 1987) and facilitating communication of the innovation. Dean (1988) contended that gaining support for the innovation within the organisation is essential for successful innovation whereas autocratic directed decisions have resulted in unsuccessful implementation. Communication structures within and between organisations have a strong relationship with the innovation process (Bobrowski & Bretschneider. 1994) and is considered to influence how an innovation is understood by organisational members.

The innovation context

Figure 1 illustrates the synergy between the four contexts within which innovation occurs. The dimension of each lobe is not intended to represent the influence of each context which would vary between organisational setting and different technologies.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Innovation context

Misalignments of radicalness within the innovation context (Leonard-Barton, 1988) raises the notion that dominance within the innovation context could influence innovation outcomes, in terms of overall radicalness and selected structured implementation activities. From an environmental and organisational perspective, a routine interpretation of the innovation would underestimate the structured implementation activities required. For the same innovation in another context the radical-routine configuration could be different. Open learning technologies appear to be innovations that are highly equivoque (Weick, 1990) and therefore requires careful conceptualisation, with the intended innovation context, before adoption or implementation.

Separate elaboration of these aspects of context is problematic and issues discussed could easily be transferred between contexts or sub topics. Such artificial partitions simplify analysis and identification of influential factors for pragmatic purposes whereas in reality these are interrelated and inseparable. Furthermore, the literature reveals there is a considerable amount of controversy and contradictory findings for the relationship between innovation and its context. The framework developed here provides a theoretical perspective which helps address some of these inadequacies.

In our experience, there has been a tendency for organisations to focus on technical contextual issues and perhaps some human contextual issues mainly one off training. The organisational context seems to be overlooked often because those within the organisation responsible for implementing information and communications technologies mistakenly assume they understand how their organisation works.

Our strategy has been to act as a parallel structure for other organisations to use information and communications technology relying wholly or partly upon our own infrastructure. This strategy enables the QOLN to address each aspect of the innovation context on behalf of the adopting organisations. Some organisations elect to continue relying on own infrastructure while for others we have gradually transferred procedures to their own organisation.

Application of the framework

The extent to which the QOLN acts as a permanent or temporary contextual surrogate depends upon the needs of the adopting organisations and the types of technologies involved. This is illustrated in the two following case studies using audiographics conferencing. The first case overviews; the design and development of a training program by the QOLN and Queensland Alumina Limited for delivery to the workplace. In this case the QOLN addressed all contextual needs and transferred only technical contextual issues to the organisation. The second case was between the QOLN and a TAFE Institute for delivery of course to industry sites. Initially the QOLN addressed all contextual issues but over a period of 12 months this was transferred to the organisation.

The purpose of the case studies is to illustrate how the framework can be applied to different situation rather than comprehensively work step by step through each of the previously mentioned contexts. At the conclusion of the case studies are considerations for organisations designing and delivering courses via audiographics conferencing.

Case 1 Queensland Alumina

In late 1993 Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL) approached the Queensland Open Learning Network to ascertain how they could provide training to their employees using open learning and flexible delivery strategies. QOLN presented QAL with a range of options and models involving a variety of configuration of print based materials, audio and video tapes, computer based education (CD-ROM), teleconferencing (audio, audiographic and video conferencing) as well as face to face.

QAL had a history of providing their own on site training for specific courses through their training section as well as using third party providers to train in other areas. Using the employee training profile data about the work force gathered by the QAL training section, it was decided to conduct a pilot project to confirm the appropriate open learning strategy for their organisation. QAL were particularly concerned with their ability of their technical personnel to communicate effectively within the organisation which was proving to be costly and inefficient.

Technical context
QOLN provided the technical assistance to establish an industry site open learning centre with audiographic technologies. Equipment was initially loaned to the organisation and as the delivery mode was accepted by the organisation, their own equipment was purchased - identical to that which provided by the QOLN.

Organisational context
QOLN provided the infrastructure to design and developed the course for QAL. Its need had come from QAL managers and was structured to provide participants with a gradual entry into learning via audiographics. The course was approximately 40 hours and commenced with a one day, on site face to face workshop followed by eleven, 3 hour audiographics conferencing workshops delivered from QOLN Head Office to the work site at Gladstone. A further one day, on site session was conducted at the end of the course to assess oral reports presented by the participants (Morley, 1994). Each three hour workshop consisted of a one hour presentation where new materials were presented, a one hour session during which participants worked on exercises offline and a one hour session were work was discussed as well as any other questions. The format of the course was designed around the way the organisation functioned by only requiring participants to be offline for a few hours each week rather than the travel and long absenteeism that was traditionally associated with such training. All administrative details were handled by QOLN staff.

