Making your manuscript relevant for TLO - from the Editor

The Learning Organization

There are several reasons why a number of manuscripts that The Learning Organization (TLO) receives for regular issues are desk rejected (please note, though, that the advice in this piece are relevant also for scholars who intend to submit manuscripts for special issues of TLO). This editorial aims to explain why this is the case and, by suggesting how manuscripts could be improved, to ensure that TLO receives more relevant manuscripts (please see also the TLO author guidelines for word length, reference style.

Firstly, TLO receives many manuscripts that are outside of the scope of the journal. TLO considers only those manuscripts that explicitly and extensively engage with the concepts “learning organization” or “organizational learning” (or both of them). Works on concepts that are very intimately related are also welcome. Such concepts include “organizational unlearning” and “team learning”, but only insofar as learning/unlearning on some kind of collective level is the focus. Ideally, all such manuscripts should include explicit and extensive connections to the theory on the learning organization and/or organizational learning. While concepts like “knowledge management” also could be said to be closely related to “learning organization” and “organizational learning”, TLO does not publish works on that concept – unless “knowledge management” is seen as one important factor of the learning organization or organizational learning, which is the case – especially – when “knowledge management” is understood as “knowledge sharing”. In any case, there must be strong and explicit connections to theory on the learning organization or/and organizational learning. In fact, TLO is interested in manuscripts dealing with any concept (e.g., mergers and acquisitions; entrepreneurship; innovation; quality etc.) as long as the manuscripts strongly and explicitly are connected to “learning organization” or/and “organizational learning”, for instance, in terms of explorations of plausible connections between the concept at stake and the concepts that are in focus in this journal. There are several reasons why “knowledge management” (as well as other, similar concepts) are not in focus in TLO – first, there are several other journals that deal exclusively or partly with knowledge management, second, TLO focuses more on the term “learning” rather than the term “knowledge”.

Of the manuscripts that are relevant for TLO (and that also fall within the range of accepted word length: between 4,000 and 7,000 words, all inclusive; please note that each table and each figure counts as 280 words, which must be added to the word length) – there are two types that TLO receives quite a few of: “correlation manuscripts” and “context manuscripts”.

Correlation manuscripts”. This kind of manuscript deals with the correlation between “learning organization” or “organizational learning” and any other, more or less related concept, such as “value creation”, “effectiveness”, “involvement”, “employee well-being” etc. The major weakness that (too) many of such manuscripts are afflicted with is that these manuscripts often seem to be no more than a practice of method, while relevance is given minimal or no attention. The method – that is, how to advise whether or not/to what extent there is a correlation between the two (or sometimes more) concepts – is of course important, but only as a measure to reach a means. Thus, such manuscripts need to be much more focusing on relevance – why is it relevant to find out more about the correlation? How can the knowledge that is reached help, and who could it help? This must be in focus and should be made clear in the introduction, and discussed in detail towards the end of the paper (in a discussion or conclusion section, for example).

Context manuscripts”. TLO receives also quite a few manuscripts on the learning organization – or organizational learning – in any certain context, such as schools, higher educational institutions (HEIs), banks etc., or a certain country (quite a few manuscripts are about a certain industry within a certain country). The typical manuscript studies to what extent a certain organization (e.g., a school) is a learning organization. While TLO definitely encourages the submission of manuscripts that deal with the learning organization or organizational learning in any particular context, these manuscripts often come with major weaknesses. To advise whether or not/to what extent a certain organization is a learning organization is of little general interest. Firstly, the context/s that is/are used as factor/s in the manuscript (such as “school” and a particular country) needs to be taken into account when evaluating the results of the study – why is it that the school (in this case) in the particular country is a learning organization to a certain extent (and not more, or less, of a learning organization)? Is it because of the particular factors that characterize schools? Or the particular factors characterizing the particular country? It is first when such factors have been considered in detail that the conclusions may be of interest to other researchers. Without such considerations, the manuscript may be of interest for the members of the individual organization only.

Secondly, there must be a discussion on what the learning organization (or organizational learning) is. In the vast majority of “concept manuscripts” that TLO receives, it is taken for granted – neither mentioned, discussed or justified – that (each and every single element of) the learning organization (or organizational learning) is an ideal that all organizations could be recommended to implement to 100%. However, it has been argued that the concept needs to be adapted to the particular organization in which it is going to be implemented, before it can be put in practice (e.g., Pedler et al.,1991, p. 2; Watkins and Marsick, 1993, p. 8; Marquardt and Reynolds, 1994, p. 109; Senge et al., 1994, p. 15; Örtenblad, 2015). For instance, the parameter “organic structure”, which is included in at least some definitions of the learning organization, may not be of much use for the majority of public organizations. Likewise, the parameter “experimentation” may be of limited value for at least some parts of health care organizations. Thus, any study of a particular organization as a learning organization needs to find a balance between the “learning organization prescription” and the factors that characterize the certain industry (such as “school”) and country. It is plausible that any certain organization could be recommended to be more of a learning organization, but it is also plausible that the learning organization concept needs to be adapted somewhat to fully fit the particular context. Such “balancing” is not an easy task to accomplish, and this is also a major reason why there is a need for such studies (see Örtenblad, 2013a,b, in press, a, for how such studies preferably could be conducted).

