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Links between concepts of learning organization and knowledge management

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Links between concepts of learning organization and knowledge management

Organizational learning

Innovation can be usefully characterized as a learning process.

Learning is intrinsically cumulative: firms, regions and countries usually innovate along specific and quite rigid trajectories.

Technological progress and innovation usually involve a variety of learning processes which may be obtained either from internal or external sources. The relative relevance of these sources of knowledge is largely firm- and technology- specific.

Learning and innovation are intrinsically a collective and interactive process that involves access to, interactions among, integration of and complex ffeedbacks between heterogeneous agents, technical skills and fragments of knowledge, competencies and capabilities.

Main concepts on organizational learning

Lewin proposed a model for change that was used also as a model for learning and that suggested three phases: unfreezing of existing system, introduction of new values and behaviours and refreezing. Unfreezing is supposed to be caused by the evidence that certain actions brought unintended inconsistencies, that should be naturally refused by human beings, determining the search for new and more satisfactory eelements to be introduced in the system.

Argyris (1992) underlines an aspect that is strictly connected with innovation processes:

“Learning is defined as occurring under two conditions. First, learning occurs when an organization achieves what it intended; that is, there is aa match between its design for action and the actuality of outcome. Second, learning occurs when mismatch between intentions and outcomes is identified and it is corrected; that is, a mismatch is turned into a match.”

Moreover, Argyris differentiate between two types of organizational learning according to the reaction to errors. If there is a correction without questioning or altering the underlying values of the system, we have a single-loop learning, while if questioning and altering takes place we have a double-loop learning.

The model developed by Nonaka (1995) is built on two new aspects:

• Knowledge can be created, other than distributes

• Relevance of the relational aspect of knowledge, which is generated not only from individual learning but also from social interaction.

The model incorporates PPolaniy’s classification of knowledge in tacit and explicit. These two types of knowledge are linked through four knowledge conversion processes: socialization, exteriorization, combination, and interiorization.

A list of organizational conditions that support learning processes within an organization: availability of information, management style, personal and structural resources, organizational structures and systems, rules, procedures and power dynamics, culture, external factors.

Solutions for organizational learning

Organizational learning can be promoted in different ways and using different tools.

The alternatives are selected according to the specific situation, which iis determined by numerous factors. According to how the situation is positioned among these and other dimensions, the enterprise can use one or more of the learning solutions.

Knowledge management

Whether an innovation is developed internally or acquired from an external source, it implies new knowledge for the organization, that has to be managed in all the phases of the process in order to transform it in a sustainable competitive advantage.

Knowledge concerns a higher level of the organizational mechanisms and entails much more than information:

• it is partly tacit

• it is specific to agents and applications

• it is much less easy and more costly to transmit than information

• it is local

• its creation and use implies (often substantial) competencies, investment and efforts

• also the acquisition of knowledge from external sources (e.g. imitation) is not costless and automatic but requires pre-existing capabilities

• hence, agents will typically differ in what they know: heterogeneity in technological capabilities becomes a central characteristic of economies

• levels and distribution of knowledge become a fundamental source of competitive advantages for enterprises, regions and countries

Knowledge management consists in the ability of identifying and manage the knowledge that is available in the organization in order to build a competitive advantage, the ability of leading aand managing human resources with a competencies approach and the ability of acting dynamically on accumulation/destruction/regeneration cycles of knowledge/competencies (Ruta and Turati, 2002).

Knowledge can be transformed in value for the organization in different ways: its reuse allows efficiency and effectiveness gains, while its refining and its recombination allow incremental innovations.

Knowledge management systems

There are four main expectations toward a knowledge management system:

• Decrease of research time

• Increase of effectiveness of the research process

• Quality guaranties on intercepted knowledge

• Guaranties on effectiveness of re-contextualization of intercepted knowledge

Roles that a knowledge management system should perform to meet these expectations:

• Facilitate feeding processes to the knowledge stock

• Guarantee on the available knowledge stock

• Facilitate the meeting between knowledge demand and supply

• Optimize knowledge flows, eliminating inefficiencies

It is important to underline that technology is only a mean that can be used in performing these roles. The great opportunities that technology offered also in this field have led a good number of organization to consider knowledge technology as a synonym of knowledge management, leaving aside all the rest of organizational context and focusing only on the classification, storage, transfer and retrieval aspects.

If we move from the knowledge management system level to the organizational level, the issue becomes even wider. The role of the oorganization (which would then be a Knowledge Based Organization, or KBO) is mainly to ensure that the knowledge creates value: that is it exchanged, it is useful, it is applied etc. The organization should, in other words, create a context that derives from the organic interaction of its parts (like for example human resources management, performance appraisal systems, organizational development, organizational structures) and is oriented to knowledge.

Six knowledge practices are listed (Ruta and Turati, 2002): knowledge technology, knowledge structure, knowledge assessment, knowledge human, resources management, knowledge culture, knowledge sponsorship.

Links between concepts of learning organization and knowledge management

Intellectual Capital Management

It is obvious that knowledge management and learning management should be more closely aligned.

Specific reasons for such integration include:

• Both learning management and knowledge management share a similar focus: how to enhance human knowledge and its use within organizations. Professionals in both fields are increasingly looking for ways to categorize and store knowledge, using a database architecture as a foundation, but success is not yet at hand. Collaboration on this critical problem would certainly be beneficial.

• There is growing realization that knowledge in an organization is distributed among its people’s minds and a variety of “knowledge artifacts” (human capital and structural capital). These

are the currency for both knowledge management and learning/training work. For the biggest ROI, organizations must manage both simultaneously, as there is constant interchange between these two types of “knowledge.” 

Learning management methods and tools appear well-suited to help. On the other hand, many training and e-Learning initiatives are criticized as being over-hyped and under-performing, in terms of actual transfer and application of knowledge to the job.

Broader, More Systemic Perspectives

Because knowledge management is usually applied to high-level competency areas ((strategy, planning, research, engineering, law, design, and so on), there is an assumption that people can only learn by doing. In fact, while it is vivid and engaging, learning on the job is neither foolproof nor efficient. Experts claim that to learn from experience, one needs to reflect on it; it is useful to ...

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