Types of Organizational Learning - Explained
What is Organizational Learning?
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Table of ContentsWhat is Organizational Learning?What is a Learning Organization? What are the Three Types of Organizational Learning?
What is Organizational Learning?
Organizational learning is "the process of improving actions through better knowledge and understanding" (Fiol and Lyles, 1985).
What is a Learning Organization?
A "learning organization" is a firm that purposefully constructs structures and strategies, to enhance and maximize Organizational Learning (Dodgson, 1993). It facilitates organizational change.
Organizational learning contributes to organizational memory. Thus, learning systems not only influence immediate members, but also future members, due to the accumulation of histories, experiences, norms, and stories.
A learning organization must also forget some of its past. Thus, learning occurs amidst such conflicting factors (Dodgson, 1993).
What are the Three Types of Organizational Learning?
Argyris and Schön propose three types of Organizational Learning:
- Single-loop learning. This occurs when errors are detected and corrected and firms continue with their present policies and goals. According to Dodgson (1993), Single-loop learning can be equated to activities that add to the knowledge-base or firm-specific competences or routines without altering the fundamental nature of the organization's activities. Single-loop learning has also been referred to as "Lower-Level Learning" by Fiol and Lyles (1985), "Adaptive Learning" or "Coping" by Senge (1990), and "Non Strategic Learning" by Mason ('93).
- Double-loop learning. This occurs when, in addition to detection and correction of errors, the organization questions and modifies its existing norms, procedures, policies, and objectives. Double-loop learning involves changing the organization's knowledge-base or firm-specific competences or routines (Dodgson, 1993). Double-loop learning is also called "Higher-Level Learning" by Fiol and Lyles (1985), "Generative Learning" or "Learning to Expand an Organization's Capabilities" by Senge (1990), and "Strategic Learning" by Mason (1993). Strategic learning is defined as "the process by which an organization makes sense of its environment in ways that broaden the range of objectives it can pursue or the range of resources and actions available to it for processing these objectives." (Mason, 1993:843)
- Deutero-learning. This occurs when organizations learn how to carry out Single-loop learning and Double-loop learning. The first two forms of learning will not occur if the organizations are not aware that learning must occur. Being aware of ignorance motivates learning (Nevis et al., 1995). This means identifying the learning orientations or styles, and the processes and structures (facilitating factors) required to promote learning. Nevis et al., (1995) identify seven different learning styles and ten different facilitating factors that influence learning. For example, one of the facilitating factors is identifying the performance gap between targeted outcomes and actual performance. This awareness makes the organization recognize that learning needs to occur, and that the appropriate environment and processes need to be created. This also means recognizing the fact that lengthy periods of positive feedback or good communication can block learning (Argyris, 1994).
Double-loop learning and Deutero-learning are concerned with the why and how to change the organization, while Single-loop learning is concerned with accepting change without questioning underlying assumptions and core beliefs.
Dodgson states that the type of Organizational Learning also depends on where in the organization the organizational learning occurs. Thus, learning can occur in different functions of the organization such as research, development, design, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, administration, and sales.