Learning organization means organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together. From this definition we can understand that learning organization is a team and organizational process rather than individual and it is a continuous never ending process. It is essential for a learning organization to make creative and better ways of learning and improving its performance. It becomes a part of the continuous process of sharing information with people and the environment, and exchanging and disseminating information. A learning organization is entirely different from a traditional organization as it has the capacity to make changes continuously. The theory of organizational learning stresses the importance of policies and procedures inside the organization in response to the outside consequences even though they are positive or negative the firm learns from its experiences. Learning has only very little to do with getting information, rather it is merely a process for enhancing capacity. Learning is for making new kinds of developments that the organization could not achieve in the past. The principle assumption of learning organization, therefore, is that if learning from the part of individuals is improved, organizational performance also will improve.
There are five disciplines which are essential to the development of learning organizations. These disciplines are the distinguishing factors behind the learning organization and a traditional organization. Those disciplines are personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning and system thinking. Personal mastery tries to acquire the academic expertise and efficiency that they got from their activities and experiences. Mental model focuses on an individual’s basic world view, which is reinforced by structures, experiences, cultures and belief systems. This model guides and directs people as they make decisions, and are used to filter ideas and possibilities. Shared vision is the collective perspectives of employees and evolves from their understanding of the organization’s mission. In traditional organizations, shared vision is not commonplace, because little or no effort is made to internalize or understand the firm’s mission. Shared vision is, however, a cornerstone of learning organizations because it requires a common view of learning by all types of members from top to bottom in an organization. This discipline also helps the organizations allocate its various kinds of resources towards its objectives.
Team learning enables the members of an organization in expanding their perspectives, fostering their knowledge, deepening their comprehension power and will make a better sense of self. Team learning helps employees improve collaboration, communication and co-operation, as well as view other organizational members as learning resources.
In the case of system thinking, the members of a learning organization have to think in a strategic way about every aspects of an organizational life, which include the organization’s role in achieving its business objectives, its mission and strategy, and its structure, culture and managerial practices. Thus, a learning organization as it continuously examines the external and internal pressures, influence every part of the organization it proves helpful. Moreover, system thinking requires reflectivity on the part of leaders, managers and employees for the purpose of improving understanding and action.
Importance of Learning Organization in the 21st Century
As the world is changing day by day, each generation has to adapt and make changes in a very limited time. Thus continuous learning is essential for survival and success in today’s world. Technological change is having a tremendous impact on all our lives. Today, society is far more sophisticated than the world in the earlier days. As technological changes are in a fast manner, it becomes more difficult to predict the future developments and plan for the future changes. In order to cope up with the changing world we have to change our activities and ideas according to the changing world. Successful people have the ability to and are prepared to change and adapt. All successful people are learners; likewise successful organizations too are learning organizations. Learning organizations alone can make improvements and they never become stagnant. Although organizations are learning and adapt to change they are so slow in making changes. Successful organizations consider change and development as the most important factor which determine their success. Learning organizations have the capability to control the external pressures rather than be a slave to it. If an organization is a learning organization it will reduce the staff turnover and it will become more attractive to potential employees. Learning process will enable the organization to respond to the changes and new situations more quickly than its rivals. The ability of the organization to focus on organizational goals and secure staff commitment to their achievement will lead to far greater efficiency and a better quality of product or service. The popularity of learning organization is increasing day by day.