Posted in Education, Gonzaga University

Road to Thesis: Conference Call

Well I turned in the first written assignment for the Master’s Thesis last night just before midnight: The One-Page Proposal.

This afternoon I got on a conference call with the lead professor and three other students to go over the professor’s notes and comments on our proposals.

I started my proposal by pulling the salient elements from by Literature Review I put together for the penultimate class last spring. It included this summary line:

In computer-mediated communications, how do contextual codings affect work productivity in the United States to India cross-cultural environment?

There were some issues we discussed about the project, which I cannot detail here because of work confidentiality, but when it got done, I found my root topic getting pointed in a different direction. Instead of a research paper, I will look at a best practices project.

The sketch is rough right now, but it would be more about creating training  modules to help businesses avoid pitfalls and establish best practices where computer-mediated communications is concerned.

Posted in Education, Gonzaga University, Social Issues, Uncategorized

The Thesis

Since I began my Master’s degree in January 2014, I have spent a significant amount of time blogging about various classes and reading for my degree.

But I’ve taken a break from the program for almost a year, due to work considerations. Yet today, I am suddenly back in gear. Starting the class late, but aiming to finish it up by spring.

This is the capstone course: writing the Thesis. Despite all my preparations, I feel like I have no idea how to get it done, yet also feel confident that it can and will get done.

My catch-phrase I started at work is going to hold me in good standing here: “Let’s Pool Our Ignorance”.

So this weekend I will be writing up my 1 page initial proposal and see where that goes.

Posted in Gonzaga University, Social Issues

Communication: Understanding or Power

(Note: Those reading this post will hopefully note that it reflects an attitude generally in opposition to my normal one. Not that I think it untrue, or not worth saying, but that it is difficult and painful to paint in these colors for very long. Nor do I think it constructive to do it for long, though often essential to remember now and again.)

One of the things the students in my Master’s in Communication class dislike the most is the comparison of Communication as an exercise in power. We like to think of it as a practice in understanding. Yet recently I have been rubbed in the face with the power aspects of communication.  Those with the power get to decide what your communication means. They even have the power of Humpty Dumpty to pay YOUR words to make  them mean what they want them to mean in their favor.

One of the problems in trying to communicate a subject like this, is you cannot directly refer to any of your examples.  Either a direct reference risks your exposure to those in power and their reinterpretation of your words, since they will doubtless find them reflecting unfavorably upon them, or it is someone or a relationship you care something about and the person will misunderstand the use of your communication with them as trying to be mean instead of being a didactic and teachable moment that increases understanding. In either case, the potential for your words to be effective in communicating empathy and understanding are severely weakened. And it doesn’t matter how close or how far you actually are to those organizations and circles of power, they will mark your words and see what they can do to make you suffer for your attempt at truth and understanding.

This again removes the POWER of the teachable moment, and reduces the situation to the lessons learned by the less powerful about how power uses communication for power instead of understanding.

One of the chief weapons against understanding and in favor of power by those in power is the deconstruction of language, and the obliteration of linguistic and literary tools. I observed a recent example where the use of hyperbole by someone near me — a tool reflecting one’s positive expectations on the intellectual capabilities of the recipient — was painted as the use of extreme and demeaning sarcasm. Never mind how difficult it is to use hyperbole as sarcasm, I saw the inversion of literary definitions achieved and the reprimand painted.

It is dangerous to use hyperbole, irony, simile, metaphors, allusions,  because they connect people’s thoughts to larger themes, and make them explore and question the items around them. None of these are good for those who see communication as power.

An expansive vocabulary is not safe either. I interact inter-culturally every day, and never dumb down my vocabulary to the people I am talking to. A lot of them like the way it expands their own comprehension of English, as well as stimulates them into a greater understanding of both American language and culture. But within organizations it looks like this might be dangerous too — as the use of big words could be considered condescending, no doubt.

