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Exploring linkages between unlearning and relearning in organizations

Shubham Sharma (Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Roorkee, India)
Usha Lenka (Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, Roorkee, India)

The Learning Organization

ISSN: 0969-6474

Article publication date: 13 August 2019

Issue publication date: 16 October 2019

Abstract

Purpose

Learning, unlearning and relearning (LUR) has been preached as a panacea to organizations. Whereas, research on learning and unlearning has grown exponentially, relearning is still considered as an obscure concept. This paper aims to provide a new insight on organizational relearning and highlight its linkages with organizational unlearning.

Design/methodology/approach

This study is based upon a systematic literature review of organizational unlearning and organizational relearning. Papers expounding upon relearning were carefully analyzed vis-à-vis organizational unlearning.

Findings

Organizational unlearning and organizational relearning assume a vital place in developing a learning organization. However, linking the two processes in a sequence tends to arouse certain conceptual difficulties. First, it is not necessary that relearning follows this prescribed ordering sequence. It is a process that can happen without prior unlearning. Second, based on the process model and multiple definitions of unlearning, the very purpose of organizational unlearning is to acquire new knowledge (relearning in literature). Therefore, in this sense, relearning seems to become a redundant concept and a neologism. As a result, this hampers the proper contextualization of relearning.

Originality/value

This paper attempts to expound upon the debate of organizational relearning and its interplay with organizational unlearning. As the concept of lifelong learning and building learning organizations assumes the center stage in contemporary organizations, it is suggested that unless the conceptual issues of related to LUR are not adequately addressed, academicians will naturally find it difficult to prescribe proper course of action to practitioners.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors are extremely grateful to Professor Nhien Nguyen, Professor Adrian Klammer and Professor Thomas Grisold (Guest Editors) for their valuable comments and patience. The authors also acknowledge the valuable feedback of the two anonymous reviewers.

Citation

Sharma, S. and Lenka, U. (2019), "Exploring linkages between unlearning and relearning in organizations", The Learning Organization, Vol. 26 No. 5, pp. 500-517. https://doi.org/10.1108/TLO-10-2018-0164

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited