Enterprises have always been learning organisations in much the same way as it is hard for people to avoid learning. A sign of learning organisations are the many successful enterprises, and the abundance of new products and services that keeps emerging. The question about organisational learning is how it is possible to ‘see’ and to analyse learning when learning is not connected to individuals but to organisations and organising? In a normative sense, however, “organisational learning” is often used as our answer to the difficulties in enterprises of how most efficiently to channel knowledge around to the right people and places in ways that helps to maintain and develop prosperous enterprises. Then organisational learning is viewed as an image of an enterprise as that of a learning organisation. The guidelines or ‘best practices’ of how to become a learning organisation are, however, often made with reference to ideas of education, i.e. intentional processes of the production of knowledge. In this paper, I argue that learning and organisational learning does not primarily appear as a result of intended processes but often as the opposite, i.e. as a struggle to maintain the old and create new. The field of organisational learning has always reflected the current and contemporary understandings of the management of enterprises. This is the background for providing first a brief historic account of the organisational learning literature. I will introduce the most important trends in the literature on organisational learning with the focus upon what is learning, and how are organisations to be understood. The account reflects what may be termed “cognitive” versions of organisational learning as well as the “practice turn” within the social sciences and the humanities. Finally, to complete this history of organisational learning I introduce a pragmatist understanding of organisational learning (Elkjaer, 2003a, 2004; Elkjaer & Simpson, 2011). These different versions of organisational learning draw upon specific understandings of what is learning, and how to conceptualise enterprises as organisations or rather organising processes to connote that enterprises are continuously enacted and re-enacted. Following this, the next two sections in the paper deals with the two concepts of learning and organisation/organising. The latter rests upon theories on how to understand the relation between individuals and environments, which is my reason for including a section on just that. I draw the two, learning and organisation, together in a concluding section in which there is also a discussion about how a focus on organisational learning can inspire the research on individual learning.
Routledge International Handbook of Learning, 2012, p. 237-245
Pragmatism; Oganisational learning; theories of learning; management; tensions; Organisatorisk læring