Organizational Learning Processes

Organizational learning processes are represented by the curved arrows in Fig. 2.1. When knowledge is created from a unit’s own direct experience, the learning sub- process is knowledge creation. When knowledge is developed from the experience of another unit, the learning subprocess is knowledge transfer. Thus, the curved arrow at the bottom of the figure depicts either the knowledge creation or knowl- edge transfer subprocess. A third subprocess, retaining knowledge, is depicted by the curved arrow in the upper right quadrant of Fig. 2.1 that flows from knowledge to the context. It is through this process that knowledge is retained in the organiza- tion. Thus, organizational learning is conceived as having three interrelated subpro- cesses: creating, retaining, and transferring knowledge. These subprocesses are related. For example, some degree of knowledge persistence is required for its trans- fer. New knowledge is often created during knowledge transfer attempts (Miller, Fern, & Cardinal, 2007).

Several researchers have conceived of search as another organizational learning subprocess (Huber, 1991). In our framework, the curved arrow in the upper left quadrant of Fig. 2.1 represents search. The arrow shows that the active context of members and tools affects task performance experience. For example, members can choose to search in local or distant areas and search for novel or known experience (Katila & Ahuja, 2002; Rosenkopf & Almedia, 2003; Sidhu, Commandeur, & Volberda, 2007). A transactive memory system facilitates search by providing infor- mation about who knows what and who is good at what.

1. Mindfulness of Organizational Learning Processes

 The subprocesses can be characterized along several dimensions. The dimension of learning processes that has received the most attention is their “mindfulness.” Learning processes can vary from mindful or attentive (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2006) to less mindful or routine (Levinthal & Rerup, 2006). The former are what psycholo- gists have termed controlled processes while the latter are more automatic (Shiffrin & Schneider, 1977). Mindful processes include dialogic practices (Tsoukas, 2009) and analogical reasoning, which involves the comparison of cases and the abstrac- tion of common principles (Gentner, 1983; Gick & Holyoak, 1983). Less mindful processes include stimulus–response learning in which responses that are reinforced increase in frequency. Levinthal and Rerup (2006) described how mindful and less mindful processes can complement each other with mindful processes enabling the organization to shift between more automatic routines and routines embedding past experience and conserving cognitive capacity for greater mindfulness.

Most discussions of mindful processes have explicitly or implicitly focused on the learning subprocess of creating knowledge. The subprocess of retaining knowl- edge can also vary in the extent of mindfulness. For example, Zollo and Winter (2002) studied deliberate approaches to codifying knowledge, which would be examples of mindful retention processes (see also Zollo, 2009). Similarly the sub- process of transferring knowledge can also vary in mindfulness. “Copy exactly” approaches or replications without understanding the underlying causal processes would be examples of less mindful transfer processes while knowledge transfer attempts that adapt the knowledge to the new context (Williams, 2007) would be examples of more mindful approaches.

2. Distribution of Organizational Learning Processes

A learning process dimension that is especially important in organizations is the extent to which the learning processes are distributed across organizational mem- bers. For example, organizations can develop a transactive memory or collective system for remembering, retrieving, and distributing information (Brandon & Hollingshead, 2004; Ren & Argote, 2011; Wegner, 1986). In organizations with a well-developed transactive memory system, members specialize in learning differ- ent pieces of information. Thus, learning processes would be distributed in organi- zations with well-developed transactive memory systems.

3. Improvisation of Organizational Learning Processes

Learning processes can also vary in the extent to which they are planned or impro- vised. Planned learning occurs through structures such R&D programs or new prod- uct development projects (Benner & Tushman, 2003; Lieberman, 1984; Sinclair et al., 2000). Improvisation occurs during task performance and involves minimal structures (Barrett, 1998; Miner, Bassoff, & Moorman, 2001). Vera and Crossan (2005) identified conditions under which improvisation leads to learning. The con- ditions included high-quality teamwork, high levels of expertise, communication, training, and an experimental culture.

More research is needed on the organizational learning processes and their inter- relationships. For example, there may be a relationship between the extent to which learning processes are mindful and the extent to which they are planned. In addition, the concept of mindful learning processes would benefit from further refinement. The concept is used both in the sense of deliberate processes and in the sense of processes that are in the moment and free from previous conceptions (or misconcep- tions). Research on attention might be helpful in refining the concept of mindfulness (Ocasio, 2011). Ideally, one would like to identify a parsimonious yet complete set of learning processes and understand the conditions under which they are invoked and their effects on learning outcomes.

Source: Argote Linda (2013), Organizational Learning: Creating, Retaining and Transferring Knowledge, Springer; 2nd ed. 2013 edition.

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