Organizational Learning [] Learning Organization

The terms “organizational learning” and “learning organization” are mirror terms – they are comprised of the same words that are ordered in reverse.  Aside from making for interesting word play, the reciprocal relationship between the terms speaks to their underlying meanings. Organizational learning is a verb – the process of how organizations learn. Learning organization is a noun – an organization that learns.

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Nancy Dixon (1999) points out that organizational learning has been conceptualized by multiple researchers in multiple ways.  Some have very specific definitions and some have broad sketches.  They all share, however, concepts related to agency, change, and growth.  I resonate most strongly with Dixon’s discussion of organizational learning as the construction and reconstruction of meaning in a dynamic process.  In this view, knowledge and information are separated from learning and individual learning is separated from organizational learning.  Information only becomes useful when we integrate and  make sense of it to form knowledge.  When we take action on knowledge to adapt, grow, or change – then we are learning.  Dixon also points out that individual learning is not the same as organizational learning, even when multiple individuals in an organization learn.  Organizational learning requires a collective effort to share learning processes and outcomes in an integrated way.

The presence of learning does not necessarily lead to a learning organization.  Learning organizations make intentional efforts to engage in learning activities.  They have their eye on change.  They value new knowledge, meaning making, and growth.  They engage in the recursive process of learning, change, learning, and change.

In other words, they see themselves in both sides of the mirror.

2 thoughts on “Organizational Learning [] Learning Organization

  • September 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm
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    Jen, thank you for your thoughtful comments. I love the construction and reconstruction analogy of organizational learning as well. It is the meaning making that we construct out of the integration of new knowledge that lends itself to individual and organizational learning, although, as you said, the presence of individual learning does not necessarily mean there is organizational learning. Intentional efforts by organizations to engage in learning activities, as you stated, requires a collective effort to disseminate our shared knowledge.

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  • September 27, 2017 at 12:36 pm
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    Jen, I really appreciated your reflection on the difference between possessing knowledge and information, and the act of learning. Learning in this way is conceived as a process of meaning making in an applied manner. You describe the evidence of learning in this context as some sort of action carried forward by the organization. You state, “When we take action on knowledge to adapt, grow, or change – then we are learning.” This highlights the constant relationship between how an organization functions and its application of learning opportunities.

    “Dixon also points out that individual learning is not the same as organizational learning, even when multiple individuals in an organization learn. Organizational learning requires a collective effort to share learning processes and outcomes in an integrated way.”

    The gap between individual and organizational learning is widened by what I consider to be pockets of awareness. That is, silos of information that reside in particular departments or individuals that are not communicated in a way that allows for organizational use or management of that knowledge. These pockets of awareness can exist in a given context independent of one another, even when the goal is to bring them together.

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