Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 4 1999, page 85-101.
English resume

It’s been a long time since somebody talked about the learning organization

Bente Elkjær

The paper gives an account of a public Danish organization that aimed to become a learning organization. However, despite all the good intentions and support at the time that the new organization was launched in the mid 1990’s, the organization is not known as a learning organization today. In the paper I suggest that in order to find the reason for the short life of the learning organization we have to look at the pressure to which the organization was exposed at the time. As a result of a threat to privatize the organization, management thought a great deal in terms of efficiency and legitimating measures. I will also show that the method of implementing the learning organization, which involved letting all the employees participate in a seminar, does not automatically lead to changes in an organization. Organizational changes are not a natural consequence of the personal learning processes that course participation represents. In addition, it is difficult to change employees when they simultaneously are introduced to new control measures and there are no changes in the organization’s work practice.

The paper presents different perspectives on organisational learning and the learning organisation, including a view on learning theory that structures the collection and processing of empirical data in the case. In specific, I differentiate between a cognitive and a social–cultural perspective on learning in the processing of data. These perspectives on learning theory are used to answer the following questions in relation to the professional employees in the organisation: What did they learn at the seminar? Did they have the opportunity to apply their work experiences? How did the organisation and its work practice change? The paper concludes by observing that it is difficult to implement a learning organisation in the ambivalent context of rationalising work processes and developing employees. However, seeds had been sowed in the organisation that from a social–cultural learning perspective could have contributed more than the case was to secure the organisation as learning.

Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv

(Journal for Working Life)




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in Danish frontpage Nyt om arbejdsliv
editor Jørgen Burchardt