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A Study of Organizational Learning in a University Efficiency Initiative



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ABSTRACT Despite 50 years of theory development, definitions and conceptualizations of organizational learning remain divergent (Barker Scott, 2011). The systems-based approach to conceptualizing organizational learning has become influential (Senge, 1990; Yang, Watkins & Marsick, 2004). Organizational learning can be theoretically associated with concepts of efficiency and continuous improvement initiatives underway in higher educational institutions. This study was concerned with the learning experiences reported by leaders at the individual (micro), unit/departmental (meso) and organizational (macro) levels who had participated in efficiency (Lean) improvement projects. Based upon the perceptions of university unit/departmental leaders, the study’s research questions dealt with participant perceptions of the context and implementation of efficiency (Lean) initiatives at a university site. Further, the implications for organizational learning at the individual (micro), unit (meso) and institutional (macro) levels were explored. The study was developed and presented using a case study methodology. Saldana’s (2013) codes-to-theory model was used during data analysis, resulting in the development of the study’s categories, subcategories, themes and conclusions. Two phases of semi-structured interviews were conducted. Study categories and subcategories were presented as the study’s collected data in terms of the experiences of senior leaders and unit leaders. Where possible, voices of study participants were present via the direct presentation of interview responses by category or subcategory. Four themes emerged from the study: effective communication promoted learning and enhanced efficiency; conceptions of organizational learning focused predominantly on the unit; efficiency methodology was superordinate to efficiency method; and learning was conceptualized as an essential project resource. It was concluded from this study that efficiency initiatives served as an impetus for organizational learning and communication emerged as the most important factor to ease system limitations.



Organizational Learning, Lean, Efficiency, Higher Education, Educational Administration



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Educational Administration


Educational Administration


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