Learning Organizations & Necessity for Blended Learning


By

Vivek Joshi
Senior Lecturer
Supreet Ahluwalia
Senior Lecturer
Department of Business
Manipal University Dubai Campus
Block #7 International Academic City Dubai
United Arab Emirates
 


Introduction

Dynamism of business puts lot of pressure on businesses and creates an environment that makes learning essential. Organisations have to work on their effectiveness and continuously update in order to disseminate information and keeps on upgrading their systems. The competition is stiff and consumers unforgiving in this diehard situation minor mistake may result into huge losses for a profitable firm. Big or small, no business can afford to be complacent.

All this makes it essential for any firm to be preemptive and aggressive and defending its position and to maintain its technological edge over its competition. For developing core competencies as well as to have a permanent competitive advantage a corporate house has to concentrate on managing its information and resources well. The company has to integrate technology with existing field of knowledge to make existing business processes razor sharp. Innovation and technology up gradation is not enough but there is more that a firm has to do in order to grow not only to survive. It has to mould itself and adopt new systems and become more flexible… it has to become a LEARNING ORGANISATION.

The Learning Organisation is a concept that is becoming an increasingly widespread philosophy in modern companies, from the largest multinationals to the smallest ventures. What is achieved by this philosophy depends considerably on one's interpretation of it and commitment to it. The quote below gives a simple definition that we felt was the true ideology behind the Learning Organisation.

An organisation that learns and encourages learning among its people. It promotes exchange of information between employees hence creating a more knowledgeable workforce. This produces a very flexible organisation where people will accept and adapt to new ideas and changes through a shared vision.

Not only it is important that individuals learn to perform behaviors that contribute to organizational effectiveness but also that the organization as a whole adopts a learning mentality. Organizational learning involves instilling all members of the organization with a desire to find new ways to improve its effectiveness. Moreover, learning organizations make sure their members actually have the knowledge & skills to learn continuously. They also take steps to ensure that new ideas are acted upon & knowledge is shared throughout the organization.

Definition of Learning Organization

Lot of Theorists and management gurus have made an effort to define learning organisation and all of them have emphasized on organizational flexibility, adaptability and ability to continuously learn and grow to enhance its productivity and quality consciousness. All of them propounded that a learning organization should have continuous knowledge up gradation and over and above, it should focus upon new skills development. Our discussion takes into account the basic features or characteristics proposed by these authors for defining a learning organization.

'A learning organization is an organization that facilitates the learning of all its members and continuously transforms itself to achieve superior competitive performance.'

The first definition is an effort to put the basic framework straight as this explanation focuses upon continuous learning of the organizational members that should result into their superior performance.

'An Organization continually learning new KSA's (knowledge, skills, abilities or attitudes) and applying them to improve product or service quality.'

This definition goes further and bring out the key elements of a learning organization i.e. knowledge, skills development etc.

Learning theorist Peter Senge in his famous work 'Fifth discipline" has identified five key activities central to a learning organization:

1. Encourages personal mastery or high self-efficacy – everyone becomes self-aware & opens to others
2. Develop complex schemas to understand work activities – everyone set aside old ways of thinking
3. Encourage learning in groups & teams – everyone works together to accomplish the plan
4. Communicate a shared vision for the organization as a whole – everyone understands & agrees to a plan of action
5. Encourage system thinking – everyone learns how the whole organization works

"A Learning Organisation is one in which people at all levels, individuals and collectively, are continuously increasing their capacity to produce results they really care about."

A learning organisation is able to continuously change and improve based on the lessons of experience.

The above discussion suggests that for any organization to become learning organization openness to change and ability to adapt and grow are must. A learning organisation grows by sharing its resources and information. The experience is treasured and continuously added in the common pool to create intellectual capital. Knowledge sharing and knowledge management also play a very critical role in an organization to become learning organisation.

According to British Petroleum's CEO John Browne, all modern companies should become learning organisation so they can generate more value for their stakeholders.

He says that, in order to generate extraordinary value for its shareholders, a company must learn better than its competitors learn and apply that knowledge throughout its business faster and more widely than they do. System, values and people play very important part in making any ordinary organization a learning organization.

There is no doubt that organizations and workers of all types today must continually adapt to new situations if they are to survive and prosper over the long run. Senge's concept of learning organization places high value on developing the ability to learn and then make that learning continuously available to all organizational members.

Organizations learn from many sources. They can learn from their own experience or from the experience of other firms from completely unrelated businesses. They can learn from the experience of their contractors, suppliers, partners and customers. All of this, of course, depends on a willingness to seek out learning opportunities from these sources and to make information sharing an expected and valued work behaviour.

To sum up it can be safely conclude that Learning Organisation is an Organisation that purposefully takes steps to enhance and maximize the potential for explorative and exploitative organizational learning to take place.

Elements of Learning Organisations


Team-Based Structure- Teams are the best way of mixing energy with experience and for any organisation teams are good sources of attaining targets effectively and efficiently. Team based structures support continuous learning and pooling of experience and sharing knowledge. Looking at these benefits, a team-based structure is necessary for any organization aiming to become a learning organisation.

Empowered Employees- Employee empowerment will make sure that employees take full responsibility for their actions and they work in an open environment this will also facilitate growth of employees and encourage innovation as well as instills the ability to think out of the box. Empowered employees will take more initiative & they will try to solve the problem where and when it will arise, this makes organizational climate more conducive to learning.

