Learning Obstacles

Knowledge Management

Graphical Map

Overview picture

overview picture

Follow this link to zoom in on the solution process

Learning Obstacles


You have all the facts and you have all the experience but you still havenít learnt, why is that? There are several obstacles for learning that an individual and/or an organization has to be aware of and overcome in order to succeed. Knowledge about these common pitfalls is valuable because it is important to be able to diagnose in order to treat the disease. The question is then what can be done to cure or even avoid these problems in an organization?


The learning obstacles are:


General solution

First of all we should turn our focus not to the solution but to explaining how the learning process should work in order to be successful. Within the field of knowledge management there are two types of learning; single and double loop learning. Single loop learning is problem solving when you donít care about why something works or not. Double loop learning is the opposite. Double loop learning challenges our mental models and thereby incorporating the shared mental models with the individualsí. Double loop learning is what you should strive for and single loop learning is what causes learning obstacles.

Now we can turn our attention to the problem solving. The first step is to identify and diagnose which of the obstacles the organization is suffering from. It is important to know and acknowledge your problems in order to correct them or as I said before, you have to have a correct diagnosis in order to treat the illness.

As I mentioned before, learning obstacles is caused by incomplete learning cycles therefore the question is how avoid to this problem. Sengeís solution is to apply his 5 disciplines:

Another general solution to a majority of the learning obstacles is to increase the communication in the organization, both formal and informal. Informal communication can be motivated with creating an environment that supports casual meetings (e.g. coffee machines). Formal communication is created by having creative meeting by member of the organization. One way to do this is to have a circular organization which supports communication flow both upwards and downwards in the organization (Georges Romme)

Role constrained learning

Role constrained learning appears when the individualís role comes in conflict with the learning process. The individual is too set in his role and canít therefore learn things that lay outside this role. This can be straighten out by working on challenging the individualís mental models which can be done with introducing Learning Logs. A Learning Log is a kind of journal in which you document your learning process. Building shared visions in the organization also help to the problem of role constained learning by making the individual identify with the organization as well as his own role. This can be achieved with simple dialog.

Learning under ambiguity

Learning under ambiguity is the result of lack of feedback to the organization or to individuals, and the solution are therefore obvious. You have to increase the feedback. This can be done by introducing after action reviews, which means that the organization should evaluate the work of individuals, groups and the whole organization after completing a task. This also gives the organization a chance of team learning. Team learning can be achieved by working with fictional cases or problems in groups.

Situational learning

Situational learning is a symptom of single loop learning, where the individual canít apply the knowledge to other situations than the original one. This is caused by the individualís or organizationís lack of system thinking, which fortunately can be cured with System archetypes. System archetypes is a way to increase the system thinking in the organization. It works by comparing your own organization with archetypes of organizations which fail in system thinking. This helps to identify the problem in order to correct it (Starkey, Tempest, McKinlay).

Fragmented learning

Fragmented learning arises when the individual's and organizationís mental models donít correspond with each other, which can lead to misunderstandings. This because the individual and the organization interpret the world differently. The goal of the solution is to eliminate this conflict and develop a shared vision within the organization. This can be done with dialog and teamwork. The individuals have to make their mental models explicit in order to discuss them and together form a shared vision in the organization.

Opportunistic learning

When individuals or a small group in the organization makes decisions based on different mental models than the rest of the organization, then opportunistic learning can take place. It happens when the routine is deliberately broken which in some cases can be positive. Opportunistic learning is controlled by designing a flexible organization where the mental models can be challenged and shared visions can flourish.

The fixation on events/the parable of the boiled frog

This learning obstacle is caused by the lack of system thinking and the symptom can therefore be cured with System archetypes which I mentioned above.

Appling this knowledge

  1. Study your organization
    Look at your organization and what problems you deal with and how you solve them. It is important to look at the long term effect of the actions taken in the organization.
  2. Identify which obstacles you are suffering from
    Look at the learning obstacles and find similarities with your organization.
  3. Implement the solution
    When you know what is wrong, look at the solutions and introduce them to the rest of the organization.
  4. Evaluate the result
    To evaluate the result of the solution, repeat step 1 and step 2 after a reasonable time.
    • If the obstacle has been eliminated then you have succeeded.
    • If the negative effect of the problem is diminished then the action is a step in the right direction
    • If the action taken has no effect or has worsened the problem then the solution has failed.


K Starkey, S Tempest, A McKinlay, How Organizations Learn Managing the Search for Knowledge, London: Thomson TJ International 1996

P K Ahmed, L K Kok, A Y E Loh, Learning through Knowledge Management, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann Biddled Ltd

Romme Georges, ďMaking Organizational Learning Work: Consent and Double Linking between CirclesĒ, European Management Journal, 1996 No1 Vol14