I was commenting to a leader in one organization that they had created one team and given them a great project to work on — one really to be proud of — but had misled them on their final intent for the group and the project. The leader tried explaining to me how it was in the best interest of the organization that the team be mislead. If people knew the truth too soon they might choose to bail instead of be committed to the project. My response was that this point of view robbed those team members of the pride they should have had in the work accomplished, and left them with fear in its place. It also telegraphed to them that their leadership did not trust them. Past experience, the leader said, showed the leadership that this lack of trust on the leader’s part was justified. I don’t think either of us was convincing the other one of which lack of trust started this downward spiral of distrust. Yet, my assertion still, is that, no matter where it starts, the important communication fact is that it is a downward spiral, and that stopping it should be more important than finding which point on the circle started it. Yet that would require a relinquishment of power in communication that those in power are not willing to give up.

The interactions are complex, and it is easy to justify keeping people in the dark. Yet I still contend that using the communication to inform and create understanding, and allowing people to make informed decisions, is eminently preferrable, on the whole, to controlling communication to the point that its primary use is that of power.


Posted in Houghton College, Travel, Uncategorized

Bike ride across America

Today’s post is a short one, about a story I saw on the Houghton College Facebook feed, about four students, recent graduates, who are biking across America.

This blog follows their journey, which started in mid-May. I haven’t had a chance to barely read any of it, since I came across it over the weekend, but the idea of the journey is one that intrigues me. It is something I think I might like to do, in one form or another, something I haven’t yet done, in one form or another.

These four are taking the freedom they have to make that travel journey to remember. Most of the rest of us before, during and after were on the trail of life, career, and advancement, or some such portion thereof. To have the resources and freedom was something we didn’t explore.

Not that I regret my course. I had enough choices and freedom, but the travel portion is something I have always had a greater hankering for than I’ve had the time and treasure to explore.

So, I intend to take some time and follow, even in arrears, their story across the country.

Posted in Education, Houghton College, Writing

A bit of poetry

(Note: it has been awhile since I’ve pulled up my old poetry, so here is another one.  This was during my year as editor of the Houghton Star student newspaper at Houghton College, during the last year that the old Compugraphic machines were used instead of the new Macintosh computers that they got the next year. This poem is about a breakdown and repair of the old machines.)



                                                             From Their Editor


Wendell and Loren

came with tool boxes,

removing three screws

hidden in a tight place.

To loose the screws

they used allen wrenches,

needle‑nose pliers, fingers.

The plate held by the screws removed,

the editor fixed the plate

with crazy glue.

Wendell and Loren

put the plate back in

with its three screws.

Using butter to hold screws

to the plate, the three men

fumbled.  The screws were in,

the machine worked.




“Let the staff rejoice,

let the earth be filled with their singing,

for the compugraphic machine is working”

said the editor.

And the staff said

“Amen and Amen.”

Posted in Education, Gonzaga University

OJT Training: Theory Influencing Practice

(Note: This is a paper I turned in for my class on consulting and training.)


OJT Training: Theory Influencing Practice

Jonathan R. Lightfoot

Gonzaga University



OJT Training: Theory Influencing Practice

Three source documents are being used to analyze the theory and practice of On-the-Job-Training. The oldest is a 1996 article from a manufacturing magazine, Water Engineering & Management, about the use of OJT vs. classroom training classes in factories. The next is a Train the Trainer handbook copyrighted in 1999 and used for several years at to educate first line managers and supervisors on how to best train new hires in their operational responsibilities. The final document is a 2013 study published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management on the effectiveness of OJT and PDCA training.

Each of the three materials will be reviewed in chronological order, and then compared and contrasted with each other to see what the disparate perspectives can yield when brought together. The author of this paper was trained in the second document’s methods in the early 2000s, and is writing this paper to place his education and experience in context of the greater field of study. By reviewing the materials chronologically, the training materials can be placed in an appropriate context, and then evaluated to see where current theory can be used to approve or amend it to be more effective.

On-the-Job Training

Smith and Kules (1996) did a practical article for plant managers on when and how to apply on-the-job-training to their plants, and how to know when classroom or OJT training made more sense.

