Organizational Learning

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Explanation of Organizational Learning of Chris Argyris and Donald Schön. ('78)


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Chris Argyris Organizational Learning

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)

  1. 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).
  2. 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)
  3. 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, 1994).

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 Forum
  Organizational Learning from Failures: The Return on Failure Ratio
Over the last decades, innovation and creativity have become critical skills for achieving success. A 2015 Boston Consulting Group survey indicated that a key obstacle to business innovation and growth is fear of failure.

On one hand, seni...
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Today’s dynamic business environment provokes an increasing pressure for companies to innovate in order to stay competitive. Companies need to find their way In triggering innovative, experimental behavior and creativity. In order to do this, they ar...
  The Value of Contextual Awareness in Organisation Learning
I think that even though learning by experience, though execution of similar projects, will be a valuable asset in solving problems of our current project under execution, it boils down to learning about the contextual information and its application...
  Implementing Organizational Learning
I appreciate the concept of organizational learning. Its operationalization has been a problem. Many times it has been reduced to the training function in the organization.
Indeed people have questioned whether anybody has seen organization lear...
  How do You Measure Organizational Learning?
In a learning organization, how do you go about measuring organizational learning?
Or is the learning organization just a myth or a brand?
I would like to get feedback from you all. Thanks!...
  Best Practices to Sustain the Impact of Learning in Organisations
Training and development are a critical factor in organizational development. However, how can we sustain the impact of learning within organizations; in other words, what best practices exist to ensure a long term impact of training and development ...
  Applications and Usages of Organisational Learning
In what forms is organisation learning applied in the various organisations? I'm trying to create a list of the main ways how organizational learning can be applied. Thanks......
  Individual and Organizational Learning
What is the relationship between individual and organizational learning?...
  Learning Organization & TQM
The relationship between learning organization and Total Quality Management (TQM) is cause-and-effect. Learning is an intended outcome of TQM, TQM can be a vehicle for  
  Value of Learning Culture
What is the value to organizations in creating a learning organizational culture?
How can organizations work towards creating this culture through its HRM/HRD strategies?...
  How to Grow Organization Learning with Rapid Changes of Technology?
Companies that will be successful with OL need to identify what methods need to be adopted with current technology to ensure their competitive advantage....
  Informed Decisions in Rapid Change
If organizations have to make informed decisions in rapid change, then what kind of organizational learning process should we use?...
  Imperatives of Organisation Learning Types
Kurt Lewin's model of unfreezing, moving & refreezing would further reinforce the points put forward by Prahalad, Hamel & Dodgson above. Single loop learning has managerial imperatives; Double loop learning has knowledge management and leadership i...
  Organisation Learning Gap Analysis?
Is there any measure to identify gaps (and work out an action plan) for organisation learning?...
  Recent article on Execution as Learning
You may want to read the recent HBR article by Amy Edmondson on Execution as Learning, which is building on elements of the thinking of Argyris c.s....

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Organizational learning is a social process, involving interactions among many individuals leading to well-informed decision making.
An organization must learn so that it can adapt to a changing environment.

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Compare with: Organizational Memory  |  Bridging Epistemologies  |  Knowledge Management (Collison & Parcell)  |  SECI model  |  Gestalt Theory  |  Action Learning  |  Intellectual Capital Rating  |  Levels of Culture  |  Change Phases  |  Organic Organization  |  Changing Organization Cultures  |  People CMM  |  MAGIC  |  Experience Curve  |  Team Management Profile

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