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The Field of Organizational Learning and Its Theories Essay

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The field of organizational learning entails knowledge about theories and models in an organization which are learnt and afterwards adjusted to. In the field of organizational development, learning is taken to be a characteristic of an organization which is adaptive. According to Argyris and Schon (1978), organizations involved in these kinds of task should be quick in pointing out which changes are occurring in the environments within and without them and so be able to acclimatize as fast as possible.

This paper is a critical evaluation of a human resource development program and its subsequent intervention basing on the theory of action research as developed by Chris Argyris.

The paper will start with a discussion of the concepts of adult learning followed by an insight into the theory at hand. Another theory which will be idealized in practice is the Mezirow’s transformative learning theory. The paper will also consider in brief, the application of Kolb’s theory to some students as it has happened in a past real life process (Mezirow, 1975).

Learning is relative and permanent change in the behavior of a person which results from the experiences a particular person undergoes. This results to a change in the in the way a person thinks, perceives issues, and reacts to his current environment. This is in no way affected by his genetic make up or resulting from naturalization.

The overall process of learning makes the person increase in sophistication, flexibility and creativity. Learning is not a fixed entity but is a process through which concepts are derived and through experience, these concepts get modified with time (Argyris and Schon 1978).

Adult learning falls in three domains which can be classified as emancipatory, instrumental and communicative. The instrumental learning domain involves learning which results in manipulation of the environment. This type of learning is task oriented and consists of solving problems.

Once a person has learnt using this kind of method, it is possible to know the resulting changes through the productivity of the person, his performance or his behavior. Communicative learning on the other hand deals with the dynamics of how people understand each other. In this type of learning, a person knows the other person means through the use of writing, art, speech or drama. This domain does not determine truth but attempts to establish the justification or validity behind beliefs.

For adults, learning is a complex affair which does not merely occur in the three domains but occurs in stages (Easterby-Smith and Lyles 2003). This makes the learning process not instantaneous and has a time delay which can be exemplified in four levels as shown below:

Not aware

Aware but post facto

Aware post facto but does not act in time

Aware and consequently acts

From the above discussions, to deliver a successful human resource development program in organization A, the adult learning process should then go hand in hand with the stages of human resource development which are discussed below.

The investigative stage comprises the strategies and tools for investigation which are needed to be selected and then devised when the concerned person has the level of learning required in his mind. This stage can use survey questionnaires or apply the use of interviews and focus groups.

The design stage brings together all the aspects than are involved in adult learning. These aspects include basic types of learning in modification of behavior and modeling, learning principles, rational discourse and the challenging of Para-dynamic assumptions.

The implementation stage is when the developers of the human resource programs must have the appropriate and the required skills which are necessary for the development of the learning strategies. The three learning domains that is the instrumental, the emancipatory, and the communicative approach have a strict requirement of professionalism and competence in a certain set of skills which are required for the comprehension of the values that underpin each of them (Delahaye 2005).

The evaluation is if looked at in the view of a legitimate system completes the cycle where all the issues that were raised in the investigative stage are solved. Communicative and emancipatory learning require more active research strategies as compared to instrumental learning due to the fact that the latter method is more susceptible to cost benefit analysis methods which are mechanistic while on the other hand are indicators to the former methods.

According to Argyris and Schon (1978), Action Science starts with a study of how human beings design their mode of actions in various situations. A predefined set of economic variables usually have consequences which they govern therefore triggering the actions. The design difference in the variables acts as the gap separating single and double loop learning (Bontis and Serenko 2009) (a).

Single loop learning is involved with the sole achievement of the results which are needed whilst as much as possible try to have fewer divergences. A combination of both the discussed cycles of learning occurs when there is an inquiry into the sources of the disagreements together with an achievement of the same.

In simple terms, double loop learning can be termed as learning about the first mode of learning that is the single loop learning. These two cycles have been made practical by Argyris in both personal and organizational behaviors in his various works. The difference between this and experimental research is that in experimental research, environmental variables are controlled and the researchers attempt to look into the cause and is usually effected in an environment that is isolated (Bontis and Serenko 2009) (b).

