A Learning History is an action research approach to learning that seeks to bring analysis and story together in a way that has value for those originally involved in the case as well as those seeking to learn from it. The approach was originally developed by researchers, Roth and Kleiner from MIT’s Society for Organizational Learning and was further developed by Hilary Bradbury in her doctoral work (Roth and Kleiner 1998; Bradbury 2001). Roth and Kleiner coined the term ‘learning history’ describing it as a way to get past listing best practice and more into the ‘thinking, experimentation and arguments of those who have encountered the situation’ (Roth and Kleiner 1998). The learning history has been used to good effect in many settings in the industrial sector (e.g. at a large US auto manufacturer) and the social sector (e.g. at The Natural Step).
A learning history has, to-date, mostly been applied within one organisation and in the private and NGO sector. By contrast, in this research, learning history is being applied across 5 different organisational settings within Local Government in the UK. The examples being charted are where innovative carbon reduction has taken place. They involve low-carbon technologies in some way. This Learning History then is just one of in a series. The individual histories may be partial – sometimes not fully describing all aspects of the innovation in question. However the totality of the series aims to paint a picture of how innovation for carbon reduction comes about across different contexts. It seeks to present this picture in a way that increases the potential for learning and action.
Read about the ethical dilemmas posed by working with individual stories.
Read about how this research got started.
Bradbury, H. (2001). Learning with the Natural Step: Action Research to Promote Conversations for Sustainable Development. Handbook of Action Research. P. Reason and H. Bradbury. London, Sage Publications.
Bradbury, H. and C. Mainemelis (2001). "Learning History and Organizational Praxis." Journal of Management Inquiry 10(4): 340.
Connelly, M. and D. J. Clandinin (1999). Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research. San Francisco, Jossey Bass Wiley.
Roth, G. and H. Bradbury (2008 (in preparation)). Learning History: An Action Research Practice in Support of Actionable Learning. Handbook of Action Research. P. Reason and H. Bradbury. London, Sage.
Roth, G. and A. Kleiner (1998). "Developing Organizational Memory Through Learning Histories." Organizational Dynamics 27(2): 43-60.
Van Maanen, J. (1998). Tales of the Field. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
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