Leaning into Learning

  • Margaret Roberts

Student thesis: Masters ThesisMPhil


The purpose of this research is to explore how learning moves through an organisation as a cognitive, behavioural and social process (Argote, 2011; Crossan, Lane and White, 1999; Huber, 1991; Easterby-Smith,1997; Easterby-Smith and Crossan, 2000) from the perspective of the employee. As a cognitive process, information is acquired by an individual and becomes part of their body of knowledge (Huber 1991) This knowledge eventually becomes part of the overall organisation’s learning (Huber 1991 and March, 1991). The social processes pertain to how learning and knowledge is passed between individuals and an organisations (Elkjaer, 2003). The behavioural perspective of organisational learning focusses on how a person has changed their daily routine (Levitt and March, 1988). The research focuses on individuals learning about their own work procedures and developing them into new routines (Fiol & Lyles, 1983; Feldman and Pentland, 2003). Two case study organisations in the early stage of introducing lean methodology to improve medical practice are used to illustrate how employees experience learning the lean method and learning new routines. Lean Methodology is a business process reengineering method that helps to reduce waste (Womack & Jones, 1997). Although Lean has been applied in many business manufacturing settings, recently Lean has become popular among healthcare organisations (Radnor Holweg & Waring, 2012; McCann, Hassard and Granter, 2015) to gain efficiencies and produce better patient outcomes with fewer members of staff. The empirical part of this thesis presents fieldwork from two case studies in large multi faceted healthcare organisations, one in the US and one in the UK. The research includes: participant observation, document reviews, and semi structured interviews. Field notes and interviews notes were relied on to capture much of the data. Other forms of data include pictures of bulletin boards and other corporate items, PowerPoint presentations and other corporate archival documents from the two host institutions. The sheer volume of data from participant observation may elucidate how to approach this type of field work for future researchers. The research contributes to scholarship pertaining to Organisational learning and Lean Methodology. Several notable insights have emerged: how individual perceive feedback they are given and that they give; knowledge sharing and communities of practice; the role consultants might play in influencing what is learned; narrative creation by both the employees and the organisation that influence what is embedded in the organisation and finally the dichotomy of what does get embedded in organisation from what was intended. The key contribution of this thesis is a new construct: Aimless Learning. Aimless learning is different from no learning in that it is kind of surface learning that appears to have changed behaviours or cognition but in an ‘outward display’ of learning without ever having changed daily practice. Lean methods are a way of changing processes within an organisation to make it more efficient. Aimless learning makes it appear as though individuals are engaged in this new process but in fact they have not embraced any of the cognitive or behavioural ideas. The research offers an opportunity to review how individuals in Healthcare organisations approach learning and embrace Lean as a new way of working. No patient data is included in this thesis. Although medical practices were discussed, NHS professionals were interviewed for their professional role and not to elicit any patient records or data. For this reason, NHS approval was not necessary, but the thesis received approval from the University of Bath ethics committee.
Date of Award29 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorKatharina Chudzikowski (Supervisor) & Russ Vince (Supervisor)


  • learning

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