Monday, October 10, 2016


Wang and Ahmed (2003) describe the learning organization as the "collectivity of individual learning, training and development...within the organization." Rao (2016) contributes to this description by elaborating on the value of individual worker training to learning organizations. All three advance the belief that a learning organization's stability and growth is intimately tied to and dependent on individual workers' professional development. In this cognition of things, adult workers who are engaged in continuous learning and/or skill development are the essential--the most critical, perhaps--cogs in the learning organization machine; they help drive the organization forward and serve as stewards of the organization's culture. Furthermore, in the context of our ultra competitive labor markets, where learning organizations are increasingly jostling for survival, these adult workers/learners can be viewed as organizational assets as their ability to learn fast "constitutes the only sustainable competitive advantage at the disposal of a learning organization (Wang & Ahmad, 2003). In light of these admissions, it is a bit perplexing why learning organizations continuously turn to "training" as a means of developing their organizational assets.

Rao, after all, defines training as "the process involved in improving the aptitudes, skills and abilities of [...] employees to perform specific jobs" (2016). This definition recalls Kegan's (2000) conception of informational learning and brings to mind Argyris and Schon's single-loop learning theory. In both cases, the role of the adult learner/worker is tied to a specific task and behavior and remains largely at odds with the long-term needs of the learning organization, which is survival. To survive, learning organizations must see beyond the stable present and actively plan for future turmoil (risk). Training, as posited by Rao, does not allow for this; Rao's training merely facilitates a "business as usual" mentality. It helps a learning organization, via its adult workers, become good at what it does--specialization--but it doesn't impart those adaptive skills that are essential for long term survival. What then must a learning organization do if mere training can't facilitate survival in our increasingly complex market economy? Simply stated, learning organizations by way of their adult workers must pursue and encourage learning that is both meaningful and transformational and recalls both double and triple-loop learning. Doing this, I believe, will not only cultivate the insight and mental models needed to weather external risk and organizational competition, but it will ensure the long term survival of the learning organization. 

At this juncture, then, there is one question left to be asked: "if training is not the answer to the question of learning organization survival, why do most if not all learning organizations still make use of it as a means of developing workers' skills?" To me, this gets back to the notion of organizational stability. Organizations, learning or otherwise, have a bias toward stability because stability is safe and cost-effective, in the literal and figurative sense. Trainings, which often reflect organizational mission and culture, reinforce this stability by imparting an organization's "safe" values in workers. On the contrary, professional development that would be deemed transformational and emblematic of double and triple-loop learning is risky and costly. Mazirow (2001) states that transformational learning challenges the current mental model. In the workplace setting, the "current mental model" equates to the mission and/or culture of the learning organization; thus, transformational and double/triple-loop learning can amount to a destabilizing force that wreaks havoc on organizational stability by challenging and undermining the mission and/or culture of a learning organization.

In the end, training can be a force for good in that it can help learning organizations maintain their culture and mission; however, for learning organizations to survive (and thrive) in their resource starved and risk present ecosystems, a more robust means of professional development will be needed to facilitate the skill development of organizational (adult) workers.