Their leading point was that good OJT training is not the “sink or swim” method, where an activity is demonstrated once, quickly, to the trainee, and then they are left alone and expected to be competent. Instead, evaluation is done to understand what the trainee knows before training, and training is done to ensure the trainer is trained. This structure teaches the trainee problem solving skills. The trainee learns more information about the why of the process, and is thus more open to ask questions of the trainer. The trainer/trainee relationship is also one of more respect than the sink or swim method.

Smith and Kules gave guidelines for deciding between classroom and OJT training. Note, these are considering factory/plant training, but their recommendations can be applied elsewhere. One factor should be cost per person. What can affect those costs? The expense and availability of capital equipment, experience of employees and number of employees needing similar training. Another factor to consider is the experience of the employee(s). Less experienced employees usually do better in classroom training first before OJT.

Tools and Techniques of OJT Training

The materials in this OJT training book by Instructional Design Associates (1999) concentrate on creating the best trainer for OJT training. It is high on principles and concepts. There are the characteristics of successful OJT training:

1)         Structured

2)         Timely

3)         Accountability

4)         Premeditated

5)         Consistent

6)         Human

Then there is the 4-step training model, as detailed in the below table:




Trainer   Student
Prepare Leaner Put student at ease, get student interested in materials Motivation
Present the job Tell, show and illustrate the task Understanding
Try out performance Have student practice the task, correct errors Participation
Transition to job Put student on own, tell where to get help, check frequently Application


That is balanced by an analysis of trainer/trainee styles. Again, another table:

Trainer: Tour Guide

Student: Gadfly

Trainer: Balanced

Student: Thinker

Trainer: Administrator

Student: Rock

Trainer: Engine

Student: Engine


The key is to work through the 4-step training model while recognizing the student’s training style and aligning the material and the trainer with that style to achieve the end training result. A trainer needs to recognize the student’s quadrant on the style table, and move the student to the place of greatest learning.

The PDCA Cycle and OJT Training

Matsuo and Nakahara (2013) put the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle and On-the-Job-Training (OJT) through a research study to compare their effectiveness in fostering the organizational learning process.

They defined the organizational learning process as:

  • Acquisition of knowledge by individuals or groups
  • Sharing and interpreting knowledge within groups and organizations
  • Incorporation of knowledge into organized routines
  • Elimination of anachronistic routines

To determine effectiveness, they put forth four hypotheses:

  • OJT – Direct supervision is positively correlated with workplace learning
  • OJT – Empowerment is positively correlated with workplace learning
  • PDCA – Positively correlated with workplace learning
  • Reflective Communication is positively correlated with workplace learning

They used learning outcome survey data from a Japanese firm to make their analysis. What they discovered is that the first hypothesis was false, but the other three were true. The general conclusions were that quality management based on the PDCA cycle can markedly improve development by promoting problem solving and stimulating experiential learning. In contrast, the effectiveness of OJT depends on its style.

They did note that the results might be affected by the culture of the Japanese firm, and need to be expanded to other cultural settings to confirm a more general conclusion.

Historical Progression

The article by Smith and Kules (1996) can be seen as a first step discussion of the effectiveness of OJT vs. classroom training, and the need for conscious structure to OJT training, instead of the “sink or swim” method. The training materials experienced by this author (Instructional Design Associates 1999) were designed where the assumption of OJT was already in place. The focus of these materials was on preparing the trainer with the skills necessary to assess the status of the trainee and adapt and direct training to make the most effective use of where the trainee is to learn the materials for the job. Neither of these sources had any assessment phase to validate the accuracy of their assumptions. The research study (Matsuo and Nakahara, 2013) added this level of complexity to the information available on the OJT process.

Analysis and Reflection

The experiences of the author of this paper with OJT started prior to his participation in the training class on how to be an OJT trainer. That is the usual progression: someone who has been a de facto trainer is sent to a class to learn all the right theories and practices to do what they have already been doing. The OJT trainer usually doesn’t have any relief from the other duties of their workday. Training the other employee is an addition to the already busy workload. This creates the temptation is to do the “sink-or-swim” method mentioned in the Smith and Kules article. The Train the Trainer class is the encouragement to put more thought into the process.