Human context
"Client satisfaction" with the courses was seen as vitally important to both organisations and the pilot was evaluated at three points using questionnaires prior to the course, mid course and at the conclusion of the course. The evaluation revealed that all participants were satisfied that the course was effective and that they would recommend it to others. "Convenience" and "immediate personal feedback" were cited as important components of the course. Evaluation of the course effectiveness was also sought from the participants supervisors as they were seen as the major stakeholders. Feedback indicated that all participants who had previously submitted reports to supervisors had demonstrated considerable improvement (Morley, 1994).

Environmental context
Procedures for formally accrediting the course with the appropriate agency were undertaken by QOLN The structure of the on site training provided QAL with a competitive edge because the training improved the communication efficiency of its workers while maintaining productivity.

The success of the use of audiographics conferencing as a teaching medium was demonstrated through repeated offerings of the course through 1994 and 1995.

Case 2 Workplace communication training

Technical context
QOLN initially provided the technical infrastructure and assistance for the delivering organisation. However, once the delivery mode was accepted by both organisations, the delivering organisation sought assistance from QOLN to purchase and install its own equipment.

Increased information, new work procedures and the introduction of new technologies at Telecom necessitated that its line staff required appropriate literacy and communication skills to enable them to effectively participate in the organisation.

There were two organisational contexts to consider in this situation. That of the education and training providers and that of the receiving organisation.

Working together, Telecom, the TAFE Institute and the Queensland Open Learning Network used its combined knowledge and expertise to develop an appropriate course using audiographics conferencing. The 40 hour course was designed to cause minimal disruption to work procedures. It was delivered for two and a half hours each week scheduled to accommodate the work commitments of the people participating in the course.

Staff at the TAFE Institute were experienced in the provision of the course program in traditional mode and the QOLN provided the instructional design, teacher training and technical assistance to deliver the course using audiographics conferencing.

Human Context
One complication for training was the geographical spread of the potential target audience due to the decentralised organisational structure and the nature of the occupation. Traditional workplace communication/ literacy programs were delivered face to face because of the need to build self confidence and meet individual needs (Garfield, 1994). The training delivery strategy had to be able to maintain the important tenets associated with this type of training while accommodating a highly disparate work force.

Course presenters initially perceived the lack of visual motion cues provided by face to face instruction as potentially problematic, however they were soon able to develop oral and static visual cues which proved to be effective.

Ongoing evaluation was deemed important to ensure appropriate structuring of the course and delivery methodology. Participants found the course highly interactive and non-threatening.


The common theme arising from these two cases is the communication medium (ie. audiographics) and the attention paid to each of the four sub contexts. Following is an overview of some of the key elements of audiographics conferencing were have identified with respect to the four contexts for education and training purposes.

Preparation of

Administration of


Following our observations of other technology users and experiences working with many organisations we are convinced of the need to have a structured approach to enable organisations to best use alternative delivery strategies. Utilisation of communication and information technologies for education and training is a complex inter-organisational process which requires organisations to go beyond their institutional boundaries for information and available innovations. These technologies offer advantages for organisations, but there are also many potential hazards. Particularly when there is an emphasis on technical issues and there is a common propensity for organisations to ignore the organisational and human side associated with technologically mediated learning.

The literature on the innovation context was discussed in terms of four sub contexts - organisational context, environmental context, technical context and human context - that can potentially influence and shape the innovation process. The assumption adopted by the framework presented here, and supported by the previous literature, is the interconnectedness between these contexts. If the radicalness of innovation is a function of the innovation context as suggested by the literature (Damanpour, 1988; Tornatzky & Fleischer, 1990), then determining the context and appropriate response strategies is a requirement for adoption and implementation.

To conclude with the nautical metaphor, it is often a good idea for ships in strange anchorages to make use of a pilot to navigate them through obstacles and to use tugs to steer them in tight situations.


  1. Tornatzky and Fleischer (1990) acknowledge the importance of human activity, but it is incorporated within the other contexts which tends to disregard its significance particularly with respect to the prominence received by the other contexts.


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Please cite as: Gooley, A. and Towers, S. (1996). Turning ocean liners: Managing interactive technology innovation. In C. McBeath and R. Atkinson (Eds), Proceedings of the Third International Interactive Multimedia Symposium, 149-159. Perth, Western Australia, 21-25 January. Promaco Conventions. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/iims/1996/ek/gooley.html

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