Implications of the Learning Organization Phenomenon for the Training and Development Field.

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This paper explores the implications of the learning organization phenomenon for the training and development field. In particular, it considers the following questions: what is a learning organization? - how and why has this phenomenon come about?; does the pursuit to become a learning organization signal a greater or lesser role for the training profession?; and what is or should be the role of training in learning organizations? INTRODUCTION

Today, the rapid pace of change that we all experience demands an unparalleled learning response from organizations (Bennett, 1994). Major economic, social and technological pressures from all around the globe have dramatically altered the environment within which organizations must perform. Rapidly evolving technology, increasing global interdependency, shifting economic bases, diminishing natural resources and a more diverse workforce are just some of the competing tensions that come into play. Organizations that fail to adapt to these environmental pressures in a quick, flexible and comprehensive fashion will cease to exist. Today more than ever before, survival of the fittest means survival of the 'fittest to learn' (Marquardt, 1996). The popular term used to describe this regenerative organizational species is the 'learning organization'. For the past decade, the learning organization has been a 'hot topic' (Peters, 1992; Tobin, 1998), both in the scholarly and practitioner press (Easterby-Smith et al., 1998) - and, why wouldn't it be? In a world characterized by continuous discontinuity, ambiguity and paradox (Pascale, 1990; Laszlo, 1994; West, 1994), the ability of an organization to learn and change is of considerable theoretical significance and practical importance (Edmondson and Moingeon, 1998). There is broad consensus that the hallmark of an effective organization lies in its capacity to learn (Adler and Cole, 1993). Moreover, it is generally accepted that any Organization that does not promote learning -especially fast learning - cannot expect to compete successfully' (Schein, 1993; Bennett, 1994; Bennis, 1996, p. v; Guns, 1996; Schwartz, 1996). Thus, to transform an organization in ways that support learning, responsiveness and innovation - to become a learning organization - has become a major expression of corporate purpose (Mills, 1992). The learning organization is a topic that suggests an enhanced role for the training profession - if only because of its given name and the ostensible link between 'learning' and 'training' (Tobin, 1998). The purpose of this paper is to explore the ramifications of learning organizations for the training and development field. Specific questions of interest include the following: * What is a learning organization? How and why has this phenomenon come about? * Does the pursuit to become a learning organization signal a greater or lesser role for the training profession? * What is or should be the role of training in learning organizations? The literature is full of diverse perspectives regarding what a learning organization is and where the training function fits within this entity. In very simplistic terms, a learning organization is an organization that values and prioritizes learning (Braham, 1995) on an ongoing basis. Hence, learning is the operative word - one that suggests a never-ending developmental journey or process, not a final outcome or a particular destination point. After that, the issue of training's role is very much a matter of philosophical outlook. While cynics may ask, 'If an organization learns by itself, who needs training?' (Kramlinger, 1992, p. 46), to the optimists among us, the question is one of carpe them - how can the training profession capitalize on the prominent role of learning in high-performance work? This paper argues on behalf of the latter position. Hence, the concept of the learning organization does not minimize the role of the trainer; it changes it. Just as organizations must learn...
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