In an organization context for instance, learning is comprised of the traditions in human resources. In this case the people involved or else the adults in organization A get to increase their skills and experience as they get more formalized education. For any organization to be deemed as successful the determining factor is the knowledge of the employees within that organization and so it entirely means that the learning process must go on.

This therefore means that an organization should be ready to improve its human resources through facilitation, promotion and rewarding of collective learning. For ones knowledge to be useful to an organization, then this knowledge must be captured. This is made possible using the normal methods of primary data acquisition like interviews.

In a classroom where the Kolb’s experiential learning theory was applied, the class was divided in groups where a quarter of the students got divided into divergers, another quarter used the assimilator whilst the remaining two quarters were equally divided into convergers and accommodators.

The divergers group consisted of people who focus on concrete information and observations which are reflective. Such kinds of cases are found amongst mathematicians who deal with abstract numbers. Assimilators dealt with experiences and learnt in a way that they had to get the logic behind their information. The learning mode subjected to accommodators was that which had much focus on experiments and the teachers involved them in learning new experiences (Kolb, 1994).

In an experimental research later conducted in the same class, most students said that Kolb’s style was very effective in that it encouraged most people to work in groups and so they were able to help each other. Personal experience through this theory showed that learning was faster amongst the student community one would fit into their styles with much ease having the option of the four. In this method of experiential learning one can easily be able to gather new skills with ease.

Argyris (1990) claims that in model I of learning, one should infer about the behavior of someone else. In this case, on a real life basis the teacher did not check up the validity of the behavior and then advocate his/her view in an abstract manner which did not seek to explain how the person reasoned.

The theory which was in use in such a case was that the person was implicitly disposed to winning. Students who engaged in this mode in the classroom could easily be told out from the ones in Kolb’s theory due to their protective nature of reasoning. The strategy which has been primarily put in place is the control of the environment in a unilateral manner and also for the protection of one’s self and also for the others (Argyris and Schon 1978).

This model has entrenched itself into deep defense actions and routines. The end result of this model is that it seen as a way in which the person is moving away from some truth and thus the reaction which is posed is not one that is governed by the person but one that is judged by whatever the person is moving away from. In an organization, this tends to hide the person from in-competency by being defensive towards what he cannot do (Bontis et al. 2002).

This model is operationalized by people advocating some courses of action which tend to discourage inquiry, people treating their views with absolute confidence of correctness and not stating facts which would lead to eventual embarrassment.

Model II has values which include giving of valid information, internal commitment and freedom of informed choice. There is evidence of strategies which are shared and individuals participate the design and consequent implementation of actions. This eventually leads to an increase in the likelihood of double loop learning.

When a different theory is experimented in class, a different output is generated. This will be deduced from a case study of Mezirow’s theory. Teachers applied the use of emotions in class and in some other group, the use of critical rationalism. This methods required the students to behave in a receptive manner where they had to be ready to learn something and at the same time, be open to the issue at hand be it a belief or otherwise.

This method proved to be more of psychological oriented and hard to implement as compared to the others. The existence of this mode required a lot from both the teachers and the students where the teachers had to incorporate themselves into the learning environment and showcase their willingness to adopt the changes. The learners on the other hand had to be ready, though complicated, to transform. The complication comes in because the method has to incorporate the use of someone’s feelings and also emotions.

To the organization, it should adopt a strategy of intervention which can be formulated and implemented in some steps. In the beginning, the intervening person should map the problems as the clients see it.

At this stage, one should have an idea of the determinants of the problems together with how they relate to organization A. from that step the person involved should have within him a map which will be in line with the needs and commitments of the clientele. After this step, the model should be tested by looking at the predictions in the model which have the capability to be tested. If these predictions do not stand for themselves by looking into history, then the model should consequently be modified.

