My Theory of Organizational Learning LO30817

From: Bob Williams (
Date: 12/01/03

Replying to LO30809 --

>From: Richard Karash <>
>Mark McElroy wrote:
>>Here's my first question in response to what you wrote: In what sense
>>is your theory a theory of "organizational" learning as opposed to one
>>of "individual" learning? Much of what you wrote seems to me to be
>>cast in terms of the individual. Thus, it's not clear to me how it
>>all plays out at the level of collectives, except for the part in
>>which groups or communities form.
>>In other words, how do we get from individual learning to
>>organizational learning; from individual knowledge to shared

Rick your posting was nicely timed. A colleague of mine and I are
currently drafting a chapter on "evaluation and organizational
learning" for the forthcoming Handbook of Evaluation. We have
encountered the two issues you confront here.

Firstly how to structure any discussion on OL, and secondly whether to
make any differentiation between individual learning and
organizational learning.

I can't say we have resolved either successfully quite yet, but your
contributions and others have been helpful.

I've one more perspective to add about the individual vs
organizational. It is implied on your posting, but I'd like to nail
it down a bit more.

Vygotsky argued - at least from my partial understanding he argued -
that all learning was socially mediated and socially situated.
Learning takes place in zones of proximal development that are
essentially created and sustained collectively. From this essentially
Marxist position, whilst individuals develop their knowledge by a
cognitive process of puzzling and patterning, there is no such thing
as "individual" learning. Cultural-Historical Activity Theorists have
taken these concepts, blended them with aspects of systems theory and
action research practice and developed an organizational
learning/development tool quite distinct from (although not
incompatible with) the Senge/Argyris/Schon/Bion and anthropomorphic
focus of much organizational learning theories.

So I guess the debate as always and as you said towards the end of
your original piece, centres around what we mean by learning, and how
we conceive the individual.




BOB WILLIAMS Check out the free resources on my WEB site

Mobile (64) 21 254 8983

Rule #1 - Don't panic Rule #2 - Things always work out in the end

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.