Learning Organization

Learning Organization

The Learning Organization could not become a reality until the coming of the World Wide Web and the engines of strategic assessment.

—David H. Miles, 2003

A learning organization is any organization that fosters continuous learning on both the organizational and individual levels, in order to improve performance. The continuous learning is based on twin feedback loops, permitting the organization to learn while individual employees learn as well. (See Double Loop Learning.) Overall, the organization is viewed as a living organism, complete with feedback systems and the ability to adapt to change in its environment.



Peter Drucker: The Age of Discontinuity. Drucker points out that we are shifting from a corporate culture based on physical labor to one depending on a knowledge society, a transition from an industrial society to an information one. The first inklings that organizations must continuously learn to adapt to change.


Alvin Toffler's Future Shock outlines the shift from industrialism to informationalism, stressing the ability to change and learn.


Donald Schon: Beyond the Stable State. A brilliant, little known book on learning organizations, systems, and processes, twenty years before their popularity in instructional circles. Schon argues that rapidly accelerating change is undermining the stability of our society; institutions must become learning "systems," maintaining flexibility and adapting to situations as they arise. Corporations should organize themselves around functions and processes rather than products and tasks.


Chris Argyris and Donald Schon: Organizational Learning I. Abstract, academic, and difficult to read, but important because it starts to move the discussion beyond training to learning in organizations.


Reginald Revans: The Origins and Growth of Action Learning. The great master of action learning, as it relates to organizational learning.


Rosabeth Kanter: The Change Masters: Innovation for Productivity in the American Corporation. Studies of entrepreneurship and the ability to adapt quickly inside large corporations.


Marvin Weisbord: Productive Workplaces. Prologue is excellent on "learning how to learn" in the 1960s, and on the importance of "lessons learned"—always asking "what did we learn from that?"


The Learning Organization is officially born simultaneously in three separate books:

  • Charles Handy: The Age of Unreason. The British standpoint. See chapter on "Re-Inventing Education."

  • Richard Pascale: Managing on the Edge. The view from Stanford. A superb study.

  • Peter Senge: The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. A theorist from MIT, utilizing MIT systems theory.


David Garvin: Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work.

See also Action Learning Lessons Learned Organizational Development

Learning Strategy

Learning strategy refers to the instructional strategy used in a course, the framework or methodology employed to lay out the material and impart learning to the student. Most learning strategies, no matter how complex, are ultimately based on a fundamental three-step process:

  1. Teach

  2. Practice

  3. Test

When amplified, this process translates into:

  1. Presentation of material; colloquially, "show and tell"

  2. Experiential exercises or applied scenarios

  3. Feedback through assessments

Methodological Foundations

This fundamental strategy or process, based on Herbart's nineteenth-century five-step learning theory, was first deployed on a widespread basis by trainers in 1914, during the early days of World War I. Although the model has since been modified, the basic principles remain the same. It should be noted that, because of the ambiguity of the word "learning," a learning strategy sometimes refers to the student's method of learning (previewing the material, reading it, and reviewing it) rather than the teacher's teaching strategy.

See also Herbart Instructional Systems Design