Capstone Project: System Feedback Loops

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System Feedback Loops

According to G. Bellinger (2004), a reinforcing feedback loop refers to actions that reinforce each other. In other words, actions that had a certain impact in the past have a cumulative effect in the present and the future. Hence, when an organization is successful as a result of a certain action, it is likely that future success will be based upon similar actions, or indeed an intensification of the current actions.

The authors use the example of interest rates to explain this phenomenon. The interest rate interacts with the principal to add to the amount of money already in the bank. Hence it reinforces the amount that already exists.

In the case of Strayer University, a reinforcing feedback loop can be seen in the student numbers of the institution. The University has shown constant growth over the years from 2002 to 2009. The fall term student enrolment number for example increased from 16,500 to 54,300, while its revenue increased from $116.7 million to $511,9 million. The University's net income rose from $25,8 million to $105.1 million, while earnings per share increased from $1.78 to $7.60 (Strayer Education, Inc., Financial Performance, 2010).

Hence the material performance of the University can be seen as a reinforcing feedback loop, where the University's combination of quality education with targeted advertising has been encouraging increased enrolments. These enrolments have then also driven the steadily increasing income figures for the University.

Bellinger (2004) notes that a balancing loop concerns an action to address a situation where the current and ideal are not in agreement with each other. A problem or goal is therefore inherent in the current situation, creating a gap between the current situation and the ideal. The gap between the current state and the ideal suggests action, which is aimed at closing the gap in the long-term and diminishing it in the short-term.

In his Letter to Shareholders (2009), Robert S. Silberman mentions that one of the university's aims is to become a national institution. This is not yet the case, as the university has consciously attempted to limit its geographic expansion. The main reason for this is the attention to consistent quality. According to Silberman, the current aim of quality takes precedence over the drive towards geographic expansion. Indeed, he notes that this limit has the effect of enabling current staff to more effectively integrate quality with expenses such as the time and effort involved in travel. Nevertheless, the aim remains to expand and ultimately become a national institution.

Silberman also mentions that there is no shortage of national demand for a Strayer education. One of the actions that significantly diminishes the gap between the current and ideal states is the fact that Strayer offers a high-quality online course. Indeed, this is one of the main traits of the institution. It caters for adult learners, and hence offers courses that are structured in a way to cater for the scheduling needs of working adults. This platform significantly reduces the gap between the current and ideal states, as online students enrol from across the country.

In the 2009 report, Silberman notes that the Global Online network unit at the University has supported Strayer students for 15 years. These students do not need to live near any of the University's campuses in order to benefit from the learning programs. Indeed, all students are encouraged to take classes in a format that cater most effectively to their particular learning needs. Geographically remote students only take online classes, and are provided with administrative support by global online operations centers.

To increase geographical diversity, a second global online operations center was constructed in Salt Lake City. This further reduced the gap between the current and ideal situations for the University. This is one of the actions the University has taken towards addressing the gap between the current and the ideal.

2.

According to Larsen et al. (1996), systems thinking is not only important in promoting individual learning, but also for learning at the organizational level. This is so because patterns of relationships emerge from mental models, or perceptions of how the parts of a system interact with each other. At the organizational level, this is important because perceptions necessarily differ among people. Differing perceptions regarding the relevant parts of a system and their interaction to reach the organizational goals should therefore be brought into harmony via organizational learning.

Organizational learning can only commence effectively once individuals are willing to reveal their individual mental models. These models can then be used as a basis for learning via comparison and contrast, while discussion provides a platform for arriving at a unified perception among individuals within the organization. The authors refer to this as a "shared vision."

Where systems and problems are significantly complex, as they tend to be in organizations, mere discussion is not likely to result in a unified perception or shared vision. Hence, tools and skills developed by systems thinkers become necessary. Frameworks that are applicable to the complexity of the organization should then be identified and used as the paradigm for organizational learning.

Larsen et al. note that individuals who share a system also share a vision regarding the interaction of the various components also share a team learning platform. Team members within an organization can then learn from each other as they share their individual mental models, while also creating an alignment among each other of how the system applies to the company as a whole. Organizational learning then also takes place within the organization as a whole. Organizational problems can then be resolved by means of creating alignment. The authors offer cooperation as an example of organizational learning, where individuals recognize themselves as interdependent components of the wider organizational system. More complex systems then also feature teams of individuals, where not only individuals, but also teams function as interdependent components with a shared vision.

Once a shared vision is constructed, this is submitted to testing. Complex dynamics can then involve examining assumptions, searching for leverage points, and testing policy alternatives as part of a shared vision. This could also include the platform of a simulation in order to optimize the learning process.

3.

For Strayer University, opportunities for organizational learning occur in both the reinforcing and balancing feedback loops. In the reinforcing feedback loop, organizational learning takes place in terms of service excellence. Because of Strayer's reputation of excellence, the student numbers continue to grow, not only on the physical campuses, but also within the virtual environment, where students across the country enrol. Organizational learning opportunities within the reinforcing feedback loop then occur on both the academic and technical levels.

On the academic level, only lecturing personnel with a specific interest and professional experience in their subject fields are appointed. This ensures that lecturers have a passion not only for imparting knowledge to others, but also for the knowledge of the subject field itself. This encourages enthusiasm within students as well, and provides an additional dimension to the learning experience. The knowledge that lecturers impart is therefore based upon practice, and students can learn on both the practical and theoretical levels. This contributes to the excellence level and results of the University.

Lecturers are also concerned with continuously improving themselves. The opportunity here exists to continuously learn about the subject fields that are offered at the University, so that students can benefit from the latest research and knowledge base in these fields.

On the technical level, administrative and lecturing personnel need continual access to the latest in information technology developments in order to provide an optimal experience to their online clients. Support personnel for example provide platforms for communication between personnel and students, while lecturing personnel learn from the latest technology in order to optimize the learning experience for students. This technical… [END OF PREVIEW]

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