Levitt B., March. J.G. 1988. Organizational learning. Annual Review of Sociology. 14


Provides a synthesis of lessons about organisational behaviour that influence learning

Geographic Focus: 


Key Findings: 

This article describes how organisational routines act to engrain incremental learning and to promote conditions that lead to it, despite the fact that alternative actions may be more efficient. The authors highlight that historical experience influences learning by promoting singular interpretations of experiences, rather than a diversity of interpretations, and that managers use ambiguity in goals as a justification for change, rather than learning from experiences. They suggest that some individuals (i.e. mangers) are also prone to superstitious learning by uncritical evaluation of success. Historical experience and the ability to learn from it are also influenced by systems for recording and retrieving learning. The ability of an organisation to learn effectively is further influenced by patterns of diffusion of experiences, including the copying of behaviours between organisations. Lastly, some warnings for those interested in learning are provided. Larger, more powerful organisations are less inclined to learn due to competitive behaviour that emphasises short term gains. Further, a focus on incremental, goal oriented learning often leads to more rigid behaviour that can be mal-adaptive over the longer term.


This article provides critical lessons about the implications of organisational behaviours on adaptive learning. Put simply, organisations behave in ways that can limit the utility of learning. Primarily, this occurs through behaviours that act to reinforce incrementalised learning, emphasising short term outcomes (i.e. single loop learning) at the expense of reflecting on assumptions. This key message is echoed by others writing in the field of organisational learning, e.g. Argyris, Schön and Flood. More recent studies on organisational behaviour have sought to identify mechanisms for avoiding routine rigidity and factors that promote it.