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Organisational Learning & Change Management Theory Essay (Critical Writing)


Organisations continuously seek knowledge to fit within the highly dynamic business environment. Organisational learning consists of a cycle through which knowledge is acquired before integrating the same within the existing structures. Change management is the last stage in the organisational learning process as it integrates knowledge to decide directional change for the firm. This paper carries a detailed critical analysis of this whole concept of organisational learning as well as change management by reviewing several articles by different authors.

Organisational Learning

Behavioural Theory

Classical conditioning

McCullough (2011) writes about human behaviours as the greatest indicators of learning process taking place. McCullough (2011) uses illustrations about a student aged ten who suffers from disruptive behaviour. The student’s teacher and parents seek for ways of compelling her to change the disruptive behaviour. Part of the new program that is set to influence the change of behaviour for the student is to award her a gold star for being obedient and less disruptive or lose playtime each time she breaks the rule.

Two important issues involved in the illustration provided include a positive return for being obedient to the rules and a punishment for failing to be observant. As the article points out, the student eventually managed to contain her disruptive behaviour with time. As this happened, her performance in class also improved considerably.

Applying this to the case of the individual workers in an organisational setup, workers can change their behaviours in tandem with what the organisation anticipates if two conditions are availed. Firstly, the promise of positive returns and punishment to the workers where they achieve or fail to achieve is important in inducing learning. Secondly, the organisation needs to see into it that the set-out rules diligently reward or punish workers for enforcing the desired learning process.

As per McCullough’s article discussing classical conditioning theory, I do not agree with this as an effective process of learning. From the illustrations provided, positive results are registered after learning takes place over some period. The greatest shortcoming, however, is the failure to consider other social issues as being of importance to the learning process. For instance, while the student manages to contain her disruptive behaviours, no explanations describe other social challenges that she undergoes after forceful learning. This learning process should not be considered for adoption because it coerces individuals into transforming their behaviours to gain a reward. The best learning process would be one in which people willingly seek a change of their behaviours because they understand what benefits accrue.

The operant conditioning

Ahmad, Jehanzeb, and Alkelabi (2012) introduce the operant conditioning theory of learning on the basis that the learning process occurs as a result of changing one’s overt behaviours. One way of reinforcing learning through operant conditioning, especially in organisations, is by praising, offering attention, approval of workers’ performance, and using monetary incentives.

This article is similar to McCullough’s (2011) explanation of the classical conditioning process of learning, as it highlights the use of positive returns as an aspect of reinforcing the learning process. Ahmad, Jehanzeb, and Alkelabi list down several reinforcement techniques that can influence learning. This forms one of the strongest points for this article since the listed reinforcement techniques are relevant in the present-day organisational setup.

The other strength of this article derives from the fact that it not only identifies the benefits of reinforcement, but it also highlights the need to schedule the reinforcement properly. The reinforcement technique has to be applied after fixed intervals for it to work out as anticipated. The article continues to point out how the schedules of reinforcement influence certain workplace phenomena, such as motivation and absenteeism.

The authors also elaborate on the presence of two types of reinforcement, which include positive and negative reinforcement. The positive reinforcement is only adopted where positive behaviour is encouraged, while the application of negative reinforcement is made to discourage unpleasant situation. To underline how the reinforcement types can be sustained, the article emphasises on the need to apply them after the occurrence of the response.

However, the main weakness of the article is in its suggestion to the effect that ignoring behaviour leads to its eventual extinction. This is a contradictory statement by the authors because they open up by explaining the two types of reinforcement and how each is applied to achieve desired results. Basing on this argument, assuming that individuals can wipe out part of their behaviour by ignoring it is not right. The authors should, instead, identify efforts that need to be applied to make a negative behaviour extinct. The authors, through the identification of perfect reinforcement techniques and practices, can bridge this existing gap in the article by informing readers on how the techniques can be applied.

Cognitive Theory

Learning depends on the cognitive ability and power of an individual (Sundberg, 2001). Yilmaz (2011) article offers a different perspective on the learning theory. This view differs from the behavioural viewpoint. The article ignores behaviour and stimuli as critical factors that determine to learn. Instead, the article establishes its argument on cognitivism. This succeeds in highlighting the gap left out by behaviourists’ omission on how people process information. For instance, behavioural theories assume that all individuals think and reason in the same manner. This explains why the previous articles considered stimuli and behaviour as having common effects on all individuals.

