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Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management, Second Edition by MARJORIE A. LYLES, MARK EASTERBY-SMITH

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Knowledge, Cognition, and Organizational Learning

To understand why CoPs have attained such visibility in organizational learning, we must start with the core epistemological questions of what constitutes knowledge and how (and perhaps whether) it is transferred.

The individualist view

Until recently, behaviorist and cognitivist models have been the primary underlying forces influencing learning and organizational epistemologies (Von Krogh and Roos, 1995). According to these theories, knowledge is an object that can reside outside individuals and can be delivered to a learner as one would deliver food as nourishment (Gherardi, Nicolini, and Odella, 1998). The primary emphasis has been on individual minds and explicit knowledge (Baumard, 1999; Cook and Brown, 1999), knowledge that is easily represented through a formal symbol system (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995; Polanyi, 1966).

Employee development, therefore, has taken the form of event-driven training mechanisms for the individual (corporate universities, training, seminars, computer-based self-studies, etc.) which embody this epistemology. In addition, knowledge management and organizational learning champions have emphasized best practice capture, codification, and distribution (Fahey and Prusak, 1998; Hansen, Nohria, and Tierney, 1999; O’Dell and Grayson, 1998), even when the results are questionable, such as best practice databases that are merely ‘information junkyards’ (McDermott, 1998). Although these tools are worthwhile, ...

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