Organizational Learning: The Contributing Processes and the Literatures
Organization Science 2 (1): 88-115 (1991)

This paper differs from previous examinations of organizational learning in that it is broader in scope and more evaluative of the literatures. Four constructs related to organizational learning (knowledge acquisition, information distribution, information interpretation, and organizational memory) are articulated, and the literatures related to each are described and critiqued. The literature on knowledge acquisition is voluminous and multi-faceted, and so the knowledge acquisition construct is portrayed here as consisting of five subconstructs or subprocesses: (1) drawing on knowledge available at the organization's birth, (2) learning from experience, (3) learning by observing other organizations, (4) grafting on to itself components that possess knowledge needed but not possessed by the organization, and (5) noticing or searching for information about the organization's environment and performance. Examination of the related literatures indicates that much has been learned about learning from experience, but also that there is a lack of cumulative work and a lack of integration of work from different research groups. Similarly, much has been learned about organizational search, but there is a lack of conceptual work, and there is a lack of both cumulative work and syntheses with which to create a more mature literature. Congenital learning, vicarious learning, and grafting are information acquisition subprocesses about which relatively little has been learned. The literature concerning information distribution is rich and mature, but an aspect of information distribution that is central to an organization's benefitting from its learning, namely how units that possess information and units that need this information can find each other quickly and with a high likelihood, is unexplored. Information interpretation, as an organizational process, rather than an individual process, requires empirical work for further advancement. Organizational memory is much in need of systematic investigation, particularly by those whose special concerns are improving organizational learning and decision making.
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