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Levels of learning: hither and whither

Special issue call for papers from The Learning Organization

Over the last five decades, there has been a growing research interest in learning in and by organizations, reflected in both quantity of publications (counted in Bapuji and Crossan, 2004) and reviews of the field (e.g., Argote, 2011; Easterby-Smith and Lyles, 2011; Örtenblad, 2002; Shipton, 2006). Yet, in spite of this activity, this field is still seen as characterized by conceptual confusion and terminological ambiguity, even as an “organizational learning jungle” (Huysman, 2000, p. 81 Lipshitz et al., 2007).

This conceptual confusion and ambiguity appears to be particular pertinent in the case of conceptualizations of so-called higher levels of learning, despite a few recent attempts to impose a degree of theoretical order and coherence on some of these conceptualizations (Chiva et al., 2010; Tosey et al., 2012; Visser, 2007). Not only the differences in number of levels and in the terminology-in-use are striking, but also the fact that the main conceptualizations and their theoretical antecedents all appear to have been firmly established in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., Argyris and Schön, 1974; Bateson, 1972; Cyert and March, 1963). Furthermore, this is a field that is rich in conceptualizations, but rather poor in operationalization and empirical research.

The purpose of this SI is to fill these voids in organizational learning research and make higher-order learning more amenable to empirical research and more workable to organizational practice. We therefore invite contributions of the following types:

•    theoretical papers that critically review, integrate or synthesize conceptualizations of higher level learning.
•    operationalizations and measurements of higher levels of learning.
•    concrete empirical research, either quantitative or qualitative.


The submission deadline for full papers is 30 June 2017. The Special Issue is scheduled to appear as the first issue of The Learning Organization in 2018.

Guest editors

Max Visser is Associate Professor of Management, Accounting and Organization at the Institute for Management Research, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. His research interests include the relations between organizational learning, management control and performance, in particular in governmental and non-profit organizations. Further, he is interested in the relations between governance, performance and behavior in organizations, increas-ingly from a Critical perspective. His publications have appeared in journals like Academy of Management Review, Management Learning, Journal of Organizational Change Management, The Learning Organization, among others. Email: [email protected]

Ricardo Chiva is Professor of Management and Organizations at the Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain. He is working on the development of a new vision of organizations as sites where innovation, learning and humanism are essential elements. His research interests are mainly focused on organizational learning, innovation, and on the human aspects of organizations, including organizational and human development. His publications have appeared in journals like British Journal of Management, Personnel Review, International Journal of Man-agement Reviews, Journal of Business Ethics, among others.

Paul Tosey is an Independent Consultant and Visiting Fellow at Surrey Business School, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK. His consultancy and research interests include organizational and transformative learning, coaching, NLP, and Clean Language. His publications have appeared in journals like British Journal of Management, Management Learning, Human Re-source Development International, among others.


Argote, L. (2011), “Organizational learning research: past, present and future”, Management Learning, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 439-446.
Argyris, C. and Schön, D.A. (1974), Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Bapuji, H. and Crossan, M.M. (2004), “From questions to answers: reviewing organizational learning research”, Management Learning, Vol. 35 No. 4, pp. 397-417.
Bateson, G. (1972), Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chandler, San Francisco.
Chiva, R., Grandio, A. and Alegre, J. (2010), “Adaptive and generative learning: implications from complexity theory”, International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 114-129.
Cyert, R.M. and March, J.G. (1963), A Behavioral Theory of the Firm, Prentice-Hall, Eng-lewood Cliffs, NJ.
Easterby-Smith, M. and Lyles, M.A. (2011), “The evolving field of organizational learning and knowledge management”, in Easterby-Smith, M. and Lyles, M.A. (Eds.), Blackwell Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management (2nd ed.), Wiley, New York, pp.1-20.
Huysman, M. (2000), “Rethinking organizational learning: analyzing learning processes of in-formation system designers”, Accounting, Management and Information Technologies, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 81-99.
Lipshitz, R., Friedman, V.J. and Popper, M. (2007), Demystifying Organizational Learning, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Örtenblad, A. (2002), “Organizational learning: a radical perspective”, International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 87-100.
Shipton, H. (2006), “Cohesion or confusion: towards a typology of organizational learning re-search”, International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 233-252.
Tosey, P., Visser, M. and Saunders, M.N.K. (2012), “The origins and conceptualizations of ‘triple-loop’ learning: a critical review”, Management Learning, Vol. 43 No. 3, pp. 291-307.
Visser, M. (2007), “Deutero-learning in organizations: a review and a reformulation”, Acade-my of Management Review, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 659-667.