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Adrian Wright
Adrian Wright

Organizational Learning And Knowledge: Concepts...

Organizational learning is the process of creating, retaining, and transferring knowledge within an organization. An organization improves over time as it gains experience. From this experience, it is able to create knowledge. This knowledge is broad, covering any topic that could better an organization. Examples may include ways to increase production efficiency or to develop beneficial investor relations. Knowledge is created at four different units: individual, group, organizational, and inter organizational.

Organizational Learning and Knowledge: Concepts...


The most common way to measure organizational learning is a learning curve. Learning curves are a relationship showing how as an organization produces more of a product or service, it increases its productivity, efficiency, reliability and/or quality of production with diminishing returns. Learning curves vary due to organizational learning rates. Organizational learning rates are affected by individual proficiency, improvements in an organization's technology, and improvements in the structures, routines and methods of coordination.[1]

Organizational learning happens as a function of experience within an organization and allows the organization to stay competitive in an ever-changing environment. Organizational learning is a process improvement that can increase efficiency, accuracy, and profits. A real-world example of organizational learning is how a new pizza store will reduce the cost per pizza as the cumulative production of pizzas increases.[1] As the staff creates more pizza; they begin to make pizzas faster, the staff learns how to work together, and the equipment is placed in the most efficient location leading to cheaper costs of creation. An example of a more formal way to track and support organizational learning is a learning agenda.

Organizational learning is an aspect of organizations and a subfield of organizational studies. As an aspect of an organization, organizational learning is the process of creating, retaining, and transferring knowledge. Knowledge creation, knowledge retention, and knowledge transfer can be seen as adaptive processes that are functions of experience.[2] Experience is the knowledge that contributes to the procedural understanding of a subject through involvement or exposure. Research within organizational learning specifically applies to the attributes and behavior of this knowledge and how it can produce changes in the cognition, routines, and behaviors of an organization and its individuals.[3]

Individuals are predominantly seen as the functional mechanisms for organizational learning by creating knowledge through experience.[4] However, individuals' knowledge only facilitates learning within the organization as a whole if it is transferred. Individuals may withhold their knowledge or exit the organization. Knowledge that is embedded into the organization, in addition to its individuals, can be retained.[5] Organizations can retain knowledge in other ways than just retaining individuals, including using knowledge repositories such as communication tools, processes, learning agendas, routines, networks, and transactive memory systems.[6][7]

As a subfield, organizational learning is the study of experience, knowledge, and the effects of knowledge within an organizational context.[8] The study of organizational learning directly contributes to the applied science of knowledge management (KM) and the concept of the learning organization. Organizational learning is related to the studies of organizational theory, organizational communication, organizational behavior, organizational psychology, and organizational development. Organizational learning has received contributions from the fields of educational psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, political science, and management science.[9]

Organizations gain knowledge in one of the four organizational communities of learning: individual, team, organizational, and inter-organizational. Organizational learning "involves the process through which organizational communities (e.g. groups, departments, divisions) change as a result of experience." An example of organizational learning is a hospital surgical team learning to use new technology that will increase efficiency.[10]

Knowledge is an indicator of organizational learning. Organization learning happens when there is a change in the knowledge of an organization.[12] Researchers measure organizational knowledge in various ways. For example, some researchers assess knowledge as changes in an organization's practices or routines that increase efficiency.[27] Other researchers base it on the number of patents an organization has.[28] Knowledge management is the process of collecting, developing, and spreading knowledge assets to enable organizational learning.

Organizational learning tracks the changes that occur within an organization as it acquires knowledge and experience. To evaluate organizational learning, the knowledge an organization creates, transfers, and retains must be quantified.

Researchers studying organizational learning have measured the knowledge acquired through various ways since there is no one way of measuring it. Silvia Gherardi measured knowledge as the change in practices within an organization over time, which is essentially learning from experience.[27] In her study, she observed an organization acquire knowledge as its novices working at building sites learned about safety through experience and became practitioners. George Huber measured knowledge as the distribution of information within an organization. In his study, he noted that "organizational components commonly develop 'new' information by piecing together items of information that they obtain from other organizational units."[34] He gives the example of "a shipping department [that] learns that a shortage problem exists by comparing information from the warehouse with information from the sales department."[34]

An increasingly common and versatile measure of organizational learning is an organizational learning curve demonstrating experience curve effects. A learning curve measures the rate of a metric of learning relative to a metric for experience. Linda Argote explains that "large increases in productivity typically occur as organizations gain experience in production."[4] However, Argote also notes that organizations' rates of learning vary. Argote identifies three factors that affect these rates: increased proficiency of individuals, improvements in an organization's technology, and improvements in its structure (such as its routines and methods of coordination).[4] Some organizations show great productivity gains while others show little or no gains, given the same amount of experience.[4]The experience curves plot the decreasing unit cost versus the total cumulative units produced, a common way to measure the effect of experience. The linear-linear input form on the left is transformed into the log-log form on the right to demonstrate that the proficiency increase correlates with experience.

Attempts to explain variance of rates in organizational learning across different organizations have been explored in theoretical models. Namely the theoretical models conceived by John F. Muth, Bernardo Huberman, and Christina Fang.

An organization's experience affects its learning, so it is important to also study the context of the organizational climate, which affects an organization's experience. This context refers to an organization's characteristics, specifically its "structure, culture, technology, identity, memory, goals, incentives, and strategy."[12] It also includes its environment, which consists of its competitors, clients, and regulators.[12] While this context establishes how knowledge is acquired by the organization, this knowledge modifies context as the organization adapts to it.[12] The leader-initiated cultural context of learning has inspired key research into whether the organization has a learning or performance orientation,[36] an environment of psychological safety,[37]the group's superordinate identity,[38] and group dynamics.[39] Research into these concepts like Edmondson's study (1999) shows that an organization operating under a context promoting curiosity, information sharing, and psychological safety encourages organizational learning.[37]"Group learning dynamics" is the subject of how groups share, generate, evaluate, and combine knowledge as they work together.[4]

Knowledge acquired through learning by doing can depreciate over time. The depreciation rate is affected by the turnover rate of individuals and how knowledge is stored within the organization. Organizations with higher turnover rates will lose more knowledge than others. Organizations with knowledge embedded in technology rather than individuals are more resistant to organizational forgetting.[1] Examples: In the Liberty Shipyard study, in shipyards where relative input was reduced, individual unit cost increased even with increasing cumulative output. In shipyards with no relative input reduction, individual unit cost decreased with increasing cumulative output.[1] In a study of airplane manufacturing at Lockheed, unit costs declined with experience, but this effect weakened over time.[40]

Knowledge transfer concerns the mechanisms by which experience spreads and embeds itself within the organization. Knowledge transfer can be evaluated using various metrics, including learning curves that demonstrate process improvements over time by comparing the decrease in labor hours to complete a unit of production with the cumulative units produced over time. Wright's identification of organizational learning curves preceded more complex outcome considerations[4] that now inform measures of knowledge transfer. While knowledge may transfer tacitly and explicitly as direct experience, organizations can introduce processes and knowledge management systems that facilitate this transfer. Researchers investigate the context of various factors and mechanisms affecting knowledge transfer to determine their beneficial and detrimental effects. 041b061a72


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