Argues that because service organizations are faced with greater uncertainty and ambiguity than manufacturing organizations they require a focus on learning in order to control the vagaries of the marketplace, on the one hand, and the uncertainty of the service encounter, on the other. Posits that, consequently, we use the concept of learning service to suggest that when learning is planned at two levels ‐ the service encounter and market research ‐ skills are assimilated and knowledge is generated by an increased awareness of tacit and formal knowledge. States that when this is performed by self‐managed multi‐disciplinary work teams then effective normative standards can be constructed. Demonstrates the concept of a learning service to show how such a service can provide opportunities for organizational development. Begins by examining the distinctive characteristics of service organizations and identifies how these might affect and facilitate organizational learning. Attempts to demonstrate this with an in‐depth case study in a healthcare setting. Discusses how healthcare in the UK is often presented in the context of a learning organization because the introduction of an internal market (The 1990 NHS and Community Care Act) created the separation of responsibility for healthcare provision from its purchase. Implies that “organizational learning” has come to show that organizations, like organisms, adapt to a changing environment. By going beyond the limitations of this biological metaphor attempts to provide a model of a learning service which is characterized by human agency.
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