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Learning by Doing Something Else: Variation, Relatedness, and the Learning Curve

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Author Info

  • Melissa A. Schilling

    ()
    (Management and Organizational Behavior, New York University, 40 West 4th Street, New York, New York 10012)

  • Patricia Vidal

    ()
    (School of Management, Boston University, 595 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215)

  • Robert E. Ployhart

    ()
    (Department of Psychology, MSN 3F5, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030)

  • Alexandre Marangoni

    ()
    (School of Management, Boston University, 595 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02215)

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    Abstract

    Many organizational learning studies have an implicit assumption that the learning rate is maximized through specialization: the more an individual or organization focuses on a particular task, the faster it will improve. However, through contrasting the various learning process theories described in the research on organizational, group, and individual learning, we develop a set of competing hypotheses that suggest some degree of variation might improve the learning rate. Furthermore, such comparison yields competing arguments about how related or unrelated such task variation should be to improve the learning rate. This research uses an experimental study to answer the following research questions: Is the learning rate maximized through specialization? Or does variation, related or unrelated, enhance the learning process? We find that the learning rate under conditions of related variation is significantly greater than under conditions of specialization or unrelated variation, indicating the possibility of synergy between related learning efforts consistent with an implicit learning or insight effect. We find no significant differences in the rates of learning under the conditions of specialization and unrelated variation. These results yield important implications for how work should be organized, and for future research into the learning process.

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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.49.1.39.12750
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by INFORMS in its journal Management Science.

    Volume (Year): 49 (2003)
    Issue (Month): 1 (January)
    Pages: 39-56

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    Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:49:y:2003:i:1:p:39-56

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    Related research

    Keywords: learning curve; group learning; organizational learning; insight; transfer of learning; absorptive capacity; specialization; variation; implicit learning;

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    Citations

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    Cited by:
    1. Claussen, Jörg & Grohsjean, Thorsten & Luger, Johannes & Probst, Gilbert, 2014. "Talent management and career development: What it takes to get promoted," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 236-244.
    2. Boh, Wai Fong & Evaristo, Roberto & Ouderkirk, Andrew, 2014. "Balancing breadth and depth of expertise for innovation: A 3M story," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 349-366.
    3. Yongchuan Bao & Shibin Sheng & Kevin Zhou, 2012. "Network-based market knowledge and product innovativeness," Marketing Letters, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 309-324, March.
    4. Schilling, Melissa A. & Green, Elad, 2011. "Recombinant search and breakthrough idea generation: An analysis of high impact papers in the social sciences," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(10), pages 1321-1331.
    5. Jonathan R. Clark & Robert S. Huckman & Bradley R. Staats, 2013. "Learning from Customers: Individual and Organizational Effects in Outsourced Radiological Services," NBER Working Papers 18723, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Lettl, Christopher & Rost, Katja & von Wartburg, Iwan, 2009. "Why are some independent inventors 'heroes' and others 'hobbyists'? The moderating role of technological diversity and specialization," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 243-254, March.
    7. Toft-Kehler, Rasmus & Wennberg, Karl & Kim, Phillip H., 2014. "Practice makes perfect: Entrepreneurial-experience curves and venture performance," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 29(4), pages 453-470.
    8. Fioretti, Guido, 2007. "The organizational learning curve," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 177(3), pages 1375-1384, March.
    9. Robert S. Huckman & Bradley R. Staats, 2008. "Variation in Experience and Team Familiarity: Addressing the Knowledge Acquisition-Application Problem," Harvard Business School Working Papers 09-035, Harvard Business School.
    10. Carolyn D. Egelman & Dennis Epple & Linda Argote & Erica R.H. Fuchs, 2013. "Learning by Doing in a Multi-Product Manufacturing Environment: Product Variety, Customizations, and Overlapping Product Generations," NBER Working Papers 19674, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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