The paper seeks to argue for a theoretical contribution that deals with the detection of collective learning. The aim is to examine and clarify the genesis processes of collective learning. The empirical basis is a telecoms context with task‐driven networking across both internal and external organisational borders.
The research draws upon an integration of organisational learning theory and a relational and contextual branch of experiential learning theory framed as organisational pedagogy. A case study of R&D work serves as the empirical foundation. Four teams were studied through interviews, focus groups, and observations. Data were analysed in interplay between empirical findings and theoretical concepts.
Collective learning does not only occur within the boundaries of well‐defined groups where previously identified. Characterised by distributed work processes and rapid changes in the telecom context, collective learning is associated with individual distribution of tasks, insufficiency as a foundation, a question‐and‐answer space, and the imprints of others in a shared action arena.
Conclusions concern how collective learning can be comprehended. The paper points to the importance of interaction and a shared action arena. The way in which knowledge develops is, to some extent, context‐dependent. This indicates that the characteristics of the shared action arena vary.
Differentiating learning processes has a practical significance for organisations wanting to focus upon competence issues.
This study identified the importance for collective learning of the presence of a shared action arena. The theoretical contribution fills a gap in the understanding of how collective learning arises when moving from face‐to‐face learning within local teams, to networking across both internal and external organisational borders. This contributes to the understanding of how the learning of individuals links with the learning of an organisation.
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