Watson, Bruce D. 2002 argues that Organisational Learning has proven to be a somewhat elusive concept to grasp and therefore its practical implementation has also been difficult. There are various positions on what "learning" is understood to be and there is a lack of synthesis of theoretical and empirical investigations. He argues that the conception of "learning" in the organisational learning literature has received insufficient attention and that this has largely contributed to the lack of clarity in the concept of organisational learning.

Following the work of Argyris and Schön, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (Singe 1990) is a book by Peter Senge focusing on group problem solving using the Systems-thinking method in order to convert companies into Learning Organisations.The five disciplines represent approaches (theories and methods) for developing three core learning capabilities: fostering aspiration, developing reflective conversation, and understanding complexity.

The five disciplines of what the book refers to as a "learning organisation" discussed in the book are:
  1. "Personal mastery is a discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively"
  2. "Mental modelsare deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action."
  3. "Building shared vision - a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance."
  4. "Team learning starts with dialogue, the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine thinking together."
  5. "Systems thinking - The Fifth Discipline that integrates the other four."

Senge extensively describes the role of what it refers to as "mental models," which he says are integral in order to "focus on the openness needed to unearth shortcomings" in perceptions. The book also focuses on "team learning" with the goal of developing "the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture beyond individual perspectives." In addition to these principles, the author stresses the importance of "personal mastery" to foster "the personal motivation to continually learn how [...] actions affect [the] world."

Although Senge, in his book "The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization", referred to Learning Organisation rather than Organisational Learning, however, in an interview by Society for Organizational Learning (SOL), Senge used both terms to explain the importance of the Five Disciplines for learning (the difference between Learning Organisation and Organisational Learning is explained in Section 5 - Learning Organisation. The Society for Organisational Learning (SOL) adopts the Five Disciplines for fostering Organisational Learning.

Katie Smith Milway and Amy Saxton, in their article The Challenge of Organizational Learning, they identified four elements of organizational learning in nonprofit organisations. The four elements include: Supportive leaders, culture of continuous improvement, defined learning structure and intuitive knowledge processes.


Katie and Amy argue that, first, leaders must champion organisational learning. They need to demonstrate their commitment by setting a vision and goals for learning connected to furthering the mission, and they must act as role models by participating in learning activities. Second, leaders need to foster a culture of continuous improvement that values organisational learning. The culture reinforces learning by providing incentives for learning behaviors and by measuring and communicating results of learning. Third, the organisation needs to define a learning structure that specifies the people who are accountable for capturing, distilling, applying, and sharing knowledge. The structure also should include networks and coordinating tactics that help information flow among the people who need it, when they need it. Last, the organisation must design intuitive knowledge processes that are aligned to how people work. These processes specify how staff members define a learning agenda, and how they capture, distill, and apply knowledge. These processes also include the technology systems for exchanging knowledge, but they need to keep people-to-people interactions at the heart of them.


Watson, Bruce (2002). //Rethinking Organisational Learning//. Melbourne: Doctorate, Faculty of Education, Education, The University of Melbourne

Senge, Peter M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline. Doubleday/Currency. ISBN 0-385-26094-6
Summary of the Fifth Discipline book


Stanford Social Innovation Review

infed Org

The Bridgespan Group

Society for Organizational Learning (SOL)