We seem, by nature, to be learning creatures. We exhibit from birth a natural curiosity and a powerful urge to create, explore and understand. We’re also social creatures. Throughout our lives we participate in a host of organizations of varying complexity from families to classrooms to societies. Yet organizations often (always?) present significant (and perhaps even insurmountable) barriers to learning. These barriers frequently result in individual frustration and organizational distress or collapse. As members of organizations we often seem to behave in ways that inhibit our ability to learn either as individuals, as groups or as organizations. Whether, why and to what degree is the broad topic of this course.
As a gentle entrance into the topic that will generate valuable data for discussion we invite you to reflect and make notes on two sets of questions about learning. First, think about one or two powerful past learning experiences. Consider experiences you’ve had either individually, as a member of a group or as a member of a larger organization. You may have had experiences to share at all three levels. Do the following:
- Describe the experience
- What did you learn?
- How did you learn it? What caused you to learn?
- What was the setting? What about the setting facilitated or inhibited your learning?
- What aspects of the situation insured that you would learn effectively?
- What were the behaviors, techniques or activities that contributed to and cemented your learning?
For the second set of questions we’d like you to focus on some organization to which you belong that is in some way important to you. What do you, your work group in the organization and the organization itself need to learn in the future? Again, think about all three dimensions:
- What do you want to learn as a person? What would be the benefit if you learned these things? What approach would be most useful for you actually to these things? What impediments might you encounter?
- What does your work group need to learn? What would be the benefit if you (all) were able to learn these things? What approach would most likely insure their learning? What might block the learning?
- What does your organization need to learn? What benefits would the organization see if it could do this? How could this be accomplished? What major barriers do you anticipate?
Please bring your notes on these questions and any related thoughts to the first session.
This activity was originally developed by Jim Clawson for an Executive Education program on learning organizations offered at Darden a number of years ago. It was this course that first really piqued my intellectual interest in the topic and introduced me to the literature on the subject. Don’t hold Jim responsible for the results of the inspiration – as exemplified in this course.