Learning Organization

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The evolution of "Organizational Learning" has started in 1938 when John Dewey, in his book "Experience and Education", publicized the concept of experiential learning as an ongoing cycle of activity.

But, how did this concept emerge? Or, what does it really mean for the businesses? In order to understand this, we have to analyze the problems and needs. The core idea behind "learning organization" is that organizations of all kinds will not survive, let alone thrive, if they do not acquire an ability to adapt continuously to an increasingly unpredictable future. Or in other words, in order to survive and succeed for businesses, it is essential to establish or build stronger relationships with customers, where there are rapidly changing, turbulent and/or highly competitive market. Through learning, organizations may be better equipped to meet the challenges caused by continuous environmental turbulence.

In addition, where products and processes can rapidly be copied, according to Arie de Geus, head of strategic planning department of Royal/Dutch Shell, the only real source of competitive advantage is to stimulate learning by employees. This may allow these individuals to identify new ways of working more closely with customers, which in turn permits the organization to differentiate itself from competition. However, the style of learning has to reflect the operational needs of the organization. For instance, a manufacturer which has adopted a transactional marketing style would probably choose to operate in a relatively stable market, produce standard components and focus primarily on offering adequate quality goods at a competitive price. In such circumstances, assuming that the organizational systems are based around repetition of routine procedures, the firm would probably be well advised to focus upon creating a single-loop learning environment as the most appropriate way fur sustaining employee development aimed at organizational efficiency.

On the other hand, in market situations where firms face periods of significant, discontinuous change and/or there is a desire to differentiate the firm from competition through the adoption of a relationship marketing style, then possibly an incremental, more adaptive learning style, which is called double-loop learning may be more appropriate, so to involve the exploitation of new knowledge to evolve new practices, perspectives and operational frameworks.

Figure 1: Single- vs. double-loop learning.
Keeping in mind what we have so far discussed, now let us check some definitions of the Learning Organizations.
Peter M. Senge, who is also named as the father of this concept, describes learning organizations as organizations where people can continuously expand their capacity to create results which they truly desire. In such organizations, new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, and collective aspiration is set free. Individuals learn to learn together. He declares "Deep down, we are all learners. It is not only our nature to learn, but we love to learn."

Chris Argyris and Donald Schön defined the concept of learning organizations through the help of the definition of organizational learning: where the process of "detection and correction of errors" rules.

Moreover, how de Geus defined learning organizations is very remarkable: "Forget your tired old ideas about leadership. The most successful corporation of the 1990s will be something called a learning organization… The ability to learn faster than your competitors, may be the only sustainable competitive advantage." One last definition might be the one of Kim, D., "a learning organization is one that consciously manages its learning process through an inquiry-driven orientation among all its members".

I have already mentioned that Senge was called as the father of the concept of "Learning Organizations". When he...
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