Being a trained OJT trainer creates a mindset that should make the trainer mindful of the training process, both of the trainee and the information to be learned. What the Train the Trainer course expected is a fairly structured concept of what information needs to be learned, in what context and time frame, by the trainee. In practical experience, many of the training events are one-off and ad-hoc events that fit into the total knowledge of the trainee. There isn’t a scheduled course of instruction that gets worked through. The initial crunch of essential information is learned at the beginning, and then the intensity of the relationship tapers off, and the trainer becomes more of a resource than a focused trainer.

The Train the Trainer materials give a mental mindset, but doesn’t give a real strategy for the perpetual training cycle. That is where the insights from the research study come in.

The research study, with its focus on PDCA and OJT visualizes the training process as a perpetual, recursive function. PDCA in particular, with its plan-do-check-act cycle, visualizes training intentionally and perpetually. The study also gave a caution for OJT training: The wrong style can actually be counterproductive to the learning of knowledge.

The training materials encourage supervision of the student, until the appropriate time for putting them on their own. The PDCA study suggests that the empowerment of putting the trainee on their own (but not in a sink-or-swim manner) sooner is more productive than a prolonged period of supervision. Longer supervision is actually counterproductive. Earlier episodes of independence, properly coached, can stimulate problem solving in the trainee and increase experiential learning.

A side result of this process is something I have experienced multiple times as an OJT trainer. I call it “the right mistake”. This “right mistake” is an important part of the OJT learning process. Rather than train the trainee on everything they could possibly need to know, rather than show them all the steps and possible logical branching tree options available, you concentrate on the core information needed now, along with the how and why information. Then the trainee is allowed to proceed and experience their learning. Sooner or later they are going to come to a point where their knowledge, and training, tells them what the correct answer is going to be, but it isn’t; what they try is wrong. Then they come to the trainer to understand what happened. And my response is: “you made the right mistake”.

What they did shows they understand what they have been taught, and are applying it correctly.  Yet no explanation can ever be complete, or show the whole picture; no training can cover everything. Letting them work out their understanding until they run into something where it doesn’t work, is an important part of the learning process. Equally important is assuring them that their “failure” is a sign of success in their understanding. Thus, the concept of the “right mistake”, and the need to look beyond what you know when you make the “right mistake”.

(The wrong mistake, of course, would be one where they didn’t follow what they already knew correctly, and requires a different remediation; review of what they should already understand until they fully internalize it.)

The one part of the that I haven’t seen focused on from the research study is step four of the organizational learning process: Elimination of anachronistic routines. That is something that should be focused on in future papers.


While a small sample, statistically, of the literature, the three articles selected show a certain progress in the way On-the-Job-Training has been viewed over the past two decades. The starting point is taking a serious view of OJT as more than just a quick show-tell sink-or-swim session. This led to training materials for the OJT trainer. Just being experienced in how to do the task is not enough to be able to train it: one needs experience in how to connect with the trainee to convey understanding. Yet the results of this train-the-trainer experience was also mixed. Further analysis, the research study, shows that style in OJT is critical to the amount of knowledge learned.

When using this to analyze my personal training experiences, I see that those occasions where I felt inclined to greater supervision were actually the most counterproductive, requiring further intervention on my part. Following the empowerment model is what actually led to my own “eureka” moment about the “right mistake” as an excellent teaching tool and measurement of trainee progress. While some tasks had obvious “right mistake” points, others tend to be more individual, yet the “right mistake” moment itself is always recognizable as an achievement of learning by the trainee to be celebrated and encouraged. Empowering a trainee to learn from failures in a precious form of empowerment.



Instructional Design Associates (1999). Training employees: Tools and techniques of OJT training. Training manual.

Matsuo, M., Nakahara, J. (2013). The effects of the PDCA cycle and OJT training on workplace learning, The International Journal of Human Resource Management. Pages 195-207, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 2013

Smith, M., Kules, J. (1996). On-The-Job Training: Harder Than It Looks. Water Engineering & Management 143; 12; ABI/INFORM Trade & Industry