Dynamic Learning Playbook

What does intentional learning look like?

Definitions and key concepts

Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge or skills. Intentional learning means having goals to direct that process, and systems to help turn learning into action in a way that is consistent with organizational objectives.

For an organization to improve, it must be intentional in the way it attains and applies the knowledge and skills it acquires. Without intentionality, knowledge and skills can be lost or may not be acted upon effectively. Intentional learning can enable action for improvement at the strategic, programmatic, and operational levels, and thus is a pillar of high performance. At the strategic level, learning informs the decision-making that translates an organization’s vision and mission into programs and initiatives. At the programmatic level, learning helps ensure objectives can be achieved and outcomes can be improved over time. At the operational level, learning focuses on activities and routines that can be optimized to enhance performance.

“All organizations learn – whether they consciously choose to or not – it is a fundamental requirement for their sustained existence. Some firms deliberately advance organizational learning, developing capabilities that are consistent with their objectives; others make no focused effort and, therefore, acquire habits that are counterproductive. Nonetheless, all organizations learn.”

– DANIEL H. KIM, “The link between individual learning
& organizational learning,” MIT Sloan Management

We’ve developed a glossary of key terms to create a common vocabulary around organizational learning; access it by downloading the Playbook below.

Why does learning matter?

Learning enables organizations to improve, compete, and manage change. Learning particularly enables participation in the interconnected systems that define many sectors and industries, which is critical to addressing the intractable problems of today. If we are to address these issues, we must do so through collective thinking and understanding within organizations, communities, and societies.

Learning is also one of several critical disciplines that leaders must master along the journey to high performance. It’s a mechanism to steer resources towards efforts based on sound analysis of the problem, grounded assumptions of how activities may lead to desired change, assessment to determine how different activities are paying off, and a desire to get better over time and ultimately achieve impact. Intentional learning can enable organizations to achieve team and program objectives.

Who drives organizational learning?

Learning happens naturally and organically at the individual, team, organizational, and even inter-organizational levels. However, for learning to effectively enable organizations to achieve their objectives, it must be an intentional practice  that’s driven by learning owners with technical capabilities to ensure that relevant knowledge gained by one individual is intentionally and effectively captured, shared, and operationalized across the organization.

These capabilities consist of:

  1. Identifying and capturing an organization’s operational and programmatic experiences and lessons
  2. Documenting and packaging learnings into knowledge and learning products worthy of sharing, both internally and externally
  3. Sharing knowledge products with the right people at the right time, both internally and externally
  4. Monitoring & evaluating to assess the effectiveness of these activities

While operationalizing knowledge to improve program activities or business operations may ultimately be in the mandate of managers or directors, in reality, the learning function is often distributed across multiple teams and at multiple levels. It is difficult and impractical to limit the learning responsibility to just one individual or team.

Elements of intentional learning

While learning happens constantly and in organic ways at both the individual and organizational levels, effective organizational learning must be intentional. As part of the research conducted by the Lab and Dalberg Design, four largely similar elements of organizational learning emerge as the key building blocks for intentional organizational learning. 

In the following sections, we describe in more detail these four elements, and introduce an additional set of learning principles that can guide teams and organizations towards an ideal of intentional learning.