Sample Research Paper on The Learning Organization

Table of Contents

  • Abstract 3
  • Introduction to the Learning Organization Concept 3
  • Historically Developed Definitions of the Learning Organization. 4
  • Development of the Learning Organization. 6
  • Knowledge Management 6
  • Organizational Learning Systems and Motivation. 8
  • Initial Step in the Learning Organization. 9
  • Single and Double Loop Learning Aspects. 10
  • Strategic Learning. 11
  • Context of Influences on Organizational Learning. 11
  • Innovation. 11
  • Human Resource Management 12
  • Conclusion and Recommendations. 12
  • Conclusions. 12
  • Recommendations. 13
  • References. 1


For a long time, the learning organization has attracted major concern especially in the study of private organizations’ operations. Basically, as a result of a range of arguments, various definitions of the concept of organizational learning prevail. This concept has also been a more contemporary subject in understanding learning in the public sector organizations. Numerous definitions of the learning organization have been advanced by various scholars since the 1990s. Since then, the field has attracted major debates and diverted attention from the widely renowned concept of knowledge management in the organizations. To a large extent, this aspect is evaluated through various systems in the organizations, and many scholars contend that the aspect of the learning organization is substantially enhanced by organizational culture.

Introduction to the Learning Organization Concept

All over the globe, numerous firms and consultants have acknowledged the commercial implication of organization learning. Therefore, the ‘learning organization’ notion has been an essential concept used by people to get acquainted with the aspect of organization learning. Numerous scholars have focused on identification of various templates or rather the ideal forms that can be utilized by firms in order to understand the importance of organization learning. Consequently, the learning organization is often construed to be an ideal which can be utilized by organizations as they evolve in order to effectively respond to the numerous pressures they often face (Schofield, 2004).

An imperative element in the learning organization is recognizing that individual and group learning needs to be made a priority in any organization. As a result, there are two vital aspects that emanate from organization learning; the first one is that, even though there have been numerous debates concerning learning organizations, it has been increasingly difficult to effectively recognize real-life examples (Vince and Saleem, 2004). This, therefore, may be attributed to the fact that the visualization of the concept is either too ideal or it cannot be applied to the organization’s dynamics.  The second element is that the focus on establishment of a template and the need to present it in a commercially attractive form to both the consultants and the scholars has contributed to a momentous theoretical structure under-powering especially for the learning organization (Van, 2001).

This paper sets out to outline the literature on the concept of the learning organization. This topic essentially touches on the aspect of knowledge management in organizations and the critical stages in the learning. It has been noted that the learning organization often entails various innovations in the firms: Human resources management, various external influences as well as the political process that influences learning.

Historically Developed Definitions of the Learning Organization

Numerous scholars have tried defining the concept of the learning organization. Senge (1994) was the first scholar to promote its definition. After him, various practitioners have published books and articles on the subject of the learning organization.

It is worth mentioning that learning in the firms mostly occurs at the individual level. Argyris and Schön (1996) contend that learning only occurs if there is a modification in behavioral intentions that occur due to experience gained in the verge accomplishing policy objectives. Therefore, individuals strive to accomplish what has been stipulated in the organizational policy as well as evidence use and experience in order to refine and filter what people are doing. Therefore, the proceeding step goes further than individual learning, that is, establishing a collective process, a step that involves people learning at the group level in an organization. This literature considerably places focus on private organizations and on the actual intangible but unmistakably distinguishing effects of an organizational culture that mostly shapes the way firms react to experience differentially. Such organizational learning level has been effectively characterized in many definitions (Vince and Saleem, 2004).

Senge et al (1994) interpreted the learning organization as the knowledge development that organization members hold, that is, having been established as knowledge that has the capability to enhance activities in organizations, hence encouraging transformation in various activities.  On the other hand, Van (2001) suggested that the learning organization entails the capacity or rather various processes within an organization that often preserve and advance performance on the basis of experiences. Garvin (2000) argued that various industrial societies look at the quintessence of the concept in depth. For instance, they consider the learning organization as one that frequently adjusts itself. Therefore, the transformation process to them is a creative one as well as one in which a motivation exists to modify and adjust its needs (Senge et al, 1994).

Vince and Saleem (2004) contended that a learning organization is one that has the ability to create, acquire, and convey knowledge as well as amend its behavior to replicate new knowledge and insights. According to Schofield (2004), there are five characteristic features of a learning organization. These features include the aspect of solving problems in a systematic manner, making experimentation and testing new knowledge, being able to learn from experience, the ability to learn from others, and sharing the knowledge and enhancing knowledge dispersion mechanisms.

