What is Organizational Learning? Definition
Chris Argyris and Donald Schön (1978) defined organizational learning (OL)
as: "the detection and correction of error". Fiol and Lyles later define learning
as "the process of improving actions through better knowledge and understanding"
(1985). Dodgson describes Organizational Learning as: The way firms build,
supplement, and organize knowledge and routines around their activities and
within their cultures and adapt and develop organizational efficiency by improving
the use of the broad skills of their workforces. (1993). Huber states that
learning occurs in an organization "if through its processing of information,
the range of its [organization's] potential behaviors is changed" (1991).
A "learning organization" is a firm that purposefully constructs
structures and strategies, to enhance and maximize Organizational Learning
(Dodgson, 1993). The concept of a learning organization has become popular
since organizations want to be more adaptable to change. Learning is a dynamic
concept and it emphasizes the continually changing nature of organizations.
The focus is gradually shifting from individual learning to organizational
learning. Learning is essential for the growth of individuals; it is equally
important for organizations. Since individuals form the bulk of the organization,
they must establish the necessary forms and processes to enable organizational
learning in order to facilitate change.
OL is more than the sum of the parts of individual learning (Dodgson, 1993;
Fiol & Lyles, 1985). An organization does not lose out on its learning abilities
when members leave the organization. Organizational learning contributes to
organizational memory. Thus, learning systems not only influence immediate
members, but also future members, due to the accumulation of histories, experiences,
norms, and stories. Creating a learning organization is only half the solution
to a challenging problem (Prahalad & Hamel, 1994). Equally important is the
creation of an unlearning organization which essentially means that the organization
must forget some of its past. Thus, learning occurs amidst such conflicting
factors (Dodgson, 1993).
Three types of organizational learning (Argyris and Schön)
- Single-loop learning. This occurs when errors are detected and
corrected and firms continue with their present policies and goals. According
to Dodgson (1993), Single-loop learning can be equated to activities that
add to the knowledge-base or firm-specific competences or routines without
altering the fundamental nature of the organization's activities. Single-loop
learning has also been referred to as "Lower-Level Learning" by Fiol and
Lyles (1985), "Adaptive Learning" or "Coping" by Senge (1990), and "Non
Strategic Learning" by Mason ('93).
- Double-loop learning. This occurs when, in addition to detection
and correction of errors, the organization questions and modifies its existing
norms, procedures, policies, and objectives. Double-loop learning involves
changing the organization's knowledge-base or firm-specific competences
or routines (Dodgson, 1993). Double-loop learning is also called "Higher-Level
Learning" by Fiol and Lyles (1985), "Generative Learning" or "Learning to
Expand an Organization's Capabilities" by Senge (1990), and "Strategic Learning"
by Mason (1993). Strategic learning is defined as "the process by which
an organization makes sense of its environment in ways that broaden the
range of objectives it can pursue or the range of resources and actions
available to it for processing these objectives." (Mason, 1993:843)
- Deutero-learning. This occurs when organizations learn how to
carry out Single-loop learning and Double-loop learning. The first two forms
of learning will not occur if the organizations are not aware that learning
must occur. Being aware of ignorance motivates learning (Nevis et al., 1995).
This means identifying the learning orientations or styles, and the processes
and structures (facilitating factors) required to promote learning. Nevis
et al., (1995) identify seven different learning styles and ten different
facilitating factors that influence learning. For example, one of the facilitating
factors is identifying the performance gap between targeted outcomes and
actual performance. This awareness makes the organization recognize that
learning needs to occur, and that the appropriate environment and processes
need to be created. This also means recognizing the fact that lengthy periods
of positive feedback or good communication can block learning (Argyris,
Double-loop learning and Deutero-learning are concerned with the why and
how to change the organization, while Single-loop learning is concerned with
accepting change without questioning underlying assumptions and core beliefs.
Dodgson states that the type of Organizational Learning also depends on where
in the organization the organizational learning occurs. Thus, learning can
occur in different functions of the organization such as research, development,
design, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, administration, and sales.
Organizational Learning Special Interest Group
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