Peter Senge is a Senior Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of the widely-acclaimed book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990). He can be said to be responsible for the popularity of the concept of a ‘learning organization’ today.
Peter Senge argues that not only we humans learn, but organizations also. However, learning itself may not be enough for the organization to survive in this ever-challenging era. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Senge introduced five ‘disciplines’, namely systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning, that characterizes an organization as a learning organization.
A traditional organization can be defined as a formal, common, and pyramid-like organization where one person at the top is in charge of all functional areas with subordinates handling all the other sub-functions. It is hierarchical where the higher levels have complete control over all the levels below, have greater superiority and domination, and the chain of command goes from the top to the bottom.
Frederick Winslow Taylor was the prominent theorist of traditional hierarchical organizations. His book, Principles of Scientific Management, introduced the principles for designing and managing mass-production facilities such as Ford's automobile factory in Michigan and Carnegie's steel works in Pittsburgh (Thomas, 2006).
Examples of traditional organizations are like the various governments around the world, the Catholic Church, the Armed Forces, certain old-fashioned businesses, and others.
There are various definitions of what a learning organization is. According to Peter Senge (1990), “Learning organizations are organizations where people
continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.”
(Senge 1990, pg.3)
Besides that, in The Learning Company. A Strategy for Sustainable Development (1991), Pedler, Burgoyne and Boydell defined, “The Learning Company is a vision of what might be
possible. It is not brought about simply by training
individuals; it can only happen as a result of learning at
the whole organization level. A learning company is
an organization that facilitates the learning of
all its members and continuously transforms itself.”
(Pedler et.al. 1991, pg.1)
In addition to the two above, Watkins and Marsick in Building the Learning Organization: A New Role for Human Resource Developers (1992), stated “Learning organizations are characterized by total
employee involvement in a process of collaboratively
conducted, collectively accountable change directed
towards shared values or principles.”
(Watkins and Marsick 1992, pg.118)
From the three definitions, it can be concluded that a learning organization is a people-oriented organization that allows itself to grow, improve and achieve its goals through learning.
Differences between Learning Organizations and Traditional Organizations
Firstly, a learning organization is different from a traditional organization based on its organizational structure. A learning organization is a horizontal and flat structure with all departments spread out on the same level. These departments are specialized in their own fields but also work together with the other departments to form a productive web. On the other hand, a traditional organization is a vertical structure with obvious levels of hierarchy from top to bottom. The most powerful person sits at the pinnacle of the structure while everyone else is at the bottom.
Secondly, both learning and traditional organizations are different on their corporate culture. A learning organization lean more to...
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