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The past 10-20 years we have seen a general change in our view of learning. Previously, learning was exclusively considered an aspect of our childhood and adolescence, in a context of classes, teachers and schools.
The past 10-20 years we have seen a general change in our view of learning. Previously, learning was exclusively considered an aspect of our childhood and adolescence, in a context of classes, teachers and schools. Today, we are required to relate to an ever-changing environment which obviously has a great impact on our functions at work - an hence on what competences are necessary in order to do our jobs. Consequently, it a continuous learning process can be necessary both to the employee who has to present himself on the labour market and to the organisation that must stay competitive and up-to-date.
Throughout this chapter, we address learning as an active process for the person that is subject to learning. This definition of learning in different from the earlier understanding of learning as a result of teaching and schooling that "fills up" an inactive individual with knowledge. In contrast, this concept of learning proposes a dynamic (lifelong) acquisition of knowledge and competences where learning is realised through an individual's active participation in his or her own learning process.
The understanding of learning as something different and something more than a passive learning process is a shared theme throughout this chapter's various sections. However, different approaches to learning are discussed. Thus, the chapter should be considered a development from more cognitive theories according to which learning is realised within an individual but with the intention of doing what is best for the organisation. Social constructivist theories emphasise that social learning and learning take place through participation in communities of practice, whereas radically social constructivist theories have a different approach. They acknowledge that learning in a relational context is the most important and interesting kind of learning, without ever ignoring the individual.
The concept of organisational learning has been used in organisational research since the late 1950s. However, organisational learning was not established as a specific field of research until the 90s with the launch of theories on The Learning Organisation.
One of the reasons for the popularity of organisational learning is found in recognition of the fact that an organisation's ability to learn and evolve more than its competitors can be the key to success. Business strategists, economists and sociologists have shown interest in organisational learning and their different perspectives have lead respective representatives to take different approaches to learning in organisations.
Organisation theorists Chris Argyris and Donald Schön believe that organisational learning is seen when individuals in an organisation experience a problematic situation and explore this situation on behalf of the organisation. Hence, learning is what happens when an individual experiences that what was planned did not turn out as expected and consequently reflects on the situation, modify his actions and changes his points of view leading to new organisational knowledge. For learning to be really organisational, changes have to be embedded both in the organisational members' assumptions and in programmes, memories and other artefacts of the organisation's surrounding environment where organisational knowledge is stored.
According to Argyris and Schön's understanding, organisations learn when individuals learn and individuals communicate this learning in a way that benefits the organisation. Also, American researcher Peter Senge represents an approach according to which individuals' learning and involvement are what leads to organisational learning. Peter Senge introduces the concept of "the learning organisation about learning to learn together to become a learning community. On this basis, it is his belief that organisations that are capable of using their members' commitment and learning capacity at all levels of the organisation will become the most successful businesses in the future.
Contrary to Argyris/Schön and Senge who focus on organisational learning as a process during which - roughly - the individual learns on behalf of the organisation, both American social psychologist Karl E. Weick and learning theorists Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave approach learning as a concept that is stored in language and relations. According to Lave and Wenger, learning is practically realised through participation in communities. Therefore, learning cannot be considered a phenomenon that happens exclusively in the individual.
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