Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge and Management

Towards Network Perspective of Intraorganizational Learning: Bridging the Gap between Acquisition and Participation Perspective

Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of Information, Knowledge and Management

Towards Network Perspective of Intraorganizational Learning: Bridging the Gap between Acquisition and Participation Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

Organizational learning has emerged as one of the most promising concepts in strategic management literature in late 1980s in relation to the concept of competitive advantage. Nevertheless, the concept of organizational learning stretches much farther and is embedded also in different schools of thought, including contingency theory, organizational development, industrial economy, information theory and system dynamics, systems theory, management science, production and operation management, social anthropology, sociology, psychology, and organizational theory. As such, it is founded on very different theoretical assumptions that need to be viewed as complementary to each other in the understanding of organizational learning field (Dodgson, 1993; Easterby-Smith, 1997; Romme & Dillen, 1997; Shrivastava, 1983).

Organizational learning is one of the most important sources of a sustainable competitive advantage that companies have (de Geus, 1988) as well as an important driver of corporate performance (Stata, 1989). Given the turbulent environments that organizations work within, continuous learning is a key driver of their ability to remain adaptive and flexible--that is to survive and effectively compete (Burke et al., 2006). Studies have shown that it affects competitive advantage (Jashapara, 2003), financial and non-financial performance (Bontis, Crossan, & Hulland, 2002; Dimovski & Skerlavaj, 2005), tangible and intangible collaborative benefits in strategic alliances (Simonin, 1997), the unit cost of production (Darr, Argote, & Epple, 1995), and innovation (Llorens Montes, Ruiz Moreno, & Garcia Morales, 2005).

In recent years, academic sphere has witnessed a dual development of the field. At one hand, researchers have been developing acquisition perspective which considers the mind as being a container, knowledge as a substance and learning as the transfer and addition of substance to mind. At the other hand, the participation perspective derives from studies of learning in which no teaching was observed and understands learning as participation in communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Still, there are some indications that both of the perspectives are incomplete for full understanding of organizational learning. Elkjaer (2004) suggests so called 'third way' which is an attempt to make a synthesis of the participation perspective and communities of practice by including elements of learning as acquisition of knowledge as well as analytical and communicative skills. By all means, the content and the process of learning are not 'visible' as in a chemical experiment and that learning takes place as a social process, rather than a system or just in communities of practice. Nevertheless, the 'third way' seems to put too much emphasis on participation perspective and neglects some vital aspects of acquisition perspective.

In the intra-organizational learning network perspective, as proposed here, synthesis needs to be done in such a way that an individual is recognized as a primary source and destination for learning, while acknowledging that learning takes place primarily in social interaction based on several theories of social networks. Hence, we argue that learning network perspective seems to describe organizational learning better than its predecessors.

This contribution aims to develop theoretical foundations for the network perspective to intraorganizational learning. First, it provides an overview of several definitions of organizational learning and briefly describes the historical development of the field. Second, it contrasts acquisition and participation perspective to organizational learning and lays a path for the development of network perspective. It does so by resting upon multiple theories of social networks and by applying a multi-level approach. Authors also introduce considerations of multiplexity and dynamics in the network perspective to organizational learning. …

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