Innovative learning for innovation
Innovative learning for innovation
Innovation is crucial for companies who have to react to constantly changing markets. Several national and European research institutes stress the importance of developing innovation for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs). This was a trigger to design a minor on strategic innovation for different disciplines - technical and economic departments - of the Fontys University of Applied Sciences. It prepares students to be more competent to take initiatives in developing innovation. The newly designed education should be an answer to the question of how to help companies to become more able to adapt to new changes in the market by providing them with higher educated personnel, who have developed competences on strategic innovation.
The starting point for the research is the perceived effectiveness of teaching students to take part in developing innovation at SMEs. More specifically, the question is how to develop action-oriented learning environments to develop competences for innovation development.
The central research question of this thesis is:
In what way could a competence-based and action-oriented learning environment on innovation development in SMEs be designed?
This research question provides a basis for evaluating three implementations of the minor learning program (30 EC) on strategic innovation. Findings of the research indicate the importance of educating students about innovation. Educational strategies such as partnering learners with SME staff, simulation exercises, and hands-on exercises all contribute to students' analytical skills. 'Real world' experience in corporate settings helps students bridge the gap between theory and practice, and consequently prepares them to be competitive in their chosen employment.
In the period from 2006 till 2009, three academic years were spend to teach students knowledge and competences on strategic innovation. The parameters evaluated are relevance and effectiveness and the system to be analysed is the minor 'strategic innovation'. These two parameters are described as follows:
Teachers and students consider all teaching elements of the minor required to adequately prepare for contributions to innovation development in SMEs relevant. Key persons from SMEs believe that such knowledge and competences are important for companies to increase market competitiveness through innovation.
Students develop perceptions on how innovation developments should be initiated in SMEs. They learn how to analyse companies for indicators of and preparation for changes. Students are capable of formulating an innovation development advice for companies, and explain how current activities could be changed to improve corporate success.
These parameters are the focus of the measuring method. Optimization of the parameters improves the learning conditions. There is a relation between the two parameters and the variables of a conceptual model with which data can be categorised.
Conclusions and recommendations
The thesis concludes with a model to analyse the different positions and perspectives of the stakeholders. It is also used for designing a competence-based and action-oriented program. During the research, it became clear that teachers were having a major role in the learning processes of students to change them from rather inexperienced in strategic innovation, into being experienced to the level of starting professionals. Teachers must therefore have many different abilities/competences.
For these teachers, it is important that they have - to a certain extent - an expertise in the field of study so they are able to coach and lecture their students properly. Therefore it is necessary that they have their networks with companies on this matter, which enables them to discuss the reality of innovation in the company. Next to the ability to understand the content, teachers must have the ability to determine the starting level of the students of different disciplines joining the minor and choose lecture and coaching conditions with which each student can learn effectively. Teachers therefore must be able to use several strategies of teaching. Students themselves also need to be experienced in interdisciplinary cooperation to work in strategic innovation projects. From these multidisciplinary approaches, teachers must be able to guarantee learning effectiveness to the major goal of the minor education. In order to do so, teachers need to collaborate themselves with their colleagues and agree to the formulated conditions of the minor education.
The conclusions as presented from the data of the research are focussed on the teacher being the provider of knowledge and the "manager" of learning activities of students. The main success factors of these conclusions can be formulated as follows.
1. Teachers need to get the opportunity to become adapted to new fields of study in order to have a relevant contribution.
2. Teachers must use their network to find companies that fit to the goals of the minor.
3. Teachers need to determine the match of complexity of the minor and minimum conditions for students to join.
4. Teachers must understand how to help students to work interdisciplinary.
5. Teachers must adapt to new teaching and learning strategies to make the educational processes effective.
6. Teachers in a multidisciplinary teaching and learning context need to be informed on the background of students to make their teaching more effective.
7. Teachers must be able to present the specific theme of their lectures in the context of the goal of the minor to make their teaching activities effective.
8. Teachers from various disciplines working in a multidisciplinary minor need to work interdisciplinary with their colleagues.
9. Teachers must agree to the formulations of the competences.
Universities of applied sciences mostly educate young professionals in the region they are situated in. They need to feel the responsibility to follow the needs of companies, like competences of starting professionals on innovation development, and give teachers the opportunities to make improvements of the education with which starting students are being prepared to become starting professionals in companies.