Gilley and Maybunich (2000) realized that most organizational learning discussions fail to acknowledge the manner in which learning should be carried out in organizations. Frequently, such discussions focus on lofty philosophy, impressive schemes, and extensive metaphors instead of determined practice details. Garvin (2000) concurs that until now, there have been various learning matters perspectives compared to empirical studies on the way managers ought to build learning potential. In reviewing public organizations, Van (2001) noted that there seems to be a significant degree of consensus; that is, in literature reviews, irrespective of the approach covered, there seems to be consensus on four different aspects on the learning organization. For instance, there exists a major problem in the definition and measurement of organizational learning; there are various barriers and organization learning enablers; there is a multi-level character of the learning organization and a problem in the element of knowledge creation.

Generally, scholars have noted that organizational learning study is a complex undertaking; however, the focus of most studies seems to be constrained by experience search aspect and struggling to focus and employ knowledge in order to advance performance in organizations. Dixon (1994) argues that organizational learning can be construed to be both social and political, and it happens through various people. Therefore, organizational learning is relational by nature, and as a result, there is a probability that conflict would prevail.

Focusing attention on the debates between diverse organizational learning schools of thoughts, one would find that the field has not been substantially marked by strong and distinguishing distinct positions. Schofield (2004) offered a summary of the learning organization historical development, which primarily requires a comprehensive study in comparison with other better-studied subjects such as the organizational structures development.

According to Vince and Saleem (2004), organizational learning is the process that involves error detection and correction, and therefore, evaluation should be the primary focus in organizational learning, especially in the public sphere. There should be systematic, focused, efficient, and timely appraisal in the learning organization.

Development of the Learning Organization

Knowledge Management

Even though it appears fairly outside the organizational learning field, knowledge management is substantially closely linked to the development of organization learning. It is also crucial in understanding how organizational learning operates. Basically, knowledge management is a very intricate process in which information is first acknowledged in the organizations (Easterby-Smith, Burgoyne and Araujo, 1999). Once classified, knowledge need to be captured, and the most influential scholars have emphasized that, at any particular time, the most imperative aspect of the knowledge that is inside a firm is informal; that is, being locked in people’s  minds as well as workforce practices. These scholars significantly criticized organizational learning concepts in contention that there should be prior stages that recognize and capture knowledge (Van, 2001).

Therefore, such an approach significantly  gave way to numerous debates concerning whether or not adhocracies as well as ‘J form’ organizations are the likely approaches for changing organizations’ informal knowledge into continuing characteristics and the learning  practices which have the potential to add lasting organizational values and mature its evolution in deep-seated ways.

It has been recognized that the manner in which knowledge from learning can be substantially collected and stored, especially in retrievable manner and within organizations, has attracted major debates in the past. More importantly, some of that literature revolves around the wider concerns of organizational structure as organization culture (Van, 2001).  However, in the 1990s and the early 2000s, major literature started focusing on the learning organization since knowledge management seemed to have been developed on a high technical scale, based on the processing as well as data management.  Therefore, many consultants saw the need for organization learning; however, there has been a sway back, especially in the succeeding work in the verge of placing emphasis on organizational and cultural importance. This is mostly in structuring the way learning is processed, utilized, and re-utilized (Vince and Saleem, 2004).

Organizational Learning Systems and Motivation

The primary constituent of the learning organization itself deals with the long-term approaches on the way firms are established with arrangements that are capable of accomplishing learning in organizations. However, there should be motivation that allows the organization members to realize this. There are no essential grounds that should make these basic components to be in sync. Individuals in firms may be enthusiastic to learn, but they often do not have adequate knowledge on the way to go about it, possibly casting around for schemes or rather ways of having things done differently and in a haphazard manner. Similarly, learning systems may prevail and an immense informal learning aspect may be ongoing; however, without the motivation to actualize organizational learning, the ability to do so can significantly weaken (Gilley and Maybunich, 2000).

Generally, there is a significant measure of the agreement especially on various pre-conditions that often makes learning in organizations feasible and possible even if various scholars have divergent views concerning organizational traits. Van (2001) contends that the primary practices that sustain organization learning should include the strategy that significantly places emphasis on an effective learning approach. Usually, a high participation level by organization members and stakeholders, especially in the policy making, should be an effective strategy that enhances effective learning (Levine, 2001).

Another practice is the feedback system right from various organizations’ aspects such as control and accounting process. These processes give vital information that helps people understand the impacts of various actions and hence they offer supports and enhance decision-making. More importantly, information technology has been acknowledged as an aspect that plays a major role in the sharing of mutual knowledge as well as gaining awareness in organizations (Garvin, 2000).

