MITE Monthly Tip
Maria Egger, PA-C
Cultivating a Learning Organization
Timely and pertinent continuing education is essential for keeping a health organization
motivated, nimble and innovative. Learning at the organizational level is required to meet the
challenges of working in a complex, changing, oftentimes unpredictable system tackling highstakes
problems. Organizational learning may occur at the level of team, office, department, or
division and is defined as a complex process where individuals collectively examine group
experiences, create, receive and pass on knowledge, enabling organizations to adapt to a
changing work environment. Provision of a clear mission, incentives, and continuing education
and training opportunities serve only a portion of the elements needed for learning to happen
this way. A solid learning organization requires an underlying foundation of specific building
blocks to enable skillful development, acquisition and transmission of knowledge leading to
• A supportive learning environment, concrete learning processes and practices,
and reinforcing leadership behavior are the foundation of an effective learning
• These elements operate synergistically to promote organizational learning but
can be examined and developed separately.
• Useful survey tools have been developed to examine and rate learning at the
The 3 building blocks of an effective learning organization:
A supportive learning environment requires four distinct features. The first is psychological
safety. Organization members must feel free to voice their thoughts and opinions, admit
mistakes and ask questions without fear of repercussion. The second feature is appreciation of
differences. Considering opposing viewpoints can spur on new ideas and innovation. Third is
openness to these new ideas to come up with new approaches to problem solving. Lastly, time
must be allowed for reflection. It is not enough to put in the hours required and check off tasks.
Organization members must be allowed time out to look back on group processes to determine
if stated goals have been met and what could be done better next time.
A concrete learning process and practice allows an organization to develop, collect and share
knowledge between and among groups systematically and efficiently. Experimentation must be
encouraged, new approaches and outcomes must be tracked, rigorous examination and
interpretation of new problems must be ongoing, education for new and veteran employees
must be provided. Finally, sharing of information must be delivered in a systematic way, in all
directions, quickly to those who need-to-know. A robust learning process and practice requires
the underpinnings of a supportive learning environment.
Finally, leadership that reinforces learning by actively and respectfully listening to members
thoughts and opinions, encouraging new ideas and experimentation, placing importance on
efficient and transparent knowledge sharing, and allowing time for reflective analysis to support
a climate where learning will flourish.
Singer et al., (2012)
Assessing your learning organization
These 3 building blocks interact and work together to promote organizational learning, but each
block and its comprising elements can be examined separately so that organizations may assess
the strengths and weaknesses of their learning environment. The Learning Organization Survey
(LOS) developed in 2008 by Garvin, Edmondson and Gino is a 55-item online diagnostic survey
that measures how well your organizational unit functions as a learning organization. Individuals
or groups (who average their scores) may compare scores to benchmark data from baseline
organizations. Derived from the LOS is the LOS-27 developed in 2012 by Singer, Moore, Meterko
and Williams. Designed for use in the healthcare setting, this survey distills the LOS into a 27-
item survey with wording relevant to healthcare organization members. Interestingly, studies
using these tools have revealed marked variance among teams within a single organization and
even in a single department.
As educators we know the significant amount of time spent in quality improvement, curriculum
development and rollout for our teams and departments. Periodic assessment of our
organization learning environment would aid in ensuring our efforts are effective and
sustainable, team members remain energized and adaptable, and we continue to deliver up-todate
and safe patient care.
Garvin, D., Edmondson, A. C., & Gino, F. (2008). Is yours a learning organization? Harvard Business
Review, 86(3), 109-116.
Singer, S.J., Moore, S. C., Meterko, M., & Williams, S. (2012). Development of a short-form
learning organization survey: The LOS-27. Medical Care Research and Review, 69(4), 432-459.
To see LOS-27 in action:
Edmondson, A. C., Higgins, M., Singer, S. & Weiner, J. (2016). Understanding psychological safety
in health care and education organizations: a comparative perspective. Research in Human
Development, 13, 65-83.
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