Becoming a Learning Organisation

Nov. 3, 2015 in Articles

By Sue McKinnon

There has been research and publications about learning organizations for many years but when we talk about learning organizations, what do we really mean? How does an organization embark on the process of becoming a learning organization?

There are several definitions written about being a learning organization.  Below are a few examples: 

  • 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: 3)
  • 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: 1)
  • 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: 118) 

The definitions are different yet share many characteristics.  These include, providing continuous learning opportunities, use learning to reach their goal, link individual development with organizational development, foster inquiry and dialogue, making it safe for people to share openly and take risks, embrace creative tension as a source of energy and renewal and are continuously aware of and interact with their environment.

There is no one-way or right way to be a healthy thriving learning organization. Each will take their own path.  The one key ingredient, however, is that there must be strong desire and support from leadership to put some time and resources aside to invest in learning processes. Otherwise it’s just a good idea.

Being a learning organization is a process, not a destination.  If you are interested in more information how you and your organization can begin this journey there are several interesting resources to dive into.

  1. The Barefoot Guide 2: Learning Practices of Organisations and Social Change
  2. The learning organization: principles, theory and practice
  3. What is Organizational Learning?, Society for Organizational Learning, North America
  4. The Challenge of Organizational LearningStanford Innovation Review
  5. Is Yours a Learning Organization? David A. Garvin, Amy C. EdmondsonFrancesca Gino, Harvard Business Review