The other important phase in intervening the model so as to make it improve is invention of solutions. These are solutions to the model which should then be simulated so as to test their possible impacts (Imants 2003). After these the person should go ahead by producing the intervention. After this step one gets to study the major causes of errors so that when the novel model is created, things work out better. If at this stage everything works correctly, then there is no disconfirmation for that particular map.

Following model II in this sequence, then it is very possible to have human resource and organization development in the organization. According to Common (2004), clients need to give their full dedication towards this phase. By this, risks will have been minimized and all parties have to agree on the starting point.

In action research, the process of change goes in three processes starting by unfreezing, changing and then refreezing. Unfreezing occurs is when people or the human resources get aware that there is need for change. Changing involves diagnosis of the situation and exploration and testing of new models. Refreezing is the adoption or the application of the new behavior (March and Olsen 1975). Thus action research can be viewed as a series of three phases which are planning, transformation and then view of the results.

Other interventions are interpersonal interventions which aim at the development of the individual skills. In this case group dynamics can be utilized whereby; people are gathered into small meetings and then they decide on the subject matter. This subject should be within the list stipulated prior by the facilitator of the meeting.

This helps the members to understand each other better and improve on their behavior. Group interventions on the other hand try to assist teams in making sure that organizations are more effective (Common 2004). They usually assume effective communication between groups and ensure a good balance between personal needs and group needs. Their functionality is through consensus with no majority rule or autocracy.

Inter-group interventions are very important in that they make sure that all parties within the organization work as team. This helps in making sure that here is interaction within departments in the organization (Easterby-Smith and Lyles 2003). Such interventions can be conflict resolution meetings. In search meetings, teams meet and discuss feelings that they might be having concerning other departments and therefore solve any issues arising from such.

Comprehensive interventions enhance change throughout the organization. This can be through the use of surveys to get information. In such surveys, the attitude of the employees in the entire organization is gathered and a comprehensive report on the collected data is disseminated (Garvin 2000). If the so stated interventions and others are incorporated into the system of organization A, then the model will improve and in the end, there will be a gross improvement in the human resource program.


Argyris, C. (1990) Overcoming Organizational Defences: Facilitating Organizational Learning, Allyn & Bacon, Boston.

Argyris, C. and Schon, D. (1978). Organizational Learning: A theory of action perspective. Reading MA: Addison-Wesley.

Bontis, N. et al. (2002) “Managing an Organizational Learning System by Aligning Stocks and Flows”. Journal of Management Studies 39 (4): 437–469.

Bontis, N. and Serenko, A. (2009) (a). “Longitudinal knowledge strategizing in a long-term healthcare organization”. International Journal of Technology Management 47 (1/2/3): 276–297.

Bontis, N. and Serenko, A. (2009) (b) “A causal model of human capital antecedents and consequents in the financial services industry”. Journal of Intellectual Capital 10 (1): 53–69.

Common, R. (2004) “Organizational Learning in a Political Environment: Improving policy-making in UK government”. Policy Studies 25 (1): 35–49.

Delahaye, B. (2005) Human Resource Development: Adult Learning and knowledge management. 2nd Edition, Wiley, Brisbane.

Easterby-Smith, M. and Lyles, M. (2003) The Blackwell Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management, Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.

Garvin, D. (2000) Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.

Imants, J. (2003). “Two basic mechanisms for organizational learning in schools”. European Journal of Teacher Education 26 (3): 293–311.

Kolb, David A., (1994) “Learning Styles and Disciplinary Differences” in “Teaching and Learning in the College Classroom”, Ed. Feldman, K.A. & Paulsen, Boston, Ginn Press.

March, J. and Olsen, J. (1975). “The uncertainty of the past; organizational ambiguous learning”. European Journal of Political Research 3: 147–171.

Mezirow, J. (1975). Education for Perspective Transformation: Women’s Reentry Programs in Community Colleges. New York: Center for Adult Education Teachers College, Columbia University.

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