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

Author

Listed:
  • 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)

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Melissa A. Schilling & Patricia Vidal & Robert E. Ployhart & Alexandre Marangoni, 2003. "Learning by Doing Something Else: Variation, Relatedness, and the Learning Curve," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(1), pages 39-56, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:49:y:2003:i:1:p:39-56
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.49.1.39.12750
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Marshall L. Fisher & Christopher D. Ittner, 1999. "The Impact of Product Variety on Automobile Assembly Operations: Empirical Evidence and Simulation Analysis," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 45(6), pages 771-786, June.
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    3. Nile W. Hatch & David C. Mowery, 1998. "Process Innovation and Learning by Doing in Semiconductor Manufacturing," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 44(11-Part-1), pages 1461-1477, November.
    4. Michael A. Lapré & Amit Shankar Mukherjee & Luk N. Van Wassenhove, 2000. "Behind the Learning Curve: Linking Learning Activities to Waste Reduction," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 46(5), pages 597-611, May.
    5. Kenneth J. Arrow, 1962. "The Economic Implications of Learning by Doing," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 29(3), pages 155-173.
    6. Harold Guetzkow & Herbert A. Simon, 1955. "The Impact of Certain Communication Nets Upon Organization and Performance in Task-Oriented Groups," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 1(3-4), pages 233-250, 04-07.
    7. Amit Shankar Mukherjee & Michael A. Lapré & Luk N. Van Wassenhove, 1998. "Knowledge Driven Quality Improvement," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 44(11-Part-2), pages 35-49, November.
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