About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reframing how we define organizational learning

In order to place my dissertation into current literature, I have begun to start reading again about organizational learning. I will be blogging about it over the next few months in order to help me write the dissertation.

Organizational Learning from a cultural perspective

The first article I read was by Cook and Yanow (1993). Their article takes the position that most organizational learning theories use cognition as a basis, either looking at the individual learning which when aggregated makes up organizational learning, or looking at the organizational learning as if it were the same process as individual learning, only as an organization. They identify a third approach, which is to look at organizational learning from a cultural perspective.

The cultural perspective looks at organizations as having a collective pattern of action (just as societies do) that create artifacts, shared meaning, and "knowledge" within the group. The knowledge is held collectively by the group, but was not created by the individual. Rather, the knowledge, and thus the learning, is passed on throughout the organization by the "group".

Looking at organizational learning from this perspective opens up a number of issues for workplace learning. Cook and Yanow, for instance, note that change is not necessary for learning to take place. Rather, learning might reinforce the social and cultural norms that make up the organizational identity. Likewise, much of the learning in organizations are tacit and difficult to measure.

Implications for Organizational Training

When I look at this, the main implication that comes to mind is that "learning outcomes" may not be a good measure of organizational learning. It seems to me that most training is really a means of either repositioning or reinforcing organizational culture. If that is the case, it is not enough to measure individual performance to determine if training was successful. Rather, there needs to be an analysis of organizational processes and an agregate of organizational understanding of the learning outcomes.

For example, the group I am working with is working on a training program in human services. While they could use a questionnaire at the end of the training to see what each individual "knows", a better format would be to identify patterns of action that would indicate the desired organizational behavior. Participants should fill out this questionnaire at the beginning and end of the training. But then there should be a follow up questionnaire given to the organization as a whole to determine if the training has infiltrated the organizational culture. If training was effective, not only would individuals that received the training allign their values with the target values, but so would those that did not receive the training.

3 comments:

LaViziata said...

I really liked the idea of testing if an organization has learned. I thought in many ways about measuring organizational learning as a process: by looking at the outcomes of learning, by assessing the parameters of the complex adaptive system (information flow, richness of connectivity, diversity of information), even by modelling the emergent behaviors with artificial life models.
But indeed, the most obvious way is to just test the student!
Thank you for sharing,

Ewa

V Yonkers said...

Yes, and what is important is to test those that might not have undergone training. This would show what the level of learning the the training has shown throughout the organization. I think this would also promote learning from your colleagues.

However, when "testing" it is not enough to have one multiple choice test right after the training. We need to start developing new ways to assess learning. For example, what about having students present portfolios at the 6 month point demonstrating how they applied what they learned? This could include group projects.

I think this would also help in needs assessment, in identifying further training needs.

LaViziata said...

I think this is a good idea: test those who were not present in the training but worked on a project / assignment, with the ones who were. Assessment after 3-6 months of the project and the methodology used should be team-based: teams assess each other in front of the other teams that participated in the training. This way you'd see the advantages of networking and flow of information as well as assessment on how useful your training was: if people didn't use the methods you might want to reconsider its adaptation for the organization. I think this should be the model for business school or any other applied science education. Project- based Companies that want to practice continuous learning could also apply this model.
Regards,
Ewa