Handbook of Research on the Learning Organization
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Handbook of Research on the Learning Organization

Adaptation and Context

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.
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Chapter 5: Obstacles to the learning organization

David Weir and Anders Örtenblad


The learning organization is, to many academics and consultants alike, so clearly a ‘good thing’, whether it is characterized in idealized analytical terms or as embodying some norms of good practice that obstacles to it may be described almost in ethical terms. Contu et al. problematized the notion of ‘learning’ as an antidote to cruder forms of managerialism by noting: ‘The universal and uncritical acceptance of learning shows just how far the ideological move of appropriating and suturing a notion of society, organization and self around learning has gone’ (Contu et al.2003, p. 947). Nonetheless, it is becoming quite generally accepted that the true ‘learning organization’ is rather like the fabulous unicorn in that it is more commonly talked about than encountered. However, the notion of ‘learning’ must be hard to oppose in theory, especially for teachers of management and believers in the virtues of business education, for who could be against ‘learning’, whether as an aspect of individual competence or of organizational performance? Easter by-Smith and Araujo pointed out that the core ideas of the learning organization seem to appeal to a very wide range of theorists and organizational analysts (Easter by-Smith and Araujo 1999). The learning organization is clearly, in these perspectives, an ideal towards which organizations have to evolve to be able to respond to the various pressures they face.

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