Monday, February 20, 2006

Learning organisations

This article was forwarded to me by Mark Berthelemy, a colleague with an interest in researching learning organisations. I'm still a little blurred on what double-loop learning is, so I'll have to research that a bit further. I'm interested in the three definitions of a learning organisation which, while they have commonality, also disagree with one another in several respects:

  • Learning organizations [are] organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. (Senge 1990: 3)
  • The Learning Company is a vision of what might be possible. It is not brought about simply by training individuals; it can only happen as a result of learning at the whole organization level. A Learning Company is an organization that facilitates the learning of all its members and continuously transforms itself. (Pedler et. al. 1991: 1)
  • Learning organizations are characterized by total employee involvement in a process of collaboratively conducted, collectively accountable change directed towards shared values or principles. (Watkins and Marsick 1992: 118)
I am certainly no expert in this area, but Sandra Kerka's assertion that learning organisations seem to work on the assumption that ‘learning is valuable, continuous, and most effective when shared and that every experience is an opportunity to learn’ (Kerka 1995) seems to be common sense to me. In fact, a recent post on this blog bears testimony to this view.

It seems to me that this concept is only going to work if there is buy-in from everyone, from top to bottom. If members of a team who have acquired new learning get precious about it, or if other members of the team make no effort to share in such newly acquired learning, the whole concept is hamstrung. Management structures would also have to facilitate the sharing of learning between team members both formally and informally.

I can't see that an organisation's board could simply decide to transform it into a learning organisation and hey presto, job's done. A planned, well executed transformation process would have to be embarked upon and the bullet would have to be well and truly bitten. It is also unlikely to work if this is the vision of the most senior officers, foisted downwards. It seems, to one of my admittedly limited knowledge, more likely to succeed if the concept were sold upwards.

No comments: