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Organizational learning
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Organizational learning

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.

Several models have been propossed that facilitate understanding of organizational learning. Some of those follow.

Chris Argyris distinguishes 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.

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; furhter, 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?

The work in Organizational Learning must be distinguished from work in a related concept, the learning organization. This later work in general uses the theoretical findings of organizational learning and other work in organizational development in order to come up with specific recomendations about how to create organizations that continuously and effectively learn.

Table of contents
1 References
2 Related topics
3 For more info


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 uncertainity of the past; organizational ambiguous learning. European Journal of Political Research v.3 pp 147-171

Related topics

For more info