The strength of this article lies in its resolve to the effect that cognitive structures determine the learning process in individuals. It is not right to assume as behaviourist do that what is important in the process is the environment alone, yet individuals vary in many aspects. This new dimension introduced by this article explains the reason why two workers operating in the same organisational environment would still register different results.

The article also ascertains the fact that special learning conditions are important for different people, depending on their ability to comprehend. Cognitive theory, therefore, identifies the individual as the principal factor in learning.

However, this article has its weaknesses, particularly deriving from the author’s total focus on only one aspect. He focuses on cognitivism while overlooking other aspects such as environment and behaviour. This gap created by the article can only be bridged through integrating it with the behaviourists’ concepts. While cognitive power is a critical aspect in determining to learn, the impact of the environment cannot be disregarded because it shapes the learning outcome. Thus, the article’s findings and conclusion remain as less comprehensive, unless the influence of stimuli is included in the argument presented in the article.

Gestalt Theory

The learning process takes place wholly rather than in isolation. Persson (2007) introduces a new dimension, that of psychology, to the learning process. Persson’s viewpoint is close in its argument to the one advanced by the article on cognitivism. Both psychology and the cognitive power of an individual relationship with each other in the sense that they consider the brain. Like in the case of cognitivism, Persson’s article derives its strength on the fact that it recognises an individual’s power of the brain to determine the extent of learning. Thus, it considers an individual as the principal in the learning process. Learning is affected when one’s psychological stance is affected in one way or another.

This article, unlike the previous ones, does not consider factors such as behaviour, environment, or cognition as the principal determinants of the learning process. Instead, the comprehensive nature of learning is attributable to what an individual thinks or feels about the whole process. Persson’s argument on wholeness in the learning process puts more weight in his article, which is less considered by the other writers. He succeeds in introducing many other aspects beyond stimuli and behaviour, but he encompasses them within the psychological stance.

The main weakness of this article is on the assumption that psychology represents wholeness. Persson does not consider the outside world as having the potential to influence the learning process. Instead, his argument dwells on the individual’s state of mind only. This limits the arguments already advanced by the previous articles because there is evidence that other external factors like stimuli affect learning.

Farrands and Nevis (2010) supplement the initial contribution by Persson by introducing the important aspect of an individual’s perception. The wholeness of the learning process involves one’s perception, which directly influences the outcome. The psychological bearing helps to explain how individual workers in an organisation can develop ideas and match them with the actual situation. To any individual, a situation is always evaluated based on their own consciousness whose genesis is internal. This is the initial process before the outcome is portrayed externally. The Gestalt viewpoint espoused in this article brings in the aspect of the environment, although it differs with the cognitive and behaviourist environments. This is the internal environment instead of the external one. An individual worker’s reasoning will eventually determine the meanings ascribed to knowledge. Thus, managers may have very little influence on the learning of their workers because it is impossible to change their subordinates’ consciousness.

Farrands and Nevis’ article, however, fails to exhaustively explain why different people can have the same understanding and knowledge. While psychology influences the level of understanding in individuals, the article falls short in providing techniques that can influence one’s psychological stand towards a particular desired direction.

Change Management

Environmental Theories

Organisational change management is a slow process influenced by the environment. An organisation comprises part of a system constituting of both interrelated and interdependent structures. Leonard-Barton (1995) identifies the fact that organisations often focus on augmenting their current knowledge. It is more relevant to consider the present happenings rather than think of any other future challenges because firms live in the present. However, the knowledge used to make strategic decisions today is derived from past operations and experiences of the organisation.

Leonard-Barton’s argument draws relevance in the sense that it does not consider a change in organisations as a new idea. What the environment presents is a recurrence of past experiences. Therefore, the organisation must refine its decisions regarding the changes. This argument holds because the market experiences that organisations often face are resolved by applying similar techniques and decisions.

However, this argument fails to fully address how organisations can manage the change that emanates from unique environmental changes. This highlights the main weakness of the argument. For instance, increased technological advancement presents a unique environment to organisations that do not have experience. It, thus, becomes difficult for organisations to rely on any information concerning how to manage the unique challenge and achieve the intended objectives.

Leonard-Barton’s argument is also weak in the sense that it has a rigid adherence to approaches used in past environments. In particular, these alternatives may not be easily applicable in the prevailing situations. Often, people will naturally select the most familiar decisions that they are aware of to make matters simple.

Scientific Management

The main understanding under this theoretical viewpoint of management underlies the fact that organisations are both purposeful and adaptive. In advancing this theoretical idea, Pundzienė (2004) observes that the current temporal, as well as the external environment, has grown increasingly complex. The sophisticated nature of these changes warrants a scientific system of management to cope with the highly dynamic condition.

