Organizational Learning

It occurred to me after I read the articles for this post that I had chosen articles written in the 1990s which was around 20 years ago. But they reminded me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is probably overstating it and I do not mean to say that nothing has changed over the years. However, some themes that we see today are ones that were seen twenty years ago.

In a Twitter discussion, we discussed how organizations and the people within those organizations are often resistant to change. This is something that people have talked about twenty years ago and probably for a long time before that. Brown and Duguid (1991), in their discussion on communities-of-practice, talk about canonical practices of organizations and noncanonical practices of organization. The way they portray canonical practices of organizations is that of a map. The problem with using a map (especially traditional maps) is that it does not take into consideration road conditions (like traffic or obstructions) and may make it difficult to find the best way to get from point A to point B. By sticking to a map, an organization cannot be flexible enough to solve problems that a map will not be able to solve. In noncanonical practices, stories and storytelling play a role in solving problems and learning.

How does learning take place within an organization? Brown and Duguid (1991) state that “workplace learning is best understood in terms of the communities being formed or joined and personal identities being changed. The central issue in learning is becoming a practitioner not learning about practice” (p. 48). I like this idea of learning because it sees the learner as an active participant rather than a passive one. Cook and Brown (1999) had similar idea in their definition of practice. They saw ‘practice’ as “the coordinated activities of individuals and groups in doing their ‘real work’ as it is informed by a particular organizational or group context” (p. 387). The ‘real work’ implies a practitioner and not just learning about practice. Learning about practice does no good unless it is applied and used.  states that “you can share all the explicit knowledge you have, shout it from the rooftops if you want, but if there’s no one…. to use that knowledge then you haven’t benefited anyone at all”. It is the use of the knowledge that makes it useful to the organization. Huber (1991) suggested that “more organizational learning occurs when more of the organization’s components obtain this knowledge and recognize it as potentially useful” (p. 90). Recognizing something as potentially useful is not the same thing as actually using it. However, it is a good step to using something. After all, if an organization does not see something as possibly useful, then they will not use that knowledge.


Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (1991). Organizational learning and communities-of-practice: Toward a unified view of working, learning, and innovation. Organization Science, 2(1), 40-57.

Cook, S. D. N., & Brown, J. S. (1999). Bridging epistemologies: The generative dance between organizational knowledge and organizational knowing. Organization science, 10(4), 381-400.

Huber, G. P. (1991). Organizational learning: The contributing processes and the literatures. Organization Science, 2(1), 88-115.

5 thoughts on “Organizational Learning

  1. I always think that learners have to be active participants, but I think that sometimes gets mixed up with “actively participating”. You don’t have to raising your hand at every question to be an active participant. The most important part of being an active participant is taking in the knowledge and trying to understand it. Yes, actively asking and answering questions helps, but even if you’re sitting in the back never raising your hand you can be an active participant by actually staying focused on the class, taking notes, and being accepting of knowledge.


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