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Organizational Learning 600 x 600

Organizational Learning: A Theoretical Perspective

Asif Arif (24.01.2016)


Organizational Learning 812 x 406

The aim of this report is to develop understanding about organizational learning. The scope of report includes the concept of OL with several definitions and then theories of OL, which helps in understanding the behavior of people in complex situation to take appropriate actions.

1. Concept of Organizational Learning:

The concept of Organizational Learning has been defined by many scholars, which includes the Argyris & Schon  (1978), Fiol & Lyles (1985), Huber (1991), Levinthal March (1993), Day (1994), Sachez (2001) and so many other scholars. Here are some of definitions;

Organizational Learning is basically the process of identifying and rectifying the errors form the organization  (Argyris & Schon, 1978).

Organizational Learning is process of learning through its information processing and change of behavior (Huber, 1991).

OL refers to process of change in behavior and cognition, without focusing to increase the organizational performance (Crossan, 1999).

Finally, Sachez (2001) states that OL is conducting with aim of generating, disseminating and applying the knowledge on an organization, which revolves within five learning cycles, individuals, individual-Groups, groups-organization  and others.

The above definition provides the common understanding from different contexts, which describes to collect and use the organizational knowledge in order to understand the external or internal factors, which affect the organization. So there is need for organization to understand the environment, and behave like a learning organization, which is very successful to understand and adopt the change into business environment by finding opportunities from it.

2. Theories of Organizational Learning:

As defined above, organizational learning is studying the behavior of individuals and groups in different organizations, their structures and different circumstances (Shafritz  2001). The theory of organizational learning provides an organization with help to understand the complex situation and also provide knowledge to develop  strategies  or  take  actions  into  complex  situations  (Berger  2000  Bolman  &  Deal  2003,  Birnbaum  1988).  Here we will discuss the some of important theories and concepts of organizational learning, which helps to understand the concept of OL and its application to solve environmental problems by understanding the people’s behavior within the organization.

According to Senge (1992) the focus of organizational learning is heavily on individuals, along with the strong leadership, because when people expands their capabilities into shaping future, then there is need of strong leadership which are responsible for creation of mental modals and shared visions.

Garvin (1991) states that organizations can learn only, when behavioral and cognitive developments can be done with in organizations and organizational learning can be measured through conducting audit of behavior and performance of behavioral changes and cognitive developments.

According to Argyris & Schon (1996) the organizational learning comprises on both cognitive and behavioral development and organizations learn through individuals. And learning is based upon detecting errors and rectifying errors within the organization.

Duncan & Weiss (1979) has presented its theory which states that organizational learning is based upon increase in  the organizational knowledge to improve the performance and actions by understanding the actions and behaviors of individuals which run the organization.

These above theories also focusing on only two thing, one is cognitive development and secondly behavioral development, and if we find the theories of others authors like, March & Olsen (1975), Shrivastava (1983), Huber  (1991), Stata (1989) and others, we will find only these two perspective to understand the concept and theory of organizational learning.

3. Organizational learning: A Critical Review:

Organizational  Learning  is  considered  as  non-imitable  asset  for  company,  which  can  provide  the  competitive  edge  to  company  along  with  the  financial  benefits  (Barney  1991,  Werner  felt  1984)  and  can  be  used  to  develop  new  entities  and  product  efficient  products  by  organization.  But  there  is  a  lot  of  criticism  on  Organizational  Learning  regarding  is  philosophy  (theories),  its  concept,  its  methodologies  and  its  implementation  which  vary  from  individuals  to  individuals,  organization  to  organization  and  situation  to  situation.

