The University - a Learning Organisation? : An illuminative review based on system theory

University dissertation from Karlstad : Karlstad University Press

Abstract: There are voices in the research field suggesting that universities should become learning organisationsin order to survive and become competitive in a complex environment. Two researchaims have been raised. The first was concerned with in what way the organisationalqualities of a university match the characteristics of a theoretical model of a learning organisation.The second was regarding in what way the organisational characteristics interact with oneanother in order to find out whether they support or hinder organisational learning. The selectedcase, Karlstad University, had an explicit vision to become a learning organisation.An integrated theoretical model of a learning organisation was created, based on differentperspectives. The university was divided into six subsystems (vision, grouping, communication,norm, sanctions and evaluation system) and method triangulation has been applied,based on interviews, documents and a survey. Data analysis has been focused on the identificationof organisational characteristics of the case, in relation to the theoretical model. Furthermore,explorative factor analysis as well as system theory analyses has been applied.The results show that out of six subsystems, four (communication, norm, sanctions andevaluation system) do not meet the characteristics in the theoretical model of a learning organisation.One subsystem (vision system) turned out to meet, as well as not to meet, the requirementsin the theoretical model, while one - the grouping system - matches the requirements.The conclusion has been drawn that the university’s inner life is not in harmony withthe characteristics of the theoretical model of a learning organisation.The results of the first system theory analysis was based on the results of the factor analysisand showed that there are reinforcing links within two groups of subsystems, and that thenorm system is the only subsystem that has such links to all the other subsystems. The resultsof the second system theory analysis show that five out of six subsystems interact by reinforcingfeedback loop, which hinder the university's ability to function as a learning organization.One subsystem turned out to have a balancing link to the other five subsystems. However, thesubsystem’s balancing effect on the other subsystems is mitigated by the strength of the reinforcingfeedback loop between them. The results of the third system theoretic analysis revealedthat all subsystems have one organisational characteristic, which do not meet the requirementsin the theoretical model, in common. This result indicates that all subsystems havea reinforcing link to one another and together they balances the university’s´ ability to meetthe requirements in the theoretical model. While the first and third analysis indicated that thenorm system may have the greatest potential to influence the other subsystems and therebythe entire organisation, the second analysis indicated that the grouping system may have suchpotential. Therefore, the norm as well as grouping system has been concluded to be importantpoints of leverage in order to improve the university's pre-requisites to function as a learning

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