According to Peter Senge (1990: 3) learning organizations are:
…organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire (or matters), 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.
Peter Senge responds to some common questions about organizational learning
Q: In your book The Fifth Discipline you describe five disciplines that you believe are important for creating learning organizations. What is a Learning Organization?
Like any term that gets used a lot it can quickly lose any meaning whatsoever. All the term was meant to do was point at something that we all experience but we don’t give a lot of thought to: what happens when a group of people really work at their best?
Most people, whether on a high school basketball team, a theater ensemble or often times in a work setting have been members of teams that have been exceptional and have accomplished things that were really remarkable maybe something most didn’t even think could be accomplished. So often times people have had this experience of working as part of an extraordinary team the ‘team’ could be any group of people doing something together – not necessarily an official team.
When I was in high school a bunch of us got really excited about our principal being named “principal of the year” in the Los Angeles city schools. He was a great guy. We banded together and created a big mail-in-card campaign that went on for about six months . He did win the award, which was neat, but it was the doing of it – the idea, aligning around it and acting – that was really exciting.
When you look at any of these kinds of situations where people say, “Oh yeah, I was a part of a group who did that, and then you ask, Was the group that good when they started?” They say, “Oh no, we kind of learned how to do it as we did it.
That’s it. How a group of people collectively enhance their capacities to produce the outcome they really wanted to produce. That’s what we want to point to with the term ‘organizational learning’.
The dimension that distinguishes learning from more traditional organizations is the mastery of certain basic disciplines or ‘component technologies’. The five that Peter Senge identifies are said to be converging to innovate learning organizations.