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Learning Organizations

Walton (1999) states of the concept of the learning organisation: 'Perhaps more than anything else it has helped to put HRD on the strategic agenda.' But the concept is evolving and remains fairly abstract or, as a senior consultant engagingly described it: 'quite fluffy' (Prothero, 1997, quoted in Walton, 1999). What follows is necessarily a considerably simplified consideration of the concept.

The seminal ideas of the concept come from two main sources: Pedler et al's (1991) ideas on the 'learning company' and Senge's (1990) 'five disciplines'. According to Senge (1990) learning organisations are organisations in which:

- the capacity of people to create results they truly desire is continually expanding;
- new and open-minded ways of thinking are fostered;
- people are given freedom to develop their collective aspirations;
- individuals continually learn how to learn together.

This set of goals may seem somewhat ambitious but Senge contends that they can be achieved through the gradual convergence of five 'component technologies', the essential disciplines which are:

  • Systems thinking. People in an organisation are part of a system. Systems thinking is a discipline which integrates the other disciplines in a business. It allows the 'whole' (organisation) to be greater than the 'parts (people, departments, teams, equipment and so on).
  • Personal mastery. This discipline allows people to clarify and focus their personal visions, focus energy, develop patience and see the world as it really is. Employees who possess a high level of personal mastery can consistently generate results which are important to them through their commitment to lifelong learning.
  • Mental models. These are internalised frameworks which support our views of the world, beliefs in why and how events happen, and our understanding of how things, people and events are related. Senge advocates bringing these to the surface, discussing them with others in a 'learningful' way and unlearning ways of thinking which are not productive.
  • Building shared vision. Developing 'shared pictures of the future' together so that people are genuinely committed and engaged rather than compliant.
  • Team learning. Senge sees teams as a vital element of a learning organisation. Hence there is a great significance in the ability of teams to learn.

Source: adapted from Alan Price (2000) Principles of Human Resource Management: An Action-Learning Approach, Blackwell, Oxford.

Excerpts from Chapter 5, The Trainer's Handbook

  1. Evaluating Effectiveness
  2. Short-term Evaluation
  3. Project Sessions
  4. Case Histories and Practice Sessions
  5. Examinations
  6. Types of Exam Questions
  7. Assessment Sessions
  8. Self-evaluation
  9. On-the-Job Evaluation
  10. Long-term Evaluations
  11. Bottom-line Evaluation


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