Employee Learning in Organizations


Learning is a process that brings together cognitive, emotional, and environmental influences and experiences for acquiring, enhancing, or making changes in one’s knowledge, skills, values, and world views (Illeris, 2000 p.15). The above definition reveals that learning is a process that involves both internal and external factors of an individual. We can therefore deduce that this process is influenced by biological makeup of an individual as well as the surrounding environmental factors. The learning process is shown to bring change in ones knowledge by gaining skills, values and views. Learning produces valuable information to the organization, it enables organizations to increase their competitive advantage.

Organizational Learning

This is the overall acquisition of knowledge in an organization. This is achieved when all individuals in an organization develop a common skill or way of doing things. This kind of learning depends on the individuals (within the organization) willingness to learn. According to Illeris (2000 p.54) the learning process comes automatically within the members of a given organization due to its practices. They portray that the members of a certain organization develops the culture of learning together due to their common beliefs and practices.

There are various definitions to the concept of learning organizations, according to different scholars, some of which are given below.

Learning organizations [are] 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 to see the whole together (Senge 1990: 3).

Learning organizations are characterized by total employee involvement in a process of collaboratively conducted, collectively accountable change directed towards shared values or principles (Watkins and Marsick 1992: 289). There exist different essential features that originates from a learning organization these are:

Generation of Knowledge and Sharing

In this feature we see that for learning to take place in an organization knowledge must be generated and shared among the individuals in the organization. Looking at our argument then the concept of learning organization is irrelevant and that it is individuals who learn. We can argue that the process of knowledge in generation lies within the individual and not the organization. This fact can also be used to portray that without the individuals in the organization sharing the information, no learning can develop in any given organization.

Critical and Systems Thinking

This means the element of critical thinking and generation of logical ideas. This process calls for the use of rational thinking within an individual in that if there are inadequate mental resources the process of learning will be sluggish in an organization.

Culture of Learning

This is the relationship between different elements of environment within the organization and acquisition of new knowledge. This culture can be developed through training, team work, motivation and good leadership. Looking at this concept we can point out that the willingness of individuals to learn is the source of this culture.

People Centered Attitude

This is the policy of providing the employees with a good environment to develop themselves. Through the above feature we can dispute the concept of learning organization and strongly support the concept that it is individuals in an organization that learns. According to Watkins & Marsick (992, p.14) there are some common requirement for learning organization which include:

The members of the organization are devoted and trained in managing their self development; the organization gives them support for self development. It develops programs that support joint learning to its members and provides a good environment for learning and acquisition of new skills to its members.

The organization comes up with efficient ways of disseminating learning within the organization. Analyzing the above requirement we can deduce some of the important elements for the development on a learning organization. These are:

  • First we see there is need to link the organization’s plans with the individual goals to bring about harmony in both interest.
  • There is need to develop training programs within the organization to enable employees’ growth and development.
  • The organization should come up with special programs which can accommodate different individual interests in the organization.
  • The organization should embrace the culture of learning within the organization by proving the essential facilities.

Analysis of the Relevance of the above Two Concepts

Although these definitions are widely referred to by many scholars they have many variations leading to no single definition that satisfies the differences. Lack of a single concrete definition for this concept put its validity into question. There is also no given condition for development of organization learning. These two factors strengthen our argument that there is nothing like learning organization but what exists is individual learning.

Peter (1996 p.16), points out that the biggest mistake is viewing knowledge as external thing to individuals instead of seeing it as something constructed in them and something that need to be used in an interactive way if it is to be shared effectively. Looking at this argument we can see that the issue of learning and knowledge irrigates from individuals and not related to the concept of learning organization.

From the above definitions also we can observe that the learning organization concept is based on continuous growth of employee’s capabilities so that they can be able to achieve the organization objectives efficiently and effectively. According to senge (990 p.3) employees are nurtured to achieve some given results in the organization. Looking at our study we can argue that the driving force in this whole process of learning is based on individual and not the organization. We observe that it is the individuals who undergo the change in thinking and not the organization. In the modern management, learning on organizations is mostly attributed to various processes such as education, training and development.


This is the process where an instructor puts an individual under a given program which will lead to change in behavior. It is different from education which is a self directed work based process which leads to an increased adaptation ability.

The training process is aimed at enabling individuals in the organization adapt to the environment and use the knowledge to be more productive. An organization usually comes up with training programs for employees which will equip them with the required skills needed in the organization. Different programs are developed for different groups of people in the organization. The current organization recognizes that there is importance for continuous training in the organization so as to be able to upgrade skills throughout the employees work life. This kind of training is referred to as professional development.

They are two types of training i.e. on-the-job training and off-the –job training.

On-the-job training is carried out in the normal working environment of the organization. There is use of the actual equipments and materials that are used by the employees during work; it is said to be the most effective.

Off-job-training is carried out away from the normal working environment of the employee. This form of training helps the employee to concentrate more on learning of new ideas. The training programs may be from internal trainer or outsourced from external trainers.

Employee development

This is a joint activity between the employee and the employer which is meant to upgrade the knowledge, skill and abilities. A good employee program is the one that balances between the organization need and the employees career needs. An employee development program makes very positive contribution to the growth of the organization work force. They results to more knowledgeable and productive employees (Murray, Poole & Jones, 2006 p.26).


This activity is meant to equip individuals with skills of the job they may potentially hold in the future. There is formal and informal education, formal education is a predetermined curriculum intended to be followed by individuals in certain discipline, it is the major form of acquiring knowledge in the modern days (Murray, Poole & Jones, 2006, p.38). Learning institutions have been developed to enable individuals to acquire knowledge in different disciplines.


In conclusion, we can say that, learning is a continuous process that occurs in individuals as they undergo different experiences in an organization and greatly influenced by the environmental factors. It should also be observed that, it is the individual who undergoes learning and not the organizations.


Illeris, K. (2002) The three dimensions of learning: contemporary learning theory. Cornell University, Roskilde University Press.

Peter Murray, et al. (2006) Contemporary Issues in Management and Organizational Behavior. Mass, Addison Wesley.

Peter Cook. (1996) Human Dynamics-organization and Business Development. P.2-42. 2009. Web.

Senge, P. M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline; The art and practice of the learning organization. London: Random House.

Watkins, K.E., Marsick, V.J. (1992) Towards a Theory of Informal and Incidental Learning in Organisations. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 11(4): 287-300.

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