A Synthesis of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management Literatures

A Synthesis of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management Literatures

Srinivasan Tatachari, K. S. Manikandan, Srinivas Gunta
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4679-7.ch008
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This chapter contributes to the literature through a synthesis of the hitherto disparate organizational learning and knowledge management fields. Two distinct epistemological traditions are identified, and the literature under each tradition is synthesized separately to start with. Epistemology of possession considers knowledge as an object that can be codified, stored, retrieved, and applied to achieve organizational outcomes. One of the major contributions of this chapter is to present an integrated model of organizational learning synthesizing the frameworks of Kolb (1993), Crossan, Lane, and White (1999), and Nonaka (1994), each of which is a dominant theoretical strand within the epistemology of possession. The epistemology of practice, in contrast, assumes knowledge as an integral part of doing and as something that cannot be distinct from the process of learning. By indicating a directional attempt at synthesizing the two epistemologies themselves through the multi-faceted literature on routines, the authors make another contribution to the literature. They illustrate implications for competitive advantage throughout the chapter.
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Two Epistemologies

Researchers working on organizational learning and knowledge fall under two main schools of thought – the taxonomic school (epistemology of possession) and the practice school (epistemology of practice) (Tsoukas, 1996; Orlikowski, 2002). We present a brief overview of both perspectives before we proceed further.

Epistemology of Possession

The work that falls in this tradition has been primarily taxonomic in character and hence is also referred to as the “taxonomic school” (Tsoukas, 1996). Researchers adopting this epistemological stance see knowledge as a commodity that can be possessed, stored, retrieved and applied for future use. It is seen as an outcome of the learning process. They classify knowledge into different categories: a) explicit knowledge – knowledge that can be codified; b) tacit knowledge – knowledge that cannot be articulated and codified; c) individual knowledge – possessed by an individual and d) group knowledge – possessed by the group.

Spender (1996) provides a typology of knowledge to capture the different types of knowledge that organizations make use of. According to Spender, there are four types of organizational knowledge: a) conscious – explicit knowledge held by the individual; b) objectified – explicit knowledge held by the organization; c) automatic – preconscious individual knowledge; and, d) collective – highly context-dependent knowledge which is manifested in the practice of an organization.

Thus in this tradition of epistemology of possession, knowledge is seen as an outcome of the learning process and something that is distinct from the process itself.

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