Organizational Learning Theory

Subject: Employee Management
Pages: 7
Words: 1655
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: Master


An organization is a group of people who work together with coordinated efforts to achieve certain objectives or goals. Organizational goals and objectives are of various categories, and it is this variation of goals and objectives which classify organizations into three main categories, namely profit-making, service-based, and social responsibility based organizations (Greenwood & Miller, 2010).

Organizational development refers to a systematic and ongoing process of designing and implementing effective organizational change. It is also a scientific field of inquiry in which scholars study how best organizations can be developed. The underlying principle to organizational development is, therefore, the need to implement change in organizations, manage the change to achieve certain predetermined objectives. One way through which organizational change can be realized is through organizational learning. The focus of this paper is on organizational learning theory. It seeks to explore how organizational learning theory can contribute to organizational development (Hoffmann, 2009).

Articles on Organizational Learning Theory

Name of the article Management theorist(s)/ Researcher(s) Similarities of the theories/ research findings Differences between the theories/ research findings Nature of organizational foundation (whether the theory/ research leads to a centralized or decentralized organization)
Reflections on the 2009 AMR Decade Award: Do we have a Theory of Organizational Learning, 2011. Crossan, M. M., C. C. Maurer
  • All the theories/research findings consider organizational learning as an essential component of implementing organizational change
  • The theories/research findings are backed by research findings
  • The theories/research findings emphasize on good leadership as an essential component of organizational learning
The difference between the theories/research findings is that the research findings by Jenkin are based on previous organizational research while the others are not. The adoption of this theory leads to the formation of a centralized organization because learning is implemented using the top-down approach
Relationship between Leadership and Characteristics of Learning Organizations in Deployed Military Units: An Exploratory Study, 2013. Di Schiena, R., Letens, G., Van Aken,E., & Farris, J. The adoption of this research leads to the formation of a decentralized organization because the theory is implemented using the bottom-up approach, where ideas are generated from the workforce and implemented by the organization.
Extending the 4 I Organizational learning Model: Information Sources, Foraging Processes, and Tools, 2013. Jenkin, T.A The research forms a foundation for a decentralized organization due to the learning culture which embraces teamwork and collaboration of various organizational departments
Reflective practice as fuel for organizational learning, 2013. Hilden, S., & Tikkamaki, K The research forms a foundation for a centralized organization because managers are responsible for designing and leading the learning process within organizations.
Learning to learn: towards a relational transformational model of learning for improved integrated care delivery, 2013. Tsasis, P., Evans, J.M., & Diamond, J. The theory forms a foundation for a centralized organization because managers use learning to empower employees with the necessary skills for leading designated teams.

Organizational Learning Theory

Learning is the process of acquiring new knowledge and understanding of a particular subject. Learning can take various forms and may be acquired through various ways such as imitation, observation, listening, brainstorming, learning through mistakes, training, seminars, and learning from cultural practices.

Organizational learning is one of the strategies in organizational development, which focuses on enabling organizations to place themselves in strategic positions so as to remain competitive and meet their objectives in a decisive manner. Globalization is a major reason for organizations to keep on learning since it has transformed the world into a global village where everything is constantly changing (Crossan & Maurer, 2011).

The theory of organizational learning has its origin from the works of Argyris and Schön, who in 1978 came out to express their views on organizational learning. Their views have been referred to as a classical technical approach to organizational learning. Their model of organizational learning comprises single and double-loop learning (Di Schiena, Letens, Van Aken & Farris, 2013). Single loop learning entails the detection and correction of mistakes or errors which make organizations not to embrace change. Double loop learning entails changing strategies by organizations due to internal or external forces. Argyris’ and Schön’s model of change is viewed as a technical approach to organizational learning because it involves the use of individuals and systems or strategies by organizations to meet their objectives (Di Schiena, Letens, Van Aken & Farris, 2013).

Donald was another scholar who viewed organizational learning from a technical perspective where he argued that organizational learning is a product of tacit resources, meaning that learning originates from individual employees who have the knowledge or seek and attain particular knowledge and expertise, then share it with the other employees. The knowledge is then documented in a database that is used to inform organizational policies.

The other school of thought to organizational learning is known as the social perspective. This perspective views organizational learning as a cultural and political process and as a product of social construction. The perspective does not put more emphasis on tacit resources as a source of organizational learning, like the technical perspective. Instead, it views organizational learning as an on-going process that is characterized by interaction between employees mainly in group contexts. These interactions enable employees to share their stories, experiences, and knowledge which enable them to acquire new skills, techniques, and competencies to discharge their duties effectively (Jenkin, 2013).