Vince and Saleem (2004) contend that organizational structure forms significantly sustain organizations’ learning. More specifically, organizational structure forms enable learning to prevail and, in a significant way, shift, adapt, and accommodate various modifications that result from learning.  As a result of organizational culture, a worker’s boundary is formed with various roles. Therefore, individuals who work at various organizations’ formal boundaries usually collect and pass vital information. This is considered to be a form of learning.

Initial Step in the Learning Organization


Senge (1994) considerably focused on the aspect of dialogue in organizations, more specifically in connection with the discipline of team learning. As Van (2001) argued, dialogue is a process that involves two individuals understanding each other. Therefore, it is intrinsically risky and, to a large extent, it entails a situation of questioning people’s beliefs and suppositions.

Generally, dialogue is an element of every proper conversation where everyone opens him/herself to the other individual, hence accepting the other person’s viewpoint as creditable for consideration (Redding, 1997). When people engage in a dialogue, the major apprehension is not to actually win in the case but the aim should be to enhance understanding as well as the well-being of the people. A concord cannot be forced; however, it rests on a general conviction. It is worth noting that as an aspect of social relationship, dialogue involves certain virtues as well as emotions (Gilley and Maybunich, 2000).

Scholars who have been interested in the learning organization place more emphasis on the importance of dialogue.  Senge (1994) argued that team learning in many organizations involves the ability of team members to effectively dangle postulations and thus enter into an indisputable thinking together.  Many scholars have acknowledged that dialogue is also crucial to various aspects in organization learning; for instance, learning to build a common vision. Nonetheless, there are various considerable risks of having dialogue in the organization. Scholars contended that dialogue could elevate as well as improve corporate activities through enhancing learning (Schofield, 2004).

Single and double loop learning aspects

Scholars have significantly evaluated learning responses in connection with specific stimuli that have been a central focus of the learning organization. Researchers have elaborated three important learning loops in organizations: Single-loop learning is the most familiar approach type, followed by double loops, and then the learning strategy (Redding, 1997).  Basically, single loop concentrates on evaluating whether the right thing is being done in the organization. More specifically, the aspect looks at what needs to be done presently in a productive way, minimizing the costs as well as using various alternatives in order to reach the stipulated organization’s objectives. Scholars contend that this is the primary learning loop that prevails when a firm starts monitoring its processes in order to understand the details concerning its performance. Based on that, the firm is able to immediately reflect on available resources that would enhance improvements (Pace, 2002).

Preskill and Torres (1999) contends that normally, firms tend to find solutions to various problems in two broad ways: In their instantaneous environments or through evaluating previous problems that were similar, thus looking for particular solutions or other parallel solutions applicable in solving the current problems (Van, 2001).

On the other hand, double-loop learning concentrates on evaluating whether firms can do things in a better way. It, therefore, goes beyond the aspect of monitoring the process to establishing various methods of modifying the processes in order to make them appropriate.

Many scholars feel that this type of learning concentrates more on the effectiveness of the processes. It extensively raises questions concerning whether or not outputs of an organization are predominantly geared toward accomplishing the desired outcomes (Levine, 2001). Therefore, organizational learning perspectives seem to have given no distinctive orientation to this approach. The reason for this is that the major focus is mostly on errors that have taken place, thus undertaking a successful action that would ensure that the errors do not persist. Moreover, the central focus is on problematic investigation; nevertheless, the firms look more exhaustively and attractively for enduring solutions to various error sources, as well as to the under-performance (Pace, 2002).

Strategic learning

Through strategic learning, the firm is able to substantially evaluate many aspects in its activities. More specifically, the organization’s concern is the question of whether it is concentrating on the right aspects. Strategic learning, or rather triple-loop learning, deals with definitions and evaluation of a calculated organizational vision (Gilley and Maybunich, 2000). Moreover, it assumes that individuals in organizations are only able to evaluate the way in which they perceive their activities and responsibilities by putting to question their underlying suppositions, principles, essential objectives, as well as organizational beliefs. For instance, this could be a stage where a firm more consciously selects its goal level instead of just operating with those that had been conventionally acknowledged. This is a type of reflexive learning that is grounded on precedent practice. If used in government organizations, it may be a risky endeavor (Preskill and Torres, 1999).

Context of Influences on Organizational Learning


Research has been conducted on innovation that prevails in various organizations. In many organizations, innovations are often triggered either by an expenditure cutback or the existence of the need for savings, not forgetting a political intervention that may be carried out by the government.  Innovations are basically imperative for organizational learning due to the fact that they strongly respond to critical external influences facing them (Van, 2001).

