Current status and promising directions
for research on the learning organization
Karen E. Watkins
| Kyoungshin Kim
University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia
Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Korea
University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.
This article examines the state of research on the learning organi-
zation in the field of HRD and future directions that hold promise
for enriching our understanding of organizational learning and the
learning organization. The article differentiates these two streams
of research and explores areas where one body of research may
be useful to the other. The article draws heavily on studies using
the Dimensions of a Learning Organization Questionnaire (DLOQ©).
Emerging work testing cross-cultural validity and levels of analysis,
as well as social network analyses, shows promise in deepening
our understanding of the construct. Finally, a case is made for the
need for studies of learning organization interventions in order to
continue to test the usefulness of the construct of a learning
organization for HRD practitioners.
DLOQ, learning organization, organizational learning
1 | INTRODUCTION
Once deemed a distant vision of an ideal state, the learning organization has been a stable construct in studies in
HRD for over 20 years (Lundberg, 1989; Senge, 1990). In order to understand what is intrinsically inherent in concep-
tions of a learning organization, it is important to first define learning at the organizational level. This is particularly
imperative if one seeks to measure learning at the organizational level—or in the case of the related learning organiza-
tion construct, what facilitates or enables learning by organizations. Anchored in organizational behavior journals,
scholars seldom discuss the learning organization literature and often dismiss it as little more than consultant speak,
primarily prescriptive rather than descriptive research (Tsang, 1997). Furthermore, learning organization scholars often
ignore studies of organizational learning, focusing instead on comparing the validity of different conceptions of the
learning organization or on different measures (Song, Chermack, & Kim, 2013; Swanson & Chermack, 2013).
But we cannot prescribe without first describing—or asking ourselves—what change we are trying to effect.
And how do we know it would be valid? To address this conundrum, we begin by looking at differing theories of
how organizations learn and the implications of these different conceptions for understanding the learning organiza-
tion construct and ultimately how a learning organization might be most meaningfully assessed.
Human Resource Dev Quarterly. 2018;29:15–29. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/hrdq © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.