Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Making Sense of Organizational Learning: Putting Theory into Practice
Article Type: Suggested reading From: Strategic Direction, Volume 30, Issue 11
Cyril Kirwan, Gower, 2013, ISBN: 1409441865
Organizational learning deals with the structures, processes and networks that facilitate the creation and dissemination of knowledge within and between organizations. The term learning organization is typically used to describe the type of organization in which these processes are widespread and successful.
The creation of organizational learning and knowledge takes place at the individual, team and organizational levels. At each of these levels, the role played by continuous-learning opportunities and collaborative learning is important.
Making Sense of Organizational Learning, by Cyril Kirwan, is based on the theory that organizational learning has roots in the fields of both human resource development (HRD) and adult education, with adult-learning theory providing a foundation for HRD theory and practice.
Chapter 1 sets the scene by helping the reader to understand the background and main approaches that have defined the field of learning, as it relates to people at work.
Chapters 2 and 3 discuss various organizational-learning approaches, first in the context of individual learning and then in the context of learning with others, as the author believes that it is impossible to separate the individual and social dimensions completely. Individual and social learning approaches, including teaching strategies developed for adult learners, self-directed learning, transformational learning and experiential learning are discussed along with the contribution of social cognitivism, locus of control, self-efficacy and reflection. In addition, situated learning, action learning and the role of communities of practice are discussed at length.
Chapter 4 focuses on how the organization can seek to understand, facilitate and foster organizational learning. The chapter deals with the systems, practices, routines and relationships that promote the combination and exchange of knowledge necessary for success.
Chapter 5 sets out what researchers and practitioners suggest learning organizations should look like. The author holds that a learning organization is one that is good at organizational learning.
Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the human resource management practices that affect the creation, retention and transfer of learning in the organization. The author discusses the importance of trust and commitment, the psychological contract, training and development, leader-member exchange, managerial coaching, feedback and managing performance in this respect.
Chapter 8 offers frameworks and techniques for measuring the impact of various organizational-learning interventions.
Relevant contributions from varying theoretical viewpoints are brought together and consolidated into a coherent and practical guide to making the best use of the knowledge that resides in organizations. Practical advice is offered along the way on how the wealth of learning that the organization creates can be translated into improved practices.
The book provides evidence built up over the years about what helps and hinders organizational learning. Real-world case studies and examples demonstrate the opportunities for application and serve as a template for interventions. Measurement tools and techniques – including diagnostic questionnaires, checklists and step-by-step guides – are presented in a way that makes their application easy, ensuring their validity at the same time.
The book is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to organizational learning. It is an aid for thinking practitioners – those who are working in and around the fields of learning and development, management development or organizational development. It is of interest to those undertaking postgraduate study in human resources and related disciplines and to all those in a position to influence the application of the theory back at work.
Reviewed by Dr Jaya Chitranshi, assistant professor, Jaipuria Institute of Management, Lucknow-226010, India.