Open Information- Information should be provided to everyone. Transparency in decision-making must be maintained. Open information builds trust and confidence of employees in the management and reduces the employee-management conflict. It also leads to pooling & sharing of experience and mutual learning. Even information considered obsolete or rudimentary may turn out to be of importance and may result into organizational growth.

The Linkages

Team based structure, empowered employees and open information all coexist and they are linked with each other as essentials. The team structure will facilitate sharing of common resources and objectives. Overall performance of the team or group will depend upon total of performances of each individual as well as team will make a coordinated effort to attain its targets or to perform effectively and efficiently. No organisation can empower its employees with out sharing information with them so to empower employees the organisation has to share information with employees and this connects open information with empowered employees. Employees who have information and who also posses the power to act and decide will definitely try their level best to improve the performance of the organisation also they will be open towards learning & information sharing.

Over and above these elements, the most important ingredient for a learning organization is Knowledge Management- being able to capitalize on the knowledge members of the organisation. The knowledge or enriched experience that might not be written down or codified in formal documents. As employees do their jobs, they gain knowledge about the tasks they perform and learn the best ways to get certain things done and solve specific problems. Through knowledge management, this information can be shared and used by other employees working in the same organisation. Certainly, the people performing a certain job are likely to learn the most about it. Knowledge management seeks to share this learning and knowledge throughout an organisation.

The foundation

Before a Learning Organisations can be implemented, a solid foundation can be made by taking into account the following factors:

* Awareness about need of learning and insemination of learning at all levels.
* Environment that is conducive and cohesive and fosters mutual trust.
* Leadership should be committed to learning and provide all resources needed.
* Empowerment to have participative decision-making with emphasis on results.
* Learning models are to be developed along with open communication system.

Blended Learning

Discussion above has made it very clear that in today's world, only learning organisations survive and for creating a learning organisation one needs to create an open environment based on trust that fosters the willingness in the employees to learn. The essential for creation of a learning organisation is continuous learning and up gradation of employee's skills. This makes it necessary that employees should always be motivated to learn something new and they can be prompted to accept change without resistance.

The continuous learning can be very toll taking and strenuous especially if it is provided by a single mode such as teleconferencing or by case discussions or lectures they become very monotonous and it starts giving diminishing marginal returns or utility with time. This makes it essential to use several that too innovative modes for imparting learning or to carry out learning activity.

What is Blended Learning?
Blended Learning is combining multiple learning components and learning events to create a meaningful learning.

Why Blended Learning?
Increased flexibility in learning
Blended Learning means different things to different people, which illustrates its glowing/growing potential.  The perspective of Blended Learning is combining multiple learning components such as classroom, On-line self-paced Learning Content, E-mail, Discussion Forums, LMS (Learning Management System) etc. It is not only about mixing the multiple learning components; it is combining the appropriate learning components to meet desired learning goals. This concept is applicable to all learning events such as individual or group based learning events to create a meaningful learning. 

Why Flexibility in Learning?

Today, learners want to have more say in

* WHAT they learn
* WHEN they learn
* WHERE they learn, and
* HOW they learn 

No one single learning delivery method is capable of supporting the kind of flexibility that learners need. For a modern organisation, this task has become more important and difficult. Several dimensions, several departments, and several conflicting objectives prevail and a learning organization has to develop the learning program, which is well structured, collaborative and suitable for meeting requirements of all, and above all, it should facilitate organizational growth and enrich the intellectual capital.

Therefore, a mix of traditional and new learning approaches and technology should be appropriately utilized for flexible learning i.e. Blending Various Learning Strategies and Approaches for Flexibility …

Learning-generating Intelligence by using information flows


The given diagram uses input-process-output model to explain the process of Knowledge creation. An organisation gathers information or useful signals or indicators from the environment and processes it with software and other technological devices use the instruments as trend analysis, spreadsheets etc and based upon these instruments decisions are taken. Out put is next step in this logical flow. Output is public information that is provided to stakeholders and this will create appropriate response to environment by the organisation. The processing part of the information is very important as it is essential in knowledge creation process and this contributes towards problem solving.

Blended learning plays important role in this middle unit as there are several ways of introducing input or information into organization and then several techniques or tools ranging from case studies to on the job training is provided for integrating new information into work processes, all efforts are channelised to disseminate information into the organisation. The information flows matched with learning techniques generate knowledge for the organization and this knowledge is shared and continuously developed and used by the learning organisation.

The organisation that generates lot of knowledge, adopts healthy practices, or introduces the system, which facilitates generation of knowledge at large level, will survive and thrive and will turn out to be learning organisations.

Reference:

Belasen, Alan T., Leading the Learning Organization (New York: State University of New York, 2000)

Senge, Peter M., The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday, 1990)

Senge, Peter M., The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday, 1990)

Kline, P. and Saunders, B., Ten steps to a learning organization, 2nd edition (Great Ocean Publishers, 1997)
 


Vivek Joshi
Senior Lecturer
Supreet Ahluwalia
Senior Lecturer
Department of Business
Manipal University Dubai Campus
Block #7 International Academic City Dubai
United Arab Emirates
 

Source: E-mail April 13, 2008

          

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