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Methods for Studying Learning Organizations (LO)/Organizational Learning (OL)

Special issue call for papers from The Learning Organization

There is extensive research on the “what-question”, that is, what the learning organization and organizational learning (LO/OL) is all about and how it should be defined. There is also plenty of empirical research on LO/OL. However, not many have dealt with the specific question of how LO/OL best could be researched; at least, this has not been the main topic of many works (for an exception, though, see Nyame-Asiamah and Patel, 2009). This themed issue of The Learning Organization (TLO) focuses on research design, sampling procedures, and data collection; however, papers on data analysis and operationalization are also welcome. The focus of the contributed papers should ideally be on “how” to study LO/OL, but the question of “how” is, of course, tightly related to the “what” question in epistemological, ontological, and methodological terms. Thus, papers on what, exactly, to study when aiming at studying or “measuring” (Campbell and Cairns, 1994; Yang et al., 2004; Moilanen, 2005) the learning organization/organizational learning are also welcome. The discussion can be theoretical and/or based on the analysis of the research and evidence of LO/OL, for instance, to review and challenge the theoretical constructs, assumptions and/or methods for the collection of information and its analysis.

The purpose of this themed issue is to increase the awareness among LO/OL researchers on methodological issues and choices, and – ultimately – to improve empirical research on LO/OL.

Suggested topics for papers include, but are not limited to the following:

- Is organizational learning/the learning organization best studied through observations, interviews, questionnaires, simulation models, or experiments? Is a “practice-based” approach (Gherardi, 2009) or a “discourse” approach preferable when studying organizational learning/the learning organization?

- Is qualitative method, quantitative method or mixed method preferable when studying organizational learning/the learning organization?

- How can LO/OL best be assessed, and to what extent a particular organization is a learning organization, according to e.g. Senge’s (1990) definition?

- How can learning at the organizational level (in contrast to individual learning) best be studied (see e.g. Cook and Yanow, 1993; Lähteenmäki et al., 2001; Chiva and Alegre, 2005)? How can learning on the group level (Edmondson, 1999) best be studied?

- How important is context (Meyer, 2007) in descriptive studies of organizational learning/the learning organization?

- If no examples of actual “learning organizations” (according to any specific definition) exist, how can then empirical research on LO be conducted?

- How can normative studies of the learning organization/organizational learning best be conducted? For instance, how to carry out research that aims to advise on the most relevant type

of learning organization for an organization in a particular industry, sector, national culture or religion (Örtenblad, 2013)?

- Is there a “better” methodological approach related to the notion of OL/LO? Furthermore, can we identify schools or paradigms of how to study the OL/LO and which are the related results and lines of research? (Burrel and Morgan, 1979).


The submission deadline for full papers is December of 2018. The themed Issue is scheduled to appear by June of 2019.


George Papageorgiou and Monica Velasco-E, member of the editorial board of TLO.

Author Guidelines

For submission guidelines and author information, please view the TLO Author Guidelines page: http://www.emeraldgrouppublishing.com/products/journals/author_guidelines.htm?id=tlo


Burrell, G. and Morgan, G. (1979), Part I: In Search of a Framework, in Sociological Paradigms and Organizational Analysis, Heinemann, Great Britain, pp. 1-37.

Campbell, T. and Cairns, H. (1994), "Developing and measuring the learning organization: From buzz words to behaviours", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 26 No. 7, pp. 10-15.

Chia, R. (2017), “A process-philosophical understanding of organizational learning as ‘wayfinding’: Process, practices and sensitivity to environmental affordances", The Learning Organization, Vol. 24 No. 2, pp.107-118. Doi: 10.1108/TLO-11-2016-0083

Chiva, R. and Alegre, J. (2005), “Organizational learning and organizational knowledge: Towards the integration of two approaches”, Management Learning, Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 49-68.

Cook, S.D.N. and Yanow, D. (1993), “Culture and organizational learning”, Journal of Management Inquiry, Vol. 2 No. 4, pp. 373-390.

Edmondson, A.C. (1999), “The view through a different lens: Investigating organizational learning at the group level of analysis”, paper presented at the 3rd International Conference on Organizational Learning, Lancaster, UK, available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Amy_Edmondson/publication/229052680_The_view_through_a_different_lens_Investigating_organizational_learning_at_the_group_level_of_analysis/links/00b4951fe6b58c1471000000.pdf (accessed 22 March 2017).

Gherardi, S. (2009), “Knowing and learning in practice-based studies: An introduction”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 16 No. 5, pp. 352-359.

Lähteenmäki, S., Toivonen, J. and Mattila, M. (2001), “Critical Aspects of Organizational Learning Research and Proposals for Its Measurement”, British Journal of Management, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 113-129.

Meyer, K.E. (2007), “Contextualising organisational learning: Lyles and Salk in the context of their research”, Journal of International Business Studies, Vol. 38 No. 1, pp. 27-37.

Moilanen, R. (2005), “Diagnosing and measuring learning organizations”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 71-89.

Nyame-Asiamah, F. and Patel, N. (2009), “Research methods and methodologies for studying organisational learning”, paper presented at the European and Mediterranean Conference on Information Systems (EMOIS2009), Izmir, Turkey, available at: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/bitstream/2438/3504/1/C44.pdf (accessed 25 March 2017).

Örtenblad, A. (2015), “Towards increased relevance: Context-adapted models of the learning organization”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp.163-181. Doi: 10.1108/ TLO-06-2014-0027

Örtenblad, A. (2013), “Contextualizing the learning organization: Approaches to research design”, in Örtenblad, A. (Ed.), Handbook of Research on the Learning Organization: Adaptation and Context, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA, pp. 51-67.

Senge, P.M. (1990), The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Century Business, London, UK.

Yang, B., Watkins, K.E. and Marsick, V.J. (2004), “The construct of the learning organization: Dimensions, measurement, and validation”, Human Resource Development Quarterly, Vol.