Currently, innovations tend to be strongly concerted in three aspects: On new technologies approaches introduction, the generalization of various standards as well as corporate sector’s expectations, and the establishment of partnering as well as outsourcing businesses (Schofield, 2004).

Human Resource Management

Human resource management is a crucial component of an organization that influences learning. HRM systems are persuasive and also influence major aspects of knowledge management.  Scholars agree that human resources management is an aspect that influences the way the workforce learns various aspects in the organization (Gilley and Maybunich, 2000).

Conclusion and Recommendations


It is worth noting that the aspect of a learning organization has been a critical area that has attracted major debate all over the world. Learning organizations significantly offer to managers and other stakeholders an overview of the manner in which things need to be handled within an organization.  Various scholars such as Peter Senge have established numerous interesting dimensions on the subject of organizational learning that could be taken as personally developmental as well as contributing to elevated organizational effectiveness, more specifically, in situations where organizations are resolutely entrenched in knowledge management.

Nevertheless, as it has been demonstrated, it seems that there are various shortcomings to the approach of the learning organization. It seems to be underpowered theoretically. Several questions seem to have been raised concerning whether or not the visions of various organizations can be actualized within the existing dynamic prevailing within, as well as between, organizations, particularly in countries that exhibit capitalism in their economy. Some scholars also feel the concept of learning organizations has been overemphasized as a mere near-universal solution for the many problems facing organizations today

Scholars have severally attempted to go beyond the aspect of the learning organization. It is worth mentioning that the pessimists amongst the scholars could conclude that it is commercially beneficial to have scholars popularize the importance of organizational learning   in management and development of organizations. For instance, Peter Senge and other renowned scholars interested in this subject have continuously produced various workbooks and extended their analysis on this particular subject. However, it is beyond reasonable doubt that the topic is one of the major aspects that should be emphasized in organizations.


Based on the various aspects revolving around the topic of knowledge management, there are several important recommendations that need to be considered:

–          Firms need to focus on strategic learning that enables them to effectively concentrate on various critical questions and re-evaluate their performances more effectively in order to enhance knowledge among all the stakeholders.

–          The human resources department is an essential organizational component that highly ensures that organizational learning takes place appropriately; hence, firms need to formulate effective strategies that include enhanced reward systems in order to increase effectiveness in organizational learning by all the employees.

–          Dialogue emerges to be a very important aspect, enhancing learning in organization. Usually, dialogue involves people having a conversation about a particular issue, facilitating the participants’ understand of each other’s point of views and resulting in learning takes place. Therefore, organizational managers should promote effective dialogues between various stakeholders in an organization.

–          Managers should understand that an organization’s learning systems are very essential. Basically systems, such as those that enhance effective feedback in many organizational departments, are very essential.  More importantly, the way an organizational culture is formulated significantly determines how learning takes place in an organization. Therefore, it is not worth ignoring the basic aspect of an organization’s systems. Additionally, managers should encourage effective strategies that offer motivation to the workforce to learn various aspects of the organization. This could be done through formulating effective reward systems among other strategies.


Argyris, C. and Schön, D., (1996). Organizational Learning II: Theory, Method and Practice. Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.

Dixon, N. (1994). The Organizational Learning Cycle. How We Can Learn Collectively. London: McGraw-Hill.

Easterby-Smith, M., Burgoyne, J. and Araujo, L. (eds.) (1999) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization, London: Sage.

Garvin, D. A. (2000). Learning in Action. A guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work, Boston, Mass. Harvard Business School Press.

Gilley, J. W. and Maybunich, A. (2000). Beyond the Learning Organization. Creating a Culture of Continuous Growth and Development through State-of-the-Art Human Resource Practices. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books.

Levine, L. (2001). “Integrating Knowledge and Process in a Learning Organization.” Information Systems Management, 12(1): 21-33.

Redding, J. (1997). “Hardwiring the Learning Organization.” Training & Development 7(1): 61-67.

Pace, R. W. (2002). “The Organizational Learning Audit.” Management Communication Quarterly 15(3): 458-465.

Preskill, H. and Torres, R. T. (1999). Evaluative Inquiry for Learning in Organizations. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

Schofield, J. (2004) ‘A Model of Learned Implementation’, Public Administration, 82 (2): 283-308.

Senge, P. et. al. (1994). The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday.

Van Maurik, J. (2001) Writers on Leadership, London: Penguin.

Vince, R. and Saleem, T. (2004) ‘The Impact of Caution and Blame on Organizational Learning’, Management Learning, 35 (2): 133–154.

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