Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Exploring Quality of Learning and Teaching Experiences in Higher Education using the Theory of Constraints: Kenya and New Zealand

posted on 2024-06-11, 22:20 authored by Kimani, Sarah Wambui

The purpose of this study is to examine the quality of learning and teaching (L&T) experiences in higher education (HE) and the effect of undesirable factors on the achievement of L&T goals with an aim of assisting key stakeholders to improve the quality of L&T.  As a qualitative study, the theory of constraints (TOC) methodology is espoused as a suitable framework that guided the construction of the interview guide and the analysis of data. The research is conducted in two business schools, one in Kenya and another in New Zealand (NZ). Three different groups of stakeholders were involved in each business school: students, lecturers and senior administrators. To collect data from students, focus group discussions were used, while personal interviews were used to collect data from lecturers and senior administrators.  Findings indicate that the goals of L&T are not commonly understood within the two business schools, and that there are very few critical root causes that cause many undesirable factors that impact on the quality of experiences of L&T. In Kenya, two critical root causes were identified: bureaucratic structure of the university and limited government funding. In NZ one critical root cause was identified: research is given more priority than teaching.  Since the study only explored quality of L&T in two business schools, collection of more data in other faculties is required to provide more general findings. The use of TOC methodology in HE sector is limited. It therefore produces a platform for further studies. Nevertheless, the findings have practical implications to key stakeholders who could explore resolutions to one or two critical root causes of undesirable factors that impact on quality of L&T experiences specific to their business school as a way to improve quality of L&T.  This study also makes theoretical and methodological contributions. At a theoretical level, the work connects with research on L&T in the HE literature which has pointed to the importance of goals and/or learning outcomes, but does so by providing an alternative systems perspective, TOC. TOC places high importance on first understanding the goal of a system. This goal then becomes the benchmark against which efforts are measured. The study has demonstrated, in particular, the negative effects of a lack of clear and common understanding and communication of the L&T goals to the learning outcomes. The study also contributes to the literature through identifying the critical factors of less than desirable effects that impact the quality of experiences of L&T in HE institutions. Its major contribution is the identification of one or two critical root causes that are specific to each business school. The use of TOC methodology in exploring quality of experiences of L&T has identified many factors that impact on L&T experiences, which are similar to those identified in other quality studies in HE. Relatedly, this study has shown that the TOC models, particularly the goal tree and the current reality tree models, embed assumptions, variables, and relationships that are in harmony/consonant with existing HE models of L&T experiences. In particular this study has used Biggs 3P model to map out the cause-effect relationships of the undesirable effects of L&T experiences and concludes that integration of the TOC models with the 3P model provides a comprehensive analysis of the L&T system. Moreover by exploring L&T experiences with a seemingly negative lens this study has exposed many ‘critical’ views that would otherwise not have surfaced. Furthermore, the use of two diverse cases brings to the fore an international perspective of the experiences of L&T in HE sector.  With regard to the methodology, this study has undertaken a rigorous application of the TOC methodology to explore the experiences of L&T in two diverse HE sectors. The study is the first of its kind in Kenya and NZ to address these L&T issues using the TOC-Thinking Processes (TOC-TP). The use of the TOC methodology in HE has broadened the TOC body of knowledge which has been predominantly practice-led. The results of this study have demonstrated the value of the TOC methodology in producing useful insights about perceived quality of L&T in the HE sector. The use of TOC methodological tools has proven to be effective in identifying very few critical factors where management could focus attention. Moreover, TOC goes beyond this identification, with recommendations focused on these key root causes rather than treating causes and effects as unrelated, focusing on symptoms rather than root causes, and providing general exhortations to do everything better. Contributions are also made in the manner of usage of the TOC-TP tools within a qualitative research framework, by using the TP tools to capture/convey/communicate the cause- effect interrelationships between factors in the L&T system. The analysis of individual stakeholder views within each case, as well as their combined views, and cross-case analysis, is further aided by the use of TP. By weaving together the TOC’s system thinking approach and the qualitative approach, this study has demonstrated that the two approaches can complement each other to enhance trustworthiness and rigor of study.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970113 Expanding Knowledge in Education

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Victoria Management School


Mabin, Vicky; Davies, John