Criteria for "Learning Organization" LO29562

From: Mark W. McElroy (
Date: 11/23/02

Replying to LO29557 --


I agree with this, but I also think we can do better at describing the
ideal state of a learning organization. For if we don't, how do know
whether or not an organization has achieved the ideal state -- or whether
it has at least approached it in form? For example, you make reference to
structures and systems. I agree with this, but I also think we can
describe the structures and systems that matter most to organizational
learning, and that by doing so we can be specific about where to aim our
interventions and the kinds of tools and methods we should use to do so.

I also think a fair question to ask would be strong learning for what
purpose? This raises the issue of relevance in learning, or quality of
learning, if you will. Some kinds of learning matter more than others. So
strong learning in areas of low relevance might satisfy the strength test,
but would arguably ill serve its constituents nevertheless, whose real
world problems might call for learning of a different kind, even at lower

As for the strength criterion, if this is to say that more learning is
better than less, then again I think we can do better than that. An
organization that manages to solve all its problems through effective
learning is better off, I think, in the end, than another organization
whose capacity to learn is marked by a higher rate, but whose problems are
less often resolved in the process. So here I think the rate of learning
should be seen as effective and sufficient only to the extent that it
serves an organization's capacity to solve its problems at their (the
problems') rate of arrival. No higher rate of learning is required, even
if an organization has the capacity to increase it.

I also find it useful to express the dynamics of organizational learning
in a kind of anatomical way, so that, as I suggested above, we can drill
down in a more granular way and talk about specific elements of the
process and assess for ourselves how well they are working. This is also
how we can say that all organizations learn, albeit at different levels.
Why? Because our knowledge of the underlying dynamics (or our theories
about them) makes it possible for us to examine the sub-processes involved
and to verify that they are, in fact, existent and in use. To the extent
that individual learning, for example, contributes to organizational
learning, we can usually determine that individuals are always learnign to
some degeree or other in all organizations. Similarly, we can say that
changes in behavior at an organizational level is an outward sign of
learning, since behavior is really nothing more than knowledge in use and
changes in knowledge usually follow from learning.

Thanks for your comments.



>The "Learning Organization" (as ideal) is -superb- in learning, both
>individually and collectively, the capacities for learning are very
>strong, and the structures and systems are highly aligned for learning. In
>that sense, it's an ideal.


"Mark W. McElroy" <>

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