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Organizational learning is an area of knowledge within organizational theory that studies models and theories about the way an organization learns and adapts.
In Organizational development (OD), learning is a characteristic of an adaptive organization, i.e., an organization that is able to sense changes in signals from its environment (both internal and external) and adapt accordingly. (see adaptive system). OD specialists endeavor to assist their clients to learn from experience and incorporate the learning as feedback into the planning process.
How organizations Learn
Several models have been proposed that facilitate understanding of organizational learning. Some of those follow.
Argyris and Schon (1978) distinguish between single-loop and double-loop learning, related to Gregory Bateson's concepts of first and second order learning. In single-loop learning, individuals, groups or organizations modify their actions according to the difference between expected and obtained outcomes. In double-loop learning, the entities (individuals, groups or organization) question the values, assumptions and policies that led to the actions in the first place; if they are able to view and modify those, then second-order or double-loop learning has taken place. Double loop learning is the learning about single-loop learning.
March and Olson (1975) attempt to link up individual and organizational learning. In their model, individual beliefs lead to individual action, which in turn may lead to an organizational action and a response from the environment which may induce improved individual beliefs and the cycle then repeats over and over. Learning occurs as better beliefs produce better actions.
Kim (1993), as well, in an article titled "The link between individual and organizational learning", integrates Argyris, March and Olson and another model by Kofman into a single comprehensive model; further, he analyzes all the possible breakdowns in the information flows in the model, leading to failures in organizational learning; for instance, what happens if an individual action is rejected by the organization for political or other reasons and therefore no organizational action takes place?
Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) developed a four stage spiral model of organizational learning. They started by differentiating Polanyi's concept of "tacit knowledge" from "explicit knowledge" and describe a process of alternating between the two. Tacit knowledge is personal, context specific, subjective knowledge, whereas explicit knowledge is codified, systematic, formal, and easy to communicate. The tacit knowledge of key personnel within the organization can be made explicit, codified in manuals, and incorporated into new products and processes. This process they called "externalization". The reverse process (from explicit to implicit) they call "internalization" because it involves employees internalizing an organization's formal rules, procedures, and other forms of explicit knowledge. They also use the term "socialization" to denote the sharing of tacit knowledge, and the term "combination" to denote the dissemination of codified knowledge. According to this model, knowledge creation and organizational learning take a path of socialization, externalization, combination, internalization, socialization, externalization, combination . . . etc. in an infinite spiral.
Diffusion of innovations theory explores how and why people adopt new ideas, practices and products. It may be seen as a subset of the anthropological concept of diffusion and can help to explain how ideas are spread by individuals, social networks and organizations.
The work in Organizational Learning can be distinguished from the work on a related concept, the learning organization. This later body of work, in general, uses the theoretical findings of organizational learning (and other research in organizational development, system theory, and cognitive science) in order to prescribe specific recommendations about how to create organizations that continuously and effectively learn. This practical approach was championed by Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline.
- Argyris, C. and Schon, D. (1978). Organizational Learning: A theory of action perspective, Addison-Wesley, Reading MA, 1978.
- Kim, D. (1993). "The link between individual and organizational learning", Sloan Management Review, Fall 1993, pp. 37-50.
- March, J.G. and Olson, J.P. (1975). "The uncertainty of the past; organizational ambiguous learning", European Journal of Political Research, vol.3, pp. 147-171.
- Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995), The Knowledge Creating Company, Oxford University Press, New York, 1995.
- Argote, L. "Organizational Learning: Creating, Retaining & Transferring Knowledge", Springer, 1999.
- Knowledge Management
- knowledge transfer
- action learning - http://ericacve.org/docgen.asp?tbl=pab&ID=89
- community of practice
- learning organization
- organizational memory
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