Interdisciplinary “learning networks”: Joint production motivation in vocational internships in the health care sector in The Netherlands.

Thomas Teekens, Francesca Giardini, Jelly Zuidersma, Rafael Wittek


Interdisciplinarity is steadily gaining importance as a professional skill in many domains of work, and accordingly, the emphasis on interdisciplinary learning in education is growing. However, interdisciplinarity as a collaborative skill is difficult to include into traditional teaching methods. In this research, we assess one method of improving such interdisciplinary skills: interdisciplinary collaboration. Specifically, we attempt to assess under what conditions interdisciplinary collaborative networks within vocational internships affect student’s learning outcomes and professional attitudes. We understand interdisciplinary learning to be a process of instilling joint production motivation (Lindenberg & Foss, 2011) in students in the workplace context. Joint production motivation is an individual state in which an individual experiences a workplace situation through a normative frame, leading to that individual wanting to collaborate with others to increase the team’s output. Our theoretical argument is that nurturing such joint production motivation in students is pivotal to effective interdisciplinary collaboration. Furthermore, this motivation allows for a collaborative effort to be resistant to external shocks—shocks that are more likely to occur to interdisciplinary collaborations, brittle due to its disciplinary disconnect among members. Specifically, we theorize several conditions to be essential to an increase in interdisciplinary learning in concordance with joint production motivation theory. The first two hypotheses are on a dyadic level, and deal with the relations between students and their collaborators. First, we assume that a shared understanding between students and their collaborative partners will facilitate learning, and the second dyadic interplay we expect deals with task interdependence: only in those situations where students feel their work is important to others, will they experience an increase in joint production motivation. On a structural level, we measure a student’s network’s segregation of disciplines as a negative effect on interdisciplinary learning, while hierarchy will only positively affect learning if students perceive others as working for the joint effort. Empirically, we follow an intervention internship program (“learning networks”) in the health care sector in the Northern Netherlands, which is designed to increase interprofessional education among students of several vocational education programs. First we will discuss some initial findings from a pilot study in 2019 (n=139), which indicates shared understanding is a stronger predictor of learning than task interdependence. In addition, we will present additional data, collected in the health care sector in the province of Groningen in early 2020. This sample consists of around 120 first-year Health care students, whom we ask about their collaborative ties using a name generator survey, and about their learning outcomes and perceived team effectiveness. We repeat the same survey three times, providing us with three waves of social network data on student’s vocational internships. In addition to these three student waves, we also measure team effectiveness and joint production by measuring the learning network coordinator’s assessment of the team and its individual members.

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