J. Spender on Knowledge, Learning and Memory


This paper criticizes the article by J.C. Spender titled “Organizational knowledge, learning, and memory: three concepts in search of a theory”. This article is