An integrated theoretical model of organizational learning

This chapter first defines organizational learning based on a review of its definitions in Chinese and international literanire, and then provides our theoretical model of organizational learning on the basis of summarizing the literature so as to prepare the ground for later empirical research.

Meaning of organizational learning

Two preconditions of organizational learning

To define organizational learning entails the clarification of what “organizational” and "learning” mean in the phrase. Due to their various definitions of the two words, many theorists and practitioners have proposed different definitions of organizational learning.

Firstly, differences in interpretations of organizational learning reflect varying assumptions about “organization ” (Crossan et al., 1999). If one views an organization as the sum of individual members, and that learning resides within individuals, then organizational learning will be viewed as predominantly individual learning. If one views an organization as something larger than the sum of individual members, and that learning resides within individuals, then organizational learning will be viewed as predominantly group-based learning (that is, collective learning). If an organization is defined as greater than the integration of its members, organizational learning becomes an organizationally based phenomenon. Finally, if one considers organizational boundaries as blurred, then organizational learning can be studied at an inter-organizational level. We support the multilevel theory proposed by Klein et al. (2000) that an organization includes its individuals and groups, as well as organizational characteristics such as strategies and structures at the organizational level. Against the backdrop of globalization, an organization is located in a globalized organizational network, where inter- organizational communication is inevitable. Inter-organizational level, therefore, is also an important aspect of an organization.

Secondly, conceptualizations of organizational learning will partly reflect differences of how “learning ” is presented. Previous studies of organizational learning present "learning” in two ways: some view learning as an outcome; others discuss learning as a process (Edmondson, 1999). Levitt and March (1988) define organizational learning as "encoding inferences from history into routines that guide behavior,” a typical view ou organizational learning as an outcome. In contrast, Argyris and Schon(1978) define organizational learning as a process of detecting and correcting errors. Their view represents a process perspective. In this study, we define and investigate organizational learning as a process with a view to deepening the understanding of organizational learning.

 
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