Organizational Learning in Higher Education Institutions: Theories, Frameworks, and a Potential Research Agenda

  • Jay R. Dee
  • Liudvika Leišytė
Part of the Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research book series (HATR, volume 31)


Organizational learning is a conceptually rich construct that can inform understandings of a wide range of organizational phenomena. The field of higher education, however, lacks a sufficient body of empirical research on organizational learning in colleges and universities. Moreover, the limited set of organizational learning publications in higher education is weighted heavily toward the functionalist paradigm. This lack of paradigm diversity can be problematic in terms of how the organizational learning construct is applied to practice. In the context of the corporatization of higher education, where the authority of central management has been strengthened, functionalist approaches to organizational learning can reinforce top-down power dynamics and exacerbate tensions between faculty and administrators. This chapter calls for higher education researchers not only to conduct more studies of organizational learning, but to do so from the vantage point of multiple research paradigms.

First, the chapter discusses how organizational learning is relevant to the unique contexts of higher education institutions. Second, the chapter examines the wide variety of definitions used in the organizational learning literature, and highlights some of the paradigm debates that have emerged among scholars in this field. Next, the chapter explains and critiques some of the prominent functionalist theories that have guided the study of organizational learning. To complement these long-standing functionalist perspectives, the chapter introduces several organizational learning theories that have emerged in other paradigms. Finally, the chapter concludes with a proposed research agenda for studying organizational learning in colleges and universities.


Organizational learning Knowledge management Learning organization Organizational theory Research paradigms Higher education administration Communities of practice Social networks Emancipatory learning Organizational change Faculty development Accountability Knowledge acquisition Organizational memory Tacit knowledge Socialization Dialogue 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Higher EducationUniversity of Massachusetts BostonBostonUSA
  2. 2.Center for Higher Education Studies (ZHB)Technical University DortmundDortmundGermany

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