A Culture of Learning in One Non-Profit Organization

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Hill, Alison
Organizational Culture , Culture of Learning , Workplace Learning
The purpose of my research is to describe and analyze the facets of the learning culture in one non-profit organization. Based on my reading, I define a learning culture as: the observable and unobservable processes, structures, norms, and communication patterns that support ongoing, work-related, learning for employees. I relied on Schein’s (1985, 1992, 2004) levels of culture theory to guide my study. Schein posits that culture must be explored at three levels: “artifacts” (observable symbols and structures), “espoused beliefs and values” (the articulated ideologies of the organization), and “underlying assumptions” (the unconscious beliefs that are shared amongst members of a group). Accordingly, I selected a three-phase qualitative approach to provide a rich description of one organization’s learning culture. Using semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and document analysis, I investigated the firm’s learning culture. I targeted two groups: organizational representatives and employees. I further divided my employee group into two subgroups: administrators (management) and frontline employees (those who provide direct care for clients), in order to glean a broad perspective of the learning culture and how different groups perceive that culture. My research allowed me to describe the organization’s culture of learning. I uncovered a mismatch, however, between the organization’s espoused values regarding work-related learning and the employees’ perspectives on their learning. The organization articulates that it actively promotes and encourages learning for its employees; yet, the employees perceive their learning to be supported, but not readily encouraged. I tentatively conclude that perspectives on learning seem to be a function of employee role. This study offers some insight into the challenges of investigating an organization’s culture, both theoretically and methodologically.
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