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The learning organization

Posted By: Christine Schwarz on May 22, 2003
Dear Ross,
I'm just finishing up my dissertation on the topic of organizational learning in nonprofits. You should check out work by Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Patricia Cranton, Jack Mezirow, Victoria Marsick, J. Bitterman, Michael Wonacott and B. Sugarman.
The first task I had to accomplish was disentangling the various threads of the l.o. from each other. It also helps if you teach yourself about systems design, via cybernetics -- a nice little foray into postmodernism, in that modernism is linear and systems theory is cyclical.
Also confusion exists about definitions, as well as controversy about motivations. The learning organization (a system) is not the same as organizational learning (another kind of system that promotes l.o.'s), as you will discover. Conflict theorists see learning organizations as simply another means of management manipulating labor for their nefarious, profit-driven purposes. Others disagree; learning organizations empower.
The bulk of the literature is located in organizational management, where competition motivates companies to utilize whatever methods will help them achieve greater profitablility. (Perhaps, as I do, you will see an instant discrepancy between the level of motivation of for-profits and schools, which are institutions with little incentive to improve.) However, nonprofit organizations exist to try to help other nonprofits get off the ground and become learning organizations, like the Innovation Network (website).
Hope this helps.
Christine Schwarz
Saint Joseph's University
Philadelphia, PA.
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 The learning organization by Ross Messer on May 15, 2003
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