Sources  of  Data  Includes  the  already  available  criticism  made  by  different  authors  during  peer  review  of  against  the  story  and  some  more  critical  points  as  suggested  for  enhancing  the  level  of  understating.  Here  we  will  discuss  the  important  issues  in  OL  concepts;

As  theory  of  OL  do  not  focus  on  other  performance  measures  which  includes  the  creativity,  innovation  and  leadership.  So  when  any  planned  project  is  not  implemented  and  regulated,  becomes  fails.  As  it  does  not  focuses  the  other  performance  parameters.  For  example,  when  Honda  got  successes  on  one  country,  is  considered  the  high  product  quality  and  design  and  other  performance  factors  are  neglected,  like  creativity,  innovation  and  leadership.  So  these  issues  are  not  discussed  properly  organizational  learning.

According  to  R.  Mark  Biddle  (2005),  Although  OL  is  considered  non-imitable  &  valuable  resource  for  organization  but  this  theory  does  not  cover  several  issues,  First,  its  focuses  more  the  product  performance  and  productivity  more  than learning  improvement  and  it  also  does  not  discuss  the  product  performance  results  for  considering  as  input  for  learning  or  knowledge  (Takeuchi  &  Nonaka  1995).  Secondly,  the  theory  of  OL  is  neutral,  and  does  not  define  the  learning  value,  role  of  behavioral  development  and  ways  of  learning  are  not  discussed.  Third,  OL  does  not  behavior  as  distinct  element  is  organization  to  achieve  growth  and  productivity.

The  March  &  Cyert  (1963)  has  publish  boon  on  organizational  learning,  which  have  important  outlines  were,  organizations  learns  from  its  experience,  organization  in  short  run,  changes  its  behavior  according  to  pre-defined  rules  and  in  long  run,  changes  its  behavior  due  to  broad  general  rules.  But    Dill  and  Cangelosi  (1965)  produced  its  book,  which  contains  the  argue  against  former  book,  which  states  that  the  model  of  March  &  Cyert  (1963)  may  be  good  in  stable  circumstances  but  it  does  not  show  suitability  from  working  in  dynamic  circumstances,  as  there  are  lot  of  tensions  between  organizations  and  individuals.

A  different  critique  on  OL  has  presented  by  Schon  &  Argyris  (1978)  which  states  that  the  model  of  Cyert  and  March  is  based  upon  the    rationality  assumptions,  as  individual  behavior  does  not  follow  the  rationality  and  both  organizations  and  individuals  protect  themselves  from  happening  unpleasant  event  by  developing  defensive  measures.  And  the  issues  defined  by  Schon  &  Argyris  (1978)  were  later  discussed  by  other  scholars,  like  Weick  &  Daft  (1984),  Shrivastra  (1983),  Hedberg  (1981)  and  so  on.

According  to  Carig  Herndon  (2006),  in  the  criticism,  it  has  bee  identified,  the  organizational  learning  process  is  single  loop  learning,  which  is  not  enough,  because  the  organization  is  established  and  run  by  some  norms  and  values,  which  governs  the  organization  into  decision  making  and  taking  corrective  actions  and  these  norms  and  values  are  included  on  double  loop  learning  process.

Yes.  Off  course,  the  critique  by  March  &  Cyert  (1963)  is  suitable,  in  which  it  states  that  OL  theories  are  not  suitable  for  dynamic  circumstances.  Because  organization  has  to  deal  a  lot  of  factors,  (external  &  internal),  stake  holders  and  some  other  opposite  forces  from  market,  influence  the  business  decisions,  so  org.  have  lot  of  stress  in  dealing  these  forces  and  the  ideal  situation  does  not  even  exist  into  org.  framework  but  always  stress  and  tension,  so  this  theory  can  not  work.

It has been many  critical  arguments  and  also  solution  for  enhancing  organizational  learning  through  two  important  perspectives,  behavioral  development  and  cognitive  development  of  individuals  and  groups  within  the  organization  to  observe  from  all  theories  presented  by  authors,  so  the  in  order  to  get  the  ideal  level  of  rationality,  the  individual’s  behavior  and  cognitive  process  must  be  targeted  to  prepare  suitable  actions  for  diverse  circumstances.


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