In addition to the above, there are some general guidelines that any scholar who intends to submit a manuscript to TLO should have addressed before submitting the manuscript. The following is not a complete list of factors, but it contains at least a few major points that we use when checking any submission that we receive for TLO.

Aim: Too many manuscripts has as its aim to study something. Instead, TLO wants manuscripts to be about something important and, thus, the aim should refer to what one wants to accomplish, not what one does in the manuscript. Thus, better than “the aim is to study the correlation between the learning organization and X” is, e.g., “the aim is to find out whether X has any positive impact on the propensity to become a learning organization”. Even better, are purposes phrased like “this paper aims to outline advice for organizations on how to become a learning organization” (or the like). In that way, the manuscript clearly connects to a debate that is going on within and among the learning organization community and that many readers are interested in.

Contributions related to previous literature:  Many manuscripts lack information on which stream of literature or school of theory the intention is to contribute to. This should be reported in the beginning of the paper (such as in the introduction or/and the literature review) as well as towards the end of the paper (in the conclusion section).

Literature: It may be enough to have one section on literature, but in some manuscripts it is relevant to have two sections – one that reviews the stream of literature or school of theory that the paper intends to contribute to, and another on the frame of reference that is used in the study. Even if there only is one section on literature (or even none – it may, for instance, be put in the introduction section), there must be explicit information on (1) which stream of literature or school of theory that the paper intends to contribute to, and (2) which theory (or theories) that is used as frame of reference in the study. “Literature review” and/or “frame of reference” could be used as sections in which the purpose of the study – with the help of previous literature within the area and/or literature that is used as the frame of reference – is refined into, for instance, a few specific research questions. 

Definitions: It must be clear, in each manuscript submitted to TLO, whether the paper is on the learning organization or on organizational learning, or on both. The chosen concept must be clearly defined, and the relationship between the learning organization and organizational learning should – at least if both concepts appear in the manuscript – be explicitly clarified. Any other essential concept must also be clearly and explicitly defined.

Method: Each manuscript (also literature reviews, while conceptual papers may be exempt) should include a section on the method used in the paper. A relevant way to start off the method section is to repeat the aim of the study, to thereafter discuss how it best could be fulfilled/answered (i.e., “research design”). A good rule of thumb is to discuss at least two different approaches/methods, while the focus, of course, should be on the chosen approach/method. Thereafter, each of the following should be dealt with: sample (which organizations and/or which people have been studied – and why; if it is a literature review, there must be information on which literature that has been studied, and why), data collection (inclusive of questions asked – at least examples of such), and data analysis.

Conclusion: The conclusion section should first summarize the major findings of the study that is presented in the paper, thereafter – on basis of these findings – the contribution(s) to which the exact stream of literature or school of theory (along with some essential references) should be presented. Thereafter, implications (preferably for both research and practice) are to be discussed, followed by – on the basis of the contributions of the study – a statement of some relevant areas where further studies would be needed.

Guidance throughout the paper: Lots of papers that TLO receives come without any clear guidance for the readers.  Regard your manuscript as a story that you want to tell for readers. Of course, you want readers to understand what you want to say in your manuscript, and for this reason you must offer information on things such as how a certain section or sub-section helps to fulfil or answer the purpose of the manuscript. Ideally, it should be clear to any reader how each section helps to fulfil/answer the purpose/research questions. One way of accomplishing this is to state at the beginning of each section as well as towards the end of it, how it helps to fulfil the purpose, and to summarize, towards the end of each section, what the reader should keep in mind from the section that they have just read when starting to read the next section of the paper.
In case you have any questions regarding exceptions from any of the guidelines presented in this editorial, or the like, then please feel welcome to contact the editor or the guest editor(s) of the special issue that you want to have your manuscript considered for.


Marquardt, M.J. and Reynolds, A. (1994), Global Learning Organization: Gaining Advantage through Continuous Learning, Irwin, New York, NY.
Örtenblad, A. (2013a), “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.
Örtenblad, A. (2013b), “Towards a contingency model: Recommendations for further research”, in Örtenblad, A. (Ed.), Handbook of Research on the Learning Organization: Adaptation and Context, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA, pp. 384-395.
Örtenblad, A. (2015), “Towards increased relevance: Context-adapted models of the learning organization”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 163-181.
Pedler, M., Burgoyne, J. and Boydell, T. (1991), The Learning Company: A Strategy for Sustainable Development, McGraw-Hill, London, UK.
Senge, P.M., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R. and Smith, B. (1994), The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization, Nicholas Brealey, London, UK.
Watkins, K.E. and Marsick, V.J. (1993), Sculpting the Learning Organization: Lessons in the Art and Science of Systemic Change, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

Further readings

Örtenblad, A. (2001), “On differences between organizational learning and learning organization”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 125-133.
Örtenblad, A. (Ed.) (2013), Handbook of Research on the Learning Organization: Adaptation and Context, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, USA.
Örtenblad, A. and Koris, R. (2014), “Is the learning organization idea relevant to higher educational institutions? A literature review and a ‘multi-stakeholder contingency approach’”, International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 173-214.
Örtenblad, A. (in press, a), “Contextualizing the learning organization: Towards differentiated standards”, in Örtenblad, A. (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Learning Organization, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Örtenblad, A. (Ed.) (in press, b), The Oxford Handbook of the Learning Organization, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.