The Imperatives of a Learning Organisation: The Case of Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Bachelor Thesis, 2012

58 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Background of the Study
1.2.1 Reasons for Organisational Learning
1.2.2 History of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology
1.3 Problem Statement
1.4 Purpose of the Study
1.5 Research Objectives
1.6 Research Questions
1.7 Significance of the Study
1.8 Research Methodology
1.9 Literature Review
1.10 Research design
1.11 Target population
1.12 Sampling frames, sampling and sample size
1.13 Data collection method and the research instrument
1.14 Data analysis
1.15 Chapter Classification

2.1 Introduction
2.2 Development of Organisational Learning
2.3 The Common Ground: The Four Key Elements of Organisational Learning
2.3.1. Organisation
2.3.2. People
2.3.3. Knowledge
2.3.4. Technology

3.1 Introduction
3.2 Research Design
3.3 Population
3.4 Sample
3.5 Data Collection
3.6 Measuring Instrument
3.7 Data Analysis

4.1 Introduction
4.2 Amount of Data Collected and Response Rate
4.3 Demographic Data Analysis
4.4 Quantitative Data Analysis
4.4.1 Research Question 1
4.4.2 Research Question 2
4.4.3 Research Question 3
4.5 Cross Sectional Analysis
4.6 Qualitative Data Analysis

5.1 Introduction
5.2 Conclusions
5.3 Recommendations




I would like to express my gratitude to all those who gave me the possibility to complete this thesis. This includes my lecturers Mrs Buys, Mrs Hendricksen, Mr DeJager and Mr DeGoede and also friends and colleagues who supported me with creative thoughts and a productive environment to work in.

I also want to thank all the employees from the different departments of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology who, despite their busy schedules, took part in the survey and openly answered my questions.

Finally, I am deeply indebted to my supervisor Larry Enoch Jowah from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Department of Management and Project Management. I want to thank him for his help, critical questions and especially methodological guidance during the times of research for and writing of this thesis.

Table of Figures

Figure 1: The E-Flow Model

Figure 2: The Subsystems of a Learning Organisation

Figure 3: Learning Structure

Figure 4: Knowledge as Source and Product of Learning

Figure 5: Departments Included in the Sample

Figure 6: Lecturers and Supportive Staff

Figure 7: Age Allocation of the Sample

Figure 8: Race Allocation of the Sample

Figure 9: Working Experience of Respondents

Figure 10: Management Positions of Respondents

Figure 11: Respondents with Foreign Experience

Figure 12: Interpretation of the Results

Figure 13: Interpretation of the Objective Statements

Figure 14: Interpretation of the Subjective Statements

Figure 15: The Answers from the Different Age Groups

Figure 16: The Answers from the Different Race Groups

Figure 17: The Answers from Lecturers and Non-Lecturers

Figure 18: The Answers from the Different Groups of Working Experience

Figure 19: The Answers from Management and Non-Management Employees

Figure 20: The Answers from Employees with and without Foreign Experience

Table of tables

Table 1: Interpretation

Table 2: The Arithmetic Means in the Four Subsystems

Table 3: The Arithmetic Mean for each Subsystem


1.1 Introduction

Organisational learning was first mentioned in the management literature by Drucker (1958:47). He stated: “management is first and foremost about the continuing development of the organisation and its employees. The demands and needs of the environment are constantly evolving and management is about adjusting the company according to the needs and demands of the environment”. Since then the literature available extensively covers the term organisational learning. Several authors in the fields of management, economics, sociology, psychology and education wrote about the subject. As a result the field of organisational learning became rather fragmented. Studies have been carried out in separate disciplines independent of each other (Boreham and Morgan, 2004:307-325). Though the field has become fragmented because of the diversities in approaches to this study, it is possible to identify a core definition of what organisational learning is (Lundvall, 2001:273-291).

