Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

12 December 2008

Learning Organization Dimensions

Clark @ 10:13 AM

After my post on Improving Organizational Learning Infrastructure, Daan Assen suggested that it was too limited in reference to the broader Learning Organization picture.  That’s valuable feedback, because I really mean it to be the learning organization culture and the technology infrastructure, the latter of which isn’t included traditionally in the learning organization work.  Clearly the label has some issues, as Stacy Doolittle also opined, suggesting architecture may be a better word than infrastructure.  Still, I’m not convinced that infrastructure isn’t the most inclusive term. Anyone have an opinion?

The reason I mention this, however, is that Daan pointed me to some work by Garvin & Edmondson that provides some nice characteristics of a learning organization.  It starts with three factors, a supportive environment, concrete processes and practices, and a leadership that reinforces learning.  I think this is a nice breakdown.

These components break up further, so for instance, a supportive learning environment is composed of: psychological safety, openness to new ideas, appreciation of differences, and time for reflection.  That latter one really strikes a chord with me, as that was a major barrier back when we were trying to get traction on meta-learning (and we’re not giving up!).

Concrete processes and practices breaks up into experimentation, information collection and analysis, and education and training.  I note that it doesn’t seem to capture more about informal learning than just providing the environment, and no mention is made of tools or infrastructure.  They may well have reasons for that, but it’s important to me to consider not only the environment, policies, and leadership, but also the channels.

Still, the particular focus on the supportive learning environment is a nice characterization.  You need safety, openness, appreciation, and reflection.  And your social networking tools will make very concrete any gaps in those.  When you see folks not sharing, not tolerating, and not having time, you know you’ve got a barrier.  It’s a mirror to see your organization.  So, what do you see looking back at you?


  1. It’s that “time for reflection” that I think we’re really missing, lately. More than ten years ago, in “
    On Becoming A Critically Reflective Teacher
    “, Stephen Brookfield talked about that as the most important part of improving your skills.

    For the last several years, much of the focus in our industry has been on rapid-this and faster-that. I’m often amused at the importance people put on how quickly someone has passed through the learning process. (Do you want the pilot of your jet to be the guy who finished the training faster than anyone else?) Yet I can’t remember the last time I talked to anyone at a client site who told me they had adequate time to really complete their work.

    Faster, faster, faster.

    Comment by Dick Carlson — 12 December 2008 @ 10:27 AM

  2. Kia ora Clark

    I agree with Dick Carlson. Reflection seems to be what is not allowed for in today’s learning organisations. I especially select this, for I believe reflective practice to be a powerful learning tool that has the potential to provide growth within the infrastructure of an organisation.

    Action research, which is in essence reflective practice, has been held up as one of the superlative methods that individuals can use to improve, through reflection – one of the 3 or 4 phases in the cycle. In so doing, they improve their contribution to collaborative practice.

    Reflective practice is a cycle. That means, in order for it to work, there has to be things happening at each phase of the cycle and each successive phase depends on what took place in the one before.

    Remove one of the phases and the other phases cease to have any function towards improvement. Without reflection, and people need time for that, the whole cycle screeches to a halt.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    Comment by Ken Allan — 13 December 2008 @ 1:47 AM

  3. Agree with both that reflection is neglected in orgs, with pressure to execute (as Dick says, and apparently no concern for improvement). But in many orgs psych safety, openness, and appreciation are also missing (sad to say). I reckon you get better results to the extent you address all elements.

    And, Ken, I agree reflection is part of cycle; I see action and reflection, or even conceptualization & action, but would love to hear your phases.
    Great feedback!

    Comment by Clark — 13 December 2008 @ 1:13 PM

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