Organizational learning has become a key item of discussion around many executive conference room tables since Peter Senge's work in the 1990s and the ongoing research through SOL and MIT. As companies vie with one another to maintain or secure competitive advantages, the development and retention of human capital and organizational learning have been an item of keen interest to many of the Fortune 500 companies. Manufacturing businesses and industry have predominated the on-line application of many employee learning and communication systems as well as organizational improvements and adjustments to grapple with the perceived need to sustain on-going value for their customers.
Sohal et al (2002) define a learning organization as one that “creates competitive advantage by adapting better to changing environments, continually improving and more easily absorbing new concepts and innovations.” Further, “learning organizations create an environment of success by working closely with their people, customers, suppliers and competitors.”
The currents flowing in organizational learning today were initiated due to many and varied factors including the advent of relatively new ideologies such as total quality management (TQM) and Six Sigma, the globalization of the economy, the competitiveness of the world market, the advances in technology and the shrinkage of available qualified human capital and the rapidly changing demographics of developed nations.
A. S. Sohal, et al, (2002) summarizes the explanation or assumptions for organizational learning endeavors as follows:
The learning organization creates competitive advantage by adapting better to changing environments, continually improving and more easily absorbing new concepts and innovations . Learning organizations create an environment of success by working closely with their people….Learning organizations also possess the mechanisms which transfer learning from the individual to the group, and have an internal transformation process, a commitment to knowledge and an openness to the outside world. (p. 188)
When we discuss electronic forms of organizational learning (including the new utilization of social media in learning and collaboration), the business problem in need of a solution remains largely the same issue for management as non-electronic initiatives for training and development. What business leaders want to measure is the return on investment (ROI) for training and educational initiatives. Historically, this has been an on-going difficulty for human resource development (HRD) professionals to demonstrate. Management wants to see the “bang for the buck.” Questions routinely focus on whether or not the learning experiences foster real return in business performance and what standards of measurement will be acceptable to those at the helm of each industry or corporation. Strategically it makes sense to spell out the management expectations and willingness of the culture to support learning before undertaking any information systems initiative.
Further, organizational learning in service of the creation and sustained acquisition of value seems a clear prerequisite for any manager. The motivators for such a philosophical shift seems to be tied to many variables including influence from scientific methods, learning theory, organizational psychology and information technology. The computer’s ability to process data to obtain meaningful information can be compared to the use of knowledge for the creation of value. In that modern
organizations are in a constant state of change, the process of assessment or evaluation leads to practices which employees must then evaluate or measure to determine what new pieces of information to feed back into the process.
Sohal, A.S., Morrison, M. & Pratt, T. (2002). Creating a regional learning environment for accelerating company development and growth. Total Quality Management, 13(2), 183-184.