According to Robinson (2010:1-13) early studies focused mainly on the decision- taking processes as a form of organisational learning. For example Argyris (1977:115-125) stated that organisational learning is a process of detecting and correcting error. Another definition from Hedberg (1981:1-27) argues that organisational learning is the process through which managers seek to improve employees’ desires and abilities to understand and manage the organisation and its task environment so that employees can make decisions and function effectively.

Later the influences of organisational learning on the whole organisation became evident. The work of Armstrong and Foley (2003:74-82) indicates that organisational learning is a process that takes place in organisations which enables learning of its members in such a way that positively valued outcomes are created. The expected outcomes are innovation, efficiency and better alignment with the environment leading to competitive advantage of the organisation. The effects of organisational learning are manifested in the organisation’s systems, structures and culture. More recent literature defines organisational learning as a dynamic process of creation, acquisition and integration of knowledge with the aim to develop resources and capabilities that contribute to improved organisational performance (López, Péon and Ordás, 2005:227-245).

1.2 Background of the Study

In the background chapter general reasons for organisational learning will be presented. Further, a brief history of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology will be given and it will be explained why an institution of higher learning as the CPUT should be a learning organisation.

1.2.1 Reasons for Organisational Learning

According to Frynas and Mellahi (2011:318) all types of firms, multinational or single- country, small or large, need to undertake organisational change constantly in order to renew those parts of the organisation that are ageing and lost competitiveness. A Royal Dutch/Shell survey from 1983 showed, however, that the majority of companies lacked adaptability and as a consequence, were unable to remain in the market for long. The survey estimated that the average lifetime of the largest industrial enterprises is less than forty years (de Geus, 1988:70-74). This statistical analysis raises the question why many organisations cannot steer their organisations through difficult and ever changing times. A likely answer to this question could be because the organisations do not adjust with the changes in the environment and the global world at large (Luthans, 2005:99).

Hill and Jones (2009:103) state that the only constant in the world is change. Consequently any source of competitive advantage today may soon be rapidly imitated by capable competitors or made obsolete by the innovations of an opponent. In this fast-paced environment an organisation can maintain competitive advantage over time if the management work permanently on the organisation’s efficiency, quality, innovation and responsiveness to customers. Skerlavaj and Dimövski (2006:89-98) demonstrate that the way to do this is to recognize the importance of learning within the organisation.

According to (López et al., 2005:227-245) as a result of an increased need for organisational renewal and transformation processes the interest in organisational learning has grown, managers have recognised the critical importance of organisational learning as a prerequisite to continued existence. Frynas et al. (2011:44) posit that the ever-changing external environment provides both opportunities and threats to firms. For this reason managers have to understand the indispensible nature of organisational learning. They add that companies that do not continuously adjust their business model and change their structures and processes in compliance to the external environment are bound to fail.

De Geus as cited by De Villiers (2008:11-22) states that the ability to learn faster than the competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage in the long run. This mindset is the foundation for the organisational learning theory.

Organisational learning applies to all organisations since all organisational operations are affected by both the macro and micro-environment in which they find themselves in. Boreham (2002:9) further illustrates that large institutions are committed to practices like continuous improvement and change management which have primarily the same basic idea as the organisational learning theory.

1.2.2 History of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology

This study focuses on organisational learning at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) Cape Town in South Africa. The university was founded in 2005 as a result of a merger between two technikons (Cape Technikon and Peninsula Technikon) and four colleges (Mowbray, Wellington, Worcester and Hotel school) and put under one administration but on 6 different campuses (Cronje, 2008:1-5). In December 2002, the Ministry of Education released its proposals, for the transformation and restructuring of the institutional landscape of the higher education system (Ministry of Education, 2003:8). This restructuring brought about the existence of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. As a basic principle of merging institutions of different cultures (De Villiers, 2008:11-22) the new university needed transformation and fundamental changes in the cultures pre-existing in the six different establishments. The merging of these institutions was further made complex by the history of “single race schooling system” which made the complexities of the merger go beyond organisational culture and include racial differentiation with a violent past. The transformation required a serious dislocation from comfort zones as observed by The Centre for Development and Enterprise (2002). The new approach is also expressed in the logo of the CPUT. It stands for excellence and represents dynamic forward movement, innovation and change.

