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Number 02 (23.06.2002)
Subject ORGLEARN: Who benefits from organisational learning?
Interim results and request for comments
Contribution Learning company

Terms like 'learning company' or 'learning organisation' have been recently used quite often in order to illustrate a new quality of learning within companies. In Germany this approach was criticised as an attempt to separate the learning process from the individual. Moreover, empirical studies have shown that the term 'learning company' is used in very different ways by those who declare their enterprise as 'learning company' – this term is sometimes identified with teamwork, sometimes with in-company training and sometimes with the adaptation of the company to changing market requirements.

Empirical investigation

It is a major objective of the EU 5th FP project OrgLearn ('Ways of Organisational Learning in the Chemical Industry and their Impact on Vocational Education and Training') to identify ways of organisational learning in European companies and to discuss their implications for vocational education and training. First results of an empirical investigation into processes of organisational learning in the European chemical industry are available now (see Fischer, M. & Röben, P. eds. Cases of Organisational Learning in European Chemical Companies). Large chemical companies from Belgium, Germany, Italy and the UK were involved in this study. Researchers in the OrgLearn project have carried out more than 100 in-depth-interviews and have observed the learning culture within these companies during numerous visits.

Real-life phenomena

Results of this research are presented in the form of case studies. It is important to note that these cases of organisational learning do not merely depict the intentions of the company management but real-life phenomena which could be identified by involving different persons from different levels of hierarchy and thus different views on the same phenomenon. Phenomena were related to criteria of organisational learning which had been developed within the theoretical framework of the OrgLearn project. Inspired from theorists like Chris Argyris and Donald Schön, Edgar Schein, Peter Senge and Harald Geissler criteria as follows were established (see first project publication: Fischer, M. & Röben, P. eds. Ways of Organisational Learning in the Chemical Industry and their Impact on Vocational Education and Training – A Literature Review):

  • Criterion 1. Organisational work routines are being evaluated and improved.
  • Criterion 2. Formal and informal learning processes are being evaluated and improved.
  • Criterion 3. Transformations are occurring in the culture of the organisation.
  • Criterion 4. Knowledge is being created within the organisation, at different levels (not only by the managers/scientists), and it is being shared within the organisation.
  • Criterion 5. Learning from the environment is encouraged and systematically evaluated. The results are assimilated and accommodated to the company's objectives and local constraints and opportunities.
It is worth mentioning that cases presented now meet some of these criteria to a considerable extent, but not all criteria could be applied to each case and sometimes only a few aspects of the case described could be related to a criterion. Thus, there is room for further assessment.

Participatory approach

In the OrgLearn project, such assessment and evaluation will be done in different ways. One way includes a quantitative survey through which project findings are intended to be validated. Another aspect is a strong participatory approach that is characteristic for the project’s research methods: The next steps in the project will comprise the organisation of in-company workshops involving staff from different functional and hierarchical levels in order to validate findings and to give answers to the question which groups/categories of employees do (or do not yet) benefit from processes of organisational learning. An international workshop was recently conducted where representatives from all companies involved presented their approaches towards organisational learning and invited experts discussed implications for vocational education and training. This discussion will be opened to the interested public.

Request for comments

Project results will be presented (in English) at the workshop 'Organisational Learning and Competence Development in Europe' during the conference 'Kompetenzentwicklung in Unternehmensprozessen' (University of Karlsruhe, Germany, September 23-24, 2002, Participants from all over Europe are welcome!

Furthermore, an online discussion will be started from the end of September 2002, where we will request comments on our cases of organisational learning. This request for comments, case studies and other project publications can be found under:

Contact: PD Dr. Martin Fischer, Dr. Peter Röben, ITB, University of Bremen, Am Fallturm 1, 28359 Bremen, Germany.

Contributor Martin Fischer
Coordinator of ORGLEARN
Reference Info on ORGLEARN; Interim results: Fischer et al. 2001, Fischer et al. 2002
Descriptors D-KM  D-LO  D-WBL        
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Editor: Sabine Manning  © WIFO