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 19: ‘The learning organization’ – drop the dead metaphor! Performing organizing and learning in networks (so to speak)

Chris Blantern, Tom Boydell and John Burgoyne


There is much discussion about what is in effect the definition of a learning organization, with questions such as ‘What is a learning organization?’ or ‘Is this a learning organization?’ or ‘What is the difference between learning organization and organizational learning?’ Much of the discussion around those questions seems to ignore what we might mean by ‘learning’. In the first section of this chapter we will present a framework for thinking about this, and then apply it to three possible broad forms of organizing for learning and problem solving – only one of which, we sense, is capable of tackling what we will be describing as ‘wicked problems’. We will suggest that whether or not these are usefully defined as learning organizations depends on the concept of ‘definition’, which itself can be mapped onto the same threefold framework. In that sense we are adapting the definition of ‘the learning organization’, as well as the somewhat ontological question as to the concept of ‘definition’ itself.

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