This research seeks to evaluate the position of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology as a learning organisation founded from 6 institutions with different racial,social, heritage and economic means. The issues of diversity were made extremely complex by the nature of the merger, since it was not voluntary by legislated in a racially divided city and province. This will be based on the basic principles of a learning organisation as reported in existing organisational learning literature. Seven years into the merger, the question is whether this institution of higher learning is a learning organisation.

1.3 Problem Statement

From the preceding literature review on organisational learning it is concluded that there are certain features that are critical components of organisational learning. These supposedly enables the organisation continued existence and competitive advantage through continuous improvement and adjustment. It is imperative that all organisations keep abreast in the ever-dynamic environment. Organisations that do not build organisational learning capacities voluntarily will do that under pressure or suffer natural attrition.

The negative impact of a public organisation not learning may not meet the same threats as with private organisations. But educational institutions will be affected by the ranking and be seen in the calibre of students they attract. Different employees coming from different structures and cultures had to be merged into CPUT. A lot of learning became imperative both as a natural process for the continued existence of an organisation, and bridging the racial divide. The survey evaluates if CPUT is a learning organisation and whether it fits into the current political and legal environment in South Africa.

1.4 Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this research is to determine if the Cape Peninsula University of Technology is a learning organisation.

1.5 Research Objectives

1.5.1 Primary Objectives

1. To investigate and critically analyze how the Cape Peninsula University of Technology managed its change process after the merger.
2. To establish if the CPUT is a learning organisation and identify areas that may need improvement.

1.5.2 Secondary Objectives

1. To enable a full comprehension of the principles of organisational learning and how they have been applied at CPUT.
2. To enable the researcher to identify effective methods that can be used to measure the degree to which an organisation learns.
3. To identify areas of weakness of the university to enable the institution to decide on actions necessary to remedy the conditions.

1.6 Research Questions

In order to achieve the research objectives, the following research questions were stated:

1. Is the learning process at CPUT in agreement with stated characteristics of a learning organisation?
2. Has the CPUT management put in place the fundamentals that are necessary and conducive for a learning organisation?
3. What is the perception of the employees in relation to the university being a learning organisation?
4. What things have been learnt since establishment of the CPUT by merging the two technikons?

1.7 Significance of the Study

The study will first create an appropriate picture of the current management literature covering the topic organisational learning. That could be of high value for all the readers that have not followed the whole topic for years.

Further, the research will evaluate if the institution is capable of organisational learning or not.

Finally the results will also be of interest for other educational institutions as they might experience the same or similar difficulties.

1.8 Research Methodology

The nature of the problem and the level at which the research is carried out the methods to be used seek to measure the perception of the university employees about CPUT as a learning organisation. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research will be used through the use of structured questionnaires with both closed and open ended questions. The research design involved literature review which assisted in the formulation of the questionnaires that were pilot tested and then applied to the context of the study and the circumstances at CPUT.

1.9 Literature Review

The literature review included amongst other things a contextualised study on the the field of organisational learning from textbooks, journal articles and government gazettes. Reference was also made to those who were involved in the discussions around the merger at the very beginning.

1.10 Research design

Research design is the blueprint or the plan and structure designed for the collection, measurement and analysis of the data used to answer the research questions (Blumberg, 2008:195). In this study the plan includes the interviews, analysis of records, the nature of the data collection instrument stipulating both the plan of investigation and the structure of the research problem. Both the quantitative and qualitative research methodologies were used with the aid of questionnaires.

1.11 Target population

Population in this study refers to objects or the subjects with specific characteristics which consist of the total collection of the individuals from which the study will be carried out (Welman, Kruger and Mitchell, 2008:54). This will comprise of internal stakeholders such as academic staff, administrative staff and management staff. The requirement is that these people be directly involved and be affected by the day to day operations at CPUT.

