The terms ‘Organizational Learning’ and ‘Learning Organization’ sound so similar. Both involve learning. Learning organization is the process to change. Organizational learning is having the process and strategies and implementing change throughout an organization. Thus the former becomes the plan, to which the latter is the action.
According to Fiol, (1985) Organizational Learning is “the process of improving actions through better knowledge and understanding”. Where as, an organisation that facilitates the learning of all its members and continuously transforms itself (Peddler, Boydell & Burgoyne, 1997) is a learning organisation. “Learning organization can develop structures and strategies to maximise the learning process. The learning organization can be regarded as the organization’s learning activity and the process which ultimately helps the organizations to reach the goal of becoming a learning organization.
Organisational Learning is a process in which an organisation with all its members constantly strives to improve its performance, identify and rectify the mistakes and evolve knowledge and understanding which help it to adapt with its environments. Learning is an integral feature that as it enables any organisation to perceive internal and external changes and to adapt accordingly in the dynamic environment and influence the organisation’s diverse stakeholders. Chris Argyris and Donald Schön introduced this term in 1970s and it is mainly based on John Dewey’s Experience and Education and Kurt Lewin’s development of action research. This proves that organisation learning is based on a solid research on adult education. In general, organisational learning is based on assumption-surfacing learning, experiential learning and information processing model.
Peter Senge, proponent of the term learning organisations, described them as places “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 how to learn together”. He also introduced the five “component technologies” of systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning to reach this goal. Teams, leadership, organisational culture and learning infrastructure are the core structures for learning organisation.
Organizational Learning and Learning Organization have been contrasted in terms of process versus structure. Whereas some researchers define Organizational Learning as the ability of an organization to gain insight and understanding from experience through experimentation, observation, analysis, and a willingness to examine both successes and failures.
Learning organisation lack firm research foundations like the concept of organisational learning. The concept sounds absolutely ideal, desirable, but doesn’t offer a framework for action. The lack of concrete concepts, unanswered questions etc add confusions to the goal of reaching the destination of learning organizations in terms of behaviour, policies and programs, etc. The focus of learning organizations is rich in philosophy and grand themes, than the hardy ways to practice it.
In another view, learning organisation is based on the employees of the organisation. The several members of the organisation are considered to be the firm foundations having a common vision. They will be able to perceive and act according to the changing environment. They can also generate new knowledge, innovations, ideas, etc. to meet the customer needs.
Learning organisation learns what the organizations do at the present, what are the factors they should work on or change to become more competitive or get a monopoly, what all they are doing the right way, who are the people working in the organisation and those working with their competitors, and what they are like as individuals. One involves actual learning and the other involves the ways of acquiring the learning. Whether it is the process or the actual institutionalization of learning, it has gained popularity in the organisation in the recent times. This is because each organisation considers it important to be more capable and better than its rivals. Without learning it is impossible for any organisation to cope up with the ever changing environment that, it would fail to sustain in its business world. Thus, learning has become an important organisational strategy in the business sector, world over.
Fiol, C. M. & Lyles, M. A. (1985). Organizational Learning. Academy of Management Review, 10(4), 803-813.
Peddler, M., Burgoyne, J. & Boydell, T. (1997). The learning company. Berkshire, England: Mcgraw-Hill.