According to Lave and Wenger, organizations learn through communities of practice which involve people who are contextually and informally bound together by a common interest of learning and using a common practice when performing their duties. These two perspectives to organizational learning have for long been characterized by the debate of whether organizations do learn or it is individual employees who learn. However, the dilemma can be solved through the use of a pragmatic approach to organizational learning. This pragmatic approach reconciles the two perspectives and comes up with a single approach to organizational learning which takes into account the views of the two perspectives.

The pragmatic approach is based on the argument that organizations do actually learn. But the learning by organizations is seen as an on-going process which is necessitated by the forces of change which are either internal or external to organizations. Managers therefore come up with best practices to ensure that their organizations utilize their human resources effectively to generate knowledge and expertise from various employees in various fields. The knowledge and expertise are documented while the employees are rewarded (Di Schiena, Letens, Van Aken & Farris, 2013).

The pragmatic approach also takes into consideration the importance of on-going training of employees both on-the-job and off-the- job so that they may be updated with the latest information or knowledge which is relevant to their areas of operation. Technological advancement also necessitates the training of employees on the latest technology in their areas of operation. For example, a company which deals with public transport may adopt online booking of bus tickets. Such an organization needs to train the employees on that kind of technology so as to increase their effectiveness and reduce their work load.

Before an organization can embark on organizational learning, it needs to identify the training needs.The training needs include the learning of skills to perform tasks, re-learning of skills as a result of changing jobs and enhancement of performance at the current job. Training entails learning, which involves acquiring new patterns of behavior and incorporates four basic processes. These include the drive by the learners to learn, acquisition of responsible behavior as a result of learning, reinforcement of the learned behavior, and the application of the learned behavior in the work context.

Organizational learning enables organizations to prepare employees for any change which may come as a result of organizational restructuring, mergers or due to adoption of a certain technology. It also enables organizations to have in place very competent and reliable employees who are flexible and open minded to handle any assignment which may come along their way in their lines of duty.

Organizational learning keeps organizations in a strategic position for increasing their competitiveness and coming up with best practices which not only improve productivity but also the popularity of organizations. For example, an organization which deals with provision of electricity may engage in corporate social responsibility by undertaking activities like conservation of the environment, fighting poverty through provision of scholarships to needy students or training communities on entrepreneurship.

These corporate social responsibility activities may increase the competitiveness of the organization thereby increasing and maintaining its customers. In such an organization, the employees need to learn skills for dealing with communities so that apart from providing electricity to them, they may also train them on how to do business or sensitize them on behavior change. By so doing, the organization creates a win, win situation by empowering its employees with new skills while at the same time providing social services to the community through the same employees.

For an organization to create and sustain a learning culture, there is need for it to first of all do an environmental analysis. The environmental analysis should seek answers to various questions such as where the organization is, where it wants to be in future, what it has already done in an effort to reach there, what resources are available, what needs to be done to make the organization reach its destination, who are its customers or clients, and what are its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (Hilden & Tikkamaki, 2013).

After the environmental analysis, the organization should embark on a fact finding mission which should focus on how to utilize its human resources effectively as a means of realizing its objectives. The organization can do so through formulation of a strategic plan with two main pillars namely the financial and the social pillars. The financial pillar should comprise the financial resources available for the organization and the social pillar should comprise the creation of a strong organizational culture which is necessary for employee motivation (Tsasis, Evans & Diamond, 2013).


Crossan, M. M., C. C. Maurer. (2011). Reflections on the 2009 AMR decade award: do we have a theory of organizational learning?. Academy of Management Review, 36(3): 446-460.

Di Schiena, R., Letens, G., Van Aken,E., & Farris, J. (2013). Relationship between leadership and characteristics of learning organizations in deployed military units: an exploratory study. Adm. Sci., 3(3), 143-165.

Greenwood, R., & Miller, D.(2010). Tacking design anew: getting back to the heart of organizational theory. Academy of management perspectives, 24(4), 78-88.

Hilden, S., & Tikkamaki, K. (2013). Reflective practice as a fuel for organizational learning, Adm. Sci., 3(3), 76-95.

Hoffmann D.G.(2009). Applying principles of leadership communication to improve mediation outcomes. Dispute Resolution Journal, 64(3), 24-29.

Jenkin, T.A. (2013). Extending the 4 I Organizational learning model: information sources, foraging processes and tools. Adm. Sci., 3(3), 96-109.

Tsasis, P., Evans, J.M., & Diamond, J. (2013). Learning to learn: towards a relational transformational model of learning for improved integrated care delivery. Adm. Sci., 3(2), 9-31.