The link between individual and organizational learning

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Authors: D. Kim

Publication Year: 1998


Journal: MIT Sloan Management Review

Categories: Information Management


The topic of organizational learning has gained a lot of attention, but there is little agreement on what organizational learning means and even less on how to create a learning organization. The crucial issue is how individual learning is transferred to the organization. The author develops a model that links individual and organizational learning through mental models, the thought constructs that affect how people and organizations operate in the world. His model can guide the search for new tools to help organizations learn.

Critical Reflection

The author gathers a set of Individual and Organizational Learning models to create a unified, more general, model for the transference of learning: The OADI-SMM Model. It stands for observe, assess, design, implement-shared mental models. This model addresses the issue of the transfer of learning through the exchange of individual and shared mental models.

  • Lewinian Experiential Learning Cycle: Experiential learning is where experience plays a central role in the learning process. This is a four-stage cycle for learning which relies on here-and-now concrete experience to validate concepts, where immediate personal experience is the focal point for the learning process;
  • Observe-Assess-Design-Implement (OADI) Cycle of Individual Learning: In the OADI cycle, people experience concrete events and actively observe what is happening, assessing (consciously or subconsciously) their experience by reflecting on their observations and then design or construct an abstract concept that seems to be an appropriate response to the assessment. They test the design by implementing it in the concrete world, which leads to a new concrete experience, commencing another cycle;
  • Simple Model of Individual Learning. OADI-Individual Mental Models Cycle: OADI learning cycle with the addition of mental models. The author of this model describes mental models as deeply held internal images of how the world works, which have a powerful influence on what we do because they also affect what we see. Mental models represent a person's view of the world, including explicit and implicit understandings. Mental models provide the context in which to view and interpret new material, and determine how stored information is relevant to a given situation;
  • Model of Organizational Learning: In this model individual actions are based on certain individual beliefs. These actions, in turn, lead to organizational action, which produces some environmental response. The cycle is completed when the environmental response affects individual beliefs;
  • Relationships among Organizational Scanning, Interpretation, and Learning under Ambiguity: This model represents the overall learning process of an organization: scanning, interpretation, and learning. Scanning involves monitoring and obtaining data about the environment. Interpretation is the process of translating events and developing concepts consistent with prior understanding of the environment. Learning is knowledge about the interrelationships between the organization's actions a n d the environment as well as the actions that are taken on the basis of such knowledge;
  • Types of Organizational Interpretation Systems: Typology of four different interpretation types - undirected viewing, conditioned viewing, discovering, and enacting. The horizontal axis, organizational intrusiveness, is a measure of an organization's willingness to look outside its own boundaries. The two axes represent an organization's assumptions about the world and its role in it, the combination of which captures an organization's worldview. An organization's worldview determines how it interprets environmental responses, whether it will act on them, and what specific means it will employ if it chooses to act.