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Handbook of Research on the Learning Organization

Handbook of Research on the Learning Organization

Adaptation and Context

Elgar original reference

Edited by Anders Örtenblad

This timely Handbook establishes the ‘contextualization’ of the learning organization idea as a research field. In contrast to much of the previous literature, which has approached the learning organization as a panacea that every organization could and should adopt, this major new Handbook puts the learning organization into context. It examines the relevance of the learning organization idea to organizations in various specific contexts, employing examples from a wide variety of cultures including China and Islamic nations, and from industries as diverse as the police force, care services for the elderly and family firms.

Chapter 7: Developing learning organizations in China

Jacky F.L. Hong, Robin Stanley Snell and Mian Lin

Subjects: business and management, knowledge management, organisation studies, innovation and technology, knowledge management


After more than two decades of development since the publication of Senge’s (1990) The Fifth Discipline, the learning organization still remains an elusive concept with diverse interpretations and understandings (Örtenblad 2002, 2004). Attempts to encapsulate the multifaceted natur e of the learning organization into a short definition include casting it as an organization that ‘facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself ’ (Pedler et al. 1991, p. 1), and as one that is ‘skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights’ (Garvin 1993, p. 80). While the learning organization may be construed as a set of rhetorical ideals (Symon 2002), emphasizing empowerment, personal development and shared vision, some critics question the integrity of the managerial motives for developing a learning organization (Coopey 1998; Snell & Chak 1998). It is possible for the espoused ideals of the learning organization to be used by managements to justify change initiatives (Snell 2002) that compromise or even sacrifice the vested interests of employee stakeholders, especially those at the front line, who as a result find themselves ‘working in a world with little job security’ (Armstrong 2000, p. 356).

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