Creating a learning organization
This thesis reviews and critically reflects on 'learning organization' theory and practice. Specifically, it reviews and assesses relevant theories of adult learning and links those theories to the learning organization literature. Using existing literature and practice, empirical research work was undertaken in two organizations to validate, or otherwise, key elements of learning organization theory and practice and to identify patterns in the content and process of creating a learning organization. A learning-in-organizations model is then developed which combines learning organization theory and practice, adult learning theory, and the management of change literature. The multi-layered character of the learning-in-organizations model synthesizes key aspects of the learning processes in the organizations studied. The model also provides a framework (a) for research purposes to systematically define and evaluate learning in organizations, and (b) for management, groups, and individuals to use as a prompt or aide-memoire to develop and evaluate learning activity in their organizations. Key questions guiding the research include: What is meant by 'learning'? How can the complexity of learning be revealed? How can learning in organizations be evaluated? How do responses to the above questions change our understanding of what constitutes a 'learning organization'? The research is qualitative to reveal more of the subtleties of the learning process at the individual and group levels in organizations. The research process comprises four main activities: a review of existing learning organization literature and practice to identify key proposed characteristics of a learning organization; a documentary search in the two research sites; in-depth interviews in the two research sites; and the writing of case studies and their comparison to reveal learning patterns and processes. The research shows that much of current learning organization description remains anecdotal and rhetorical. Confusion exists regarding how learning in organizations is developed and assessed. Key learning organization hallmarks and characteristics are often flawed. In addition, defining and evaluating learning in organizations is often carried out in a rudimentary fashion. This research contributes to learning organization theory and practice: (a) by providing a synthesis and critical analysis of existing learning organization literature, (b) by providing some of the first empirical data on the creation of a learning organization, (c) by linking theories of adult learning to thinking on learning in organizations, and (d) develops a new model for evaluating learning in an organization by linking learning organization theory to andragogy and the management of change literature using qualitative rather than quantitative criteria.