This article builds upon the already covered theories of learning, as explained in other articles. For instance, the argument by this article supplements the psychological and cognitive reasoning, as explained in the relevant articles. Thus, the main strength of this article is in its comprehensive nature, which seems to borrow its argument from the articles already covered. Additionally, this article derives more strength from its basis on a multidimensional phenomenon that involves different social sciences. The dimension of science introduced is important because it involves research studies that seek for solutions based on facts instead of theoretical basis with limited support.

This article differs in its argument from the position held by environmental theorists in the sense that it generates originality in decision making, instead of relying on past situations. Science integrates interdisciplinary perspectives in managing change while also emphasising on psychology as an important entity. Pundzienė’s article succeeds in bridging the gap between psycho-physiological, personal qualities, individual experience, and cognition. It explains how a change in organisations mainly depends on the subjective processes initiated by stimuli. It also brings in the explanation of how objective processes equally result from subjective stimuli. In other words, Pundzienė’s argument is derived from behavioural and cognitive theorists, although he builds the idea further by integrating it with the psychological perspective.

Pryor et al. (2008) further expound on science to explain organisational change management. In particular, this article identifies several aspects of science that scholars identify as critical in undertaking change management. They include cognitive restructuring, creating a vision, empowering others to actualise the vision, developing a change plan, as well as gathering data to help in the decision making process. This argument bestows greater strength upon the dimension of science that the article dwells on. Pryor et al. (2008) supplement the arguments already covered under Gestalt and cognitive theories by borrowing from psychology and cognition. It allows the article to be more comprehensive compared to the argument presented under environmental theory.

However, the main limitation of this article is the failure to identify the constraint in these models in terms of sustaining comprehensive organisational change management. There is a need to streamline processes and relationships while focusing on the elimination of non-value adding activities. Pryor’s article does not shed any light on the fact that people must equally receive significant empowerment to enhance their decision-making capabilities. The old models of change management put more emphasis on materials, systems and structure, but they fail to recognise the human contribution as an important resource. Science does not wait for environmental stimuli to initiate change management. Instead, science equips the manager and workers to invent the future and control it to the advantage of the management (Chieh-Peng, 2010).


This paper has analysed several articles drawn from different theoretical perspectives, all of which address the organisational learning and change management concept. These articles, although authored by different people, unanimously determine the fact that learning is a process with the potential of influencing the understanding and knowledge of behaviours. Behaviourists only identify behaviour as the principal factor in learning, which is influenced by the environment. On the other hand, cognitivism rules out the environmental influence in the learning process. Instead, this school of thought determines that the cognitive structure of an individual plays a critical role during the learning process. However, the failure to incorporate environmental influence generates a gap in the argument advanced by the school of thought. The Gestalt theory introduces a similar dimension to the one advanced by cognition. The article on this new dimension introduces the aspect of psychology as the principle factor in determining the learning process.

List of References

Ahmad, A, Jehanzeb, K, & Alkelabi, SAH 2012, ‘Role of learning theories in training while training the trainers’, International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences, vol. 2, no. 11, pp. 181-188

Chieh-Peng, L 2010, ‘Learning virtual community loyalty behavior from a perspective of social cognitive theory’, International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 345-360

Farrands, R, & Nevis, S 2010, ‘A poetics of practice: Organization consulting from a Gestalt perspective’, Gestalt Review, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 275-300

Leonard-Barton, D 1995, Wellsprings of knowledge: Building and sustaining the sources of innovation, Harvard Business School, Boston, MA

McCullough CA 2011, ‘Social learning theory and behavioral therapy: considering human behaviors within the social and cultural context of individuals and families’, Social Work In Public Health, vol. 26, no. 5, pp. 471-481

Persson, S 2007, ‘Coaching as a tool for learning: An interplay between the individual and the organisational level’, Studies in the Education of Adults, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 197-216

Pryor, MG et al. 2008, ‘Challenges facing change management theories and research’, Delhi Business Review, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-20

Pundzienė, A 2004, ‘Managing organisational change: Insight into your employees’, Management of Organizations: Systematic Research, vol. 29, pp. 163-172

Sundberg, L 2001, ‘A holistic approach to competence development’, Systems Research & Behavioral Science, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 103-114

Yilmaz, K 2011, ‘The cognitive perspective on learning: its theoretical underpinnings and implications for classroom practices’, Clearing House, vol. 84, no. 5, pp. 204-212

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