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The mythology of learning-by-doing in World War II airframe and ship production


  • Don Scott-Kemmis
  • Martin Bell


Between the 1940s and 1960s, studies of aircraft and ship production during World War II (WWII) gave rise to the concept of 'learning-by-doing'. This proved to be an influential and long lived idea. It has been embedded in micro-level analyses concerned with firm level management and in macro analyses underpinning numerous fields of policy – ranging trade and industry policy in developing countries to policy options for addressing global climate change. While its empirical basis has been questioned, the basic features of the idea continue to be widely used, and the claimed validity continues to be sustained by reference to the WWII studies. This paper reviews those studies. It demonstrates that they provide little empirical support for these policy applications. A long overdue effort should be made to develop a much more empirically grounded understanding of the various innovation and technical change processes that have been obscurely bundled together in the learning-by-doing idea.

Suggested Citation

  • Don Scott-Kemmis & Martin Bell, 2010. "The mythology of learning-by-doing in World War II airframe and ship production," International Journal of Technological Learning, Innovation and Development, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 3(1), pages 1-35.
  • Handle: RePEc:ids:ijtlid:v:3:y:2010:i:1:p:1-35

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    1. repec:eee:respol:v:46:y:2017:i:10:p:1873-1886 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Dosi, Giovanni & Grazzi, Marco & Mathew, Nanditha, 2017. "The cost-quantity relations and the diverse patterns of “learning by doing”: Evidence from India," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(10), pages 1873-1886.


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