1.12 Sampling frames, sampling and sample size

A sample is a part of the population that is selected for the study and sampling is the method used to select that part of the population for the purposes of the study (Blumberg, 2008:228). The sample frame in this study is constituted by the correct list of the population members directly involved as employees of the institute. Simple random sampling was used to identify respondents and no prior arrangements were made to alert the interviewees. The sample size was fixed at 40, which may be considered a small number. According to Welman et al (2008:71) the larger the sample the lower the standard error, but the scope and significance of the study was a primary consideration in deciding on the number of interviewees.

1.13 Data collection method and the research instrument

A well-structured questionnaire with both closed and open ended questions was used to collect data from the randomly selected sample. According to Collis and Hussey (2003:173), a questionnaire is a list of well thought and carefully structured questions with the intention of soliciting for reliable responses to research questions. The effort put into the designing of the questionnaire sought assisted in obtaining data from the population as accurately as possible. The instrument was pilot tested with five people and using the feedback corrections were made to make the instrument relevant and reliable.

1.14 Data analysis

The data was analysed using MS Excel and the data is presented as diagrams, graphs and tables to illustrate the findings. The first step in the analysis was descriptive statistics which entailed ordering and summarizing of the data through tabulation and graphic representation. The second step was statistical inference,which entailed drawing inferences about the population from which the sample was drawn.

1.15 Chapter Classification

Chapter One provides the background to the study, the problem statement, research questions, objectives of the study, significance of the study, as well as the methodology used.

Chapter Two comprises a literature review which shows the different perspectives on the study.

Chapter Three briefly covers the research methodology used and other technical issues.

Chapter Four discusses and analyses the findings of the study.

Chapter Five outlines conclusions and recommendations, which are derived from the research study.


2.1 Introduction

The organisational learning theory has achieved a broad audience and been defined in a wide range of literature (Wang and Ahmed, 2003:8-17). But the sheer mass of available literature does not mean inevitably that there is much common ground. In fact, a huge amount of definitions of organisational learning as well as its typologies does exist. However, most of the definitions are complements of each other instead of being elementary original or at least different in conception (Matlay, 2000: 202- 210). That makes it difficult to identify a unified or integrated model that can describe the whole theory.

Nevertheless, according to (Basim, Sesen and Korkmazyurek, 2007:368-374) learning organisation understanding must become widespread and efforts of transforming organisations to learning organisations must be increased. To support that ambitious target that many researchers aim for “an integrative and parsimonious conceptual framework that can help researchers and practitioners identify, study, and introduce organisational learning to organisations” (Lipshitz, Popper and Friedman, 2002:78-98) is important. The process of individual learning and its relation to institutional learning will be explained. Further, the ideas of the most popular authors that participated in the development of organisational learning theory will be presented. Finally key elements of organisational learning that most of the researchers agree on, viz; organisation, people, knowledge and technology (Serrat, 2009:1-8) are presented.

2.2 Development of Organisational Learning

The understanding of organisational learning in its genesis was inspired from individual learning. In the beginning the application of learning at an organisational level was mainly understood as the sum of individual learning, training and development (Wang et al., 2003:1-17). Again the concept of individual learning can be understood from different perspectives. The disciplines that research how learning occurs include neuropsychology, educational psychology, learning theory, and pedagogy but can all be associated to the psychological field. According to Grüning (2012:10) individual learning could be defined as a relatively permanent change in behaviour as a result of gained experience. This definition already incorporates high similarities to organisational learning.

Indeed, the process of individual learning has significant impact on the concept of organisational learning (Wang et al., 2003:1-17). The learning process at the organisational level always starts from individual learning, individuals are a crucial part of organisational knowledge. Alipour, Idris and Karimi (2011:61-67) point out that learning is vital for knowledge acquisition and that organisational learning cannot be created without individual learning. However, Ikehara (1999:63-69) demonstrates that individual learning does not necessarily lead to organisational learning.

According to Boreham et al. (2004:307-325) in citing the Russian socio-cultural learning theorists Vygotsky and Leont’ev, the authors explain that mainly “Mind in society: the development of higher psychological functions” provided the theoretical foundation the theory of organisational learning.

Luthans (2005:99) cites .Argyris and Schön over the introduction of the theory of double loop learning. Single-loop learning is using and improving the capacity of the organisation to achieve known objectives. Basim et al. (2007:368-374) expounded on the theory as a process of identifying mistakes and asset that learning takes place when an organisation achieves what it has intended or when a mismatch between intentions and outcomes is detected and corrected. The authors made the distinction between first-order, or “single-loop,” and second-order, or “double-loop,” learning. Double-loop learning means re-evaluating the nature of the organisation’s assumptions, organisational culture and its objectives are the focus of the intended change. Learning organisations would be the ones that are able to perform double- loop learning.

Sharifirad (2011:661-676) differentiates between the learning organisation and organisational learning. The former is an ideal whereas the latter are the processes that are taking place to a certain degree in every organisation. Organisational learning takes place in organisations, whereas a learning organisation is a form of organisation on its own rights. De Villiers (2008:11-22) says that a learning organisation is a type of organisation and not a process, and should be understood as an idealised state that organisations aim for. Organisational learning by contrast can explain and quantify the activities which are taking place within organisations.

Senge (1990:6) proposes that organisational learning has five main characteristics distinguishable as; systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision and team learning. Emphasis is put on systems thinking as a prerequisite to effective organisational learning.

1. Systems thinking: a conceptual framework that stipulates that an organisation needs to realise that all of its parts are connected, and as such it functions as a system with highly interrelated and interdependent functional areas. This allows the business to be perceived in its entirety as a big picture with emphasis put on individual actions culminating in a combined organisation wide effect (Moloi, 2009:11).
2. Personal mastery: every employee in the organisation needs to commit themselves to the process of learning, in which case the need to identify and assist individuals to reach their personal goals and visions. The acceptance of individual goals, visions, personal needs related to the organisation, and empowerment will create a learning individual. Combined learners in an organisation will produce competitive advantages for the organisation at large.
3. Mental models: mental models are the fixed ways of thinking that no one in the organisation questions or worries about. Explicit and implicit practices that are generally taken for granted and accepted as a norm in the organisation and they are not challenged (Nthurubele, 2011:25). These need to be regularly reviewed and looked at with intentions to match the dynamic environment in which organisations thrive.
4. Building shared vision: the process or practice of taking the individual employees values and expectations (Hill et al., 2009, 73). Shared visions become areas of synergy for an organisation because most if not all members of the organisation identify with the vision and that allows them to belong together.
5. Team learning: The last discipline comes with a focus on an open form of dialogue. Contrary to normal discussions where usually one participant “wins” the emphasis is on sharing view points to enrich everyone participating. This helps teams to develop collective intelligence (Moloi, 2009:11).

Cors (2003:4) summarized that Senge’s book suggests that people put aside their old ways of thinking (mental models), learn to be open with others (personal mastery), understand how their company really works (systems thinking), form a plan everyone can agree on (building shared vision), and then work together to achieve that vision (team learning).

Pedler, Burgoyne and Boydell as cited by De Villiers (2008:11-22) introduced the E- Flow (energy flow) model of the learning company in order to give an idea what a learning organisation might look like. According to Nthurubele (2011:59) Pedler, Burgoyne, and Boydell defined the learning organisation as “an organisation that facilitates the learning of all of its members and continuously transforms itself in order to meet its strategic goals”.

Figure 1: The E-Flow Model

illustration not visible in this excerpt


Excerpt out of 58 pages


The Imperatives of a Learning Organisation: The Case of Cape Peninsula University of Technology
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ISBN (eBook)
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The questionnaire used is included at the end of the paper.
Organisational Learning, Organizational Learning, Institutional Learning, The Learning Organization, Learning Institutions, CPUT, Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Quote paper
Stephan Bach (Author), 2012, The Imperatives of a Learning Organisation: The Case of Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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