Organizational Learning as a Social Process: A Social Capital and Network Approach

Organizational Learning as a Social Process: A Social Capital and Network Approach

Jieun You (Yonsei University, South Korea), Junghwan Kim (University of Oklahoma, USA) and Sarah M. Miller (University of Oklahoma, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2568-4.ch006
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This chapter discusses about application of social capital and network approach to organizational learning research and practice. The shift of organizational learning perspective from a technical or system-structural perspective to a social or interpretative perspective highlights that organizational learning process is socially embedded and is based on social interaction/relationships. Social capital and network theories provides a conceptual framework to explain how organizational learning takes place as well as identifies social and network factors influencing organizational learning. Thus, the chapter provides implications for establishing a conceptual and methodological framework to describe and evaluate an organizational learning process by extensively reviewing the recent organizational learning research adopting social capital and network approach.
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Under uncertain and unpredictable environments, individuals and organizations are forced to be continuously committed to learning for their competitiveness. Organizations that do not successfully accomplish their organizational performance and change are threatening their survival. Organizational learning is thought of as one of the key factors determining successful organizational change and innovation even though there is a disagreement on concepts and perspectives of organizational learning (Jimenez-Jimenez & Sanz-Valle, 2011; Lopez, Peon, & Ordas, 2005; Stata & Almond, 1989).

Early organizational learning theories use a technical or systems-structural perspective, which regards learning as a process of acquiring and disseminating information through information processing in a cognitive mechanism embedded in individuals (Daft & Huber, 1987; Easterby-Smith & Araujo, 1999; Hager, 2011). However, recent organizational learning scholars have increasingly paid attention to the social view or interpretative perspective that emphasizes the role of social and organizational contexts in terms of workplace learning (Billett, 1995; Fenwick, 2001; Hager, 2011). Theorists with a social or interpretative perspective claim that learning based on social relationship and interactions a kind of product of social constructs. This argument suggests that in order to understand an organizational learning process, it is important to understand how learners interpret information and build meanings within their social and organizational context (Daft & Huber, 1987; Easterby-Smith & Araujo, 1999).

The recent shift in organizational learning perspectives suggests that social capital/network theory is useful for explaining an organizational learning mechanism and process and how to facilitate organizational learning. Originally coming from sociology, social capital/network has now become a popular concept in various fields. Psychology as well as education, economics, and business pay attention to the importance of social capital/network as a resource of organizational competitiveness (Lesser, 2000). Therefore, scholars have been recently interested in social capital theory and have tried to explain organizational learning by adopting social capital theory (Bogenrieder, 2002; Currah & Wrigley, 2004; Kreiser, 2011). With social capital/network theory, social network analysis provides a valuable and useful tool for identifying and analyzing how organizational learning occurs and how actors interrelate and interact with each other within organizations (Cross, Borgatti, & Parker, 2002; Kilduff & Brass, 2011; Wasserman & Faust, 2009).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Technical or Systems-Structural Perspective: A perspective that organizational learning uses to detect and solve problems responding to the internal and external environments through information processing.

Social or Interpretative Perspective: A perspective that organizational learning uses to interpret information and build meanings within their social and organizational context.

Social Capital: Aggregates of actual and potential resources embedded in social relationships and interactions.

Explorative Learning: A learning method used to create new ideas and knowledge to adapt to environmental change through continuous experimental activities.

Organizational learning: A process in which organizations retain, create, and transfer organizational knowledge from their experiences responding to environmental changes.

Exploitative Learning: A learning method to acquire and utilize the existing knowledge from past experiences, routines, and norms of organizations.

Social Network Analysis: A research method to measure and analyze patterns and properties of a social structure where actors interrelate and interact with each other.

Social Networks: Webs of social relationship and social ties where actors interrelate and interact with each other.

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