Vicarious Learning in Organizations

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Vicarious learning allows individuals to learn from the outcomes of others’ experiences, rather than solely their own actions, reaping the benefits of not “reinventing the wheel.” 

Despite the importance of vicarious learning, our understanding of the interpersonal interactions underlying vicarious learning is still limited. The majority of studies on vicarious learning have been conducted at the organization-level of analysis, focusing on the diffusion of knowledge through formal inter-unit channels and organizational ties, and studies that do explore individual-level vicarious learning tend to simplistically characterize it as a one-way, intra-individual process of observation and imitation, where a learner passively observes and attempts to replicate the actions of a “model” (including even observing someone on TV).

My research seeks to extend this prior work on vicarious learning by foregrounding the actual interactions that occur between individuals in the workplace. Specifically, I articulate novel discursive mechanisms, emergent organizing processes, and reciprocal knowledge sharing practices, highlighting the ways in which the relational context of work influences individual learning to enable collective performance.

In one recent paper, integrating theories of experiential learning and symbolic interactionism, I offer a theoretical account of coactive vicarious learning, capturing these co-constructed, interpersonal learning interactions (built around discourse and analysis), and argue that they lead to growth in individual and relational capacity for learning. 

Another paper inductively examines the organizing processes used to promote vicarious learning in two air medical transport teams, advancing a view of vicarious learning as not solely resulting from formal structures (e.g., personnel rotation or knowledge management interfaces), but rather as an emergently organized phenomenon, driven by individuals’ actions as well as the structures they create. 

Finally, a third paper uses a network-based study to examine what leads individuals to create reciprocal (i.e., two-way) vicarious learning relationships (in contrast to the dominant view of these relationships as one-way knowledge transfer), and explore the impact of different distributions of these reciprocal vicarious learning relationships on team learning and performance.

© 2017 | Christopher G Myers