Are you building a learning organisation?


Learning is the key to success, some would say to survival, in today’s organisations. Knowledge should be continuously enriched through both internal and external learning. In order for this happen, it is necessary to support and energise the organisation, people, knowledge and technology for learning.

For those organisations that have a desire to remain relevant and thrive in this ever-changing environment, learning better and faster is critically important.

However, organisational learning is neither possible nor sustainable without understanding what drives it.

This article will highlight the subsystems of a learning organisation which are: organisation, people, knowledge and technology.

Organisation — A learning organisation tends to value the role that learning can play in developing organisational effectiveness.

It will put at its core an inspiring vision as well as a learning strategy that will support the organisation in achieving its vision.

Senior management of a learning organisation is one that is committed to the importance of learning and clearly communicates that learning is critical to organisational success.

They take an exemplary leading role in creating and sustaining a supportive learning culture. Adequate resources should be allocated for learning in terms of time, space, specialist support and budgets for knowledge management and learning infrastructure, formal and informal communities of practice as well as learning and development programmes.

People — A learning organisation needs people who are intellectually curious about their work, who actively reflect on their experience, who develop experience-based theories of change and continuously test these in practice with colleagues and who use their understanding and initiative to contribute to knowledge development.

This simply refers to people who are reflective practitioners. Reflective practitioners are those people who understand their strengths and limitations and have a range of tools, methods and approaches for knowledge and learning, individually and in collaboration with others.

Learning organisations also provide a wide range of opportunities for individuals and collective learning and development.

Learning and development programmes are available to ensure that individuals and teams develop the competencies of reflective practice and collaborative learning.

While learning and development systems may focus on more formal programmes, a learning organisation is one where the maximum benefit is also leveraged from other learning opportunities such as day-to-day work experiences, team meetings and review meetings.

In a learning organisation, an important source of individual learning and development is coaching and mentoring support from line managers and supervisors and other experienced colleagues.

High-quality coaching and mentoring can help reflective practice flourish. However, both involve skills that cannot be taken for granted and must be consciously developed in the organisation. Thus, it should not be assumed that good managers will make good coaches or mentors.

Knowledge — Knowledge is a critical asset in every organisation. Because learning is both a product of knowledge and its source, a learning organisation recognises that the two are inextricably linked and manages them accordingly.

The units of knowledge production are both the individual and the collective.

An organisation that is serious about building a learning organisation will understand that knowledge is created in the minds of individuals but its development thrives in a rich web of social contact among individuals, groups and organisations.

Thus a learning organisation will do its best to provide creative opportunities for knowledge development that is shared with others through interpersonal contact and access to documentation.

Technology — Learning organisations know how to harness the power of information and communication technologies.

Information and communication technologies are used in a learning organisation to strengthen organisational identity, build and sustain learning opportunities, keep staff members and clients informed and aware of corporate developments, create unexpected but helpful connections between people while providing access to their knowledge and ideas.

Thus a learning organisation will thrive to provide a vibrant Internet facility that is continuously updated so as to act as a communication tool.

This should be backed up by investing in training employees in computers so that the facility can be made use of to the full.

Paul Nyausaru is a training and development practitioner. You can contact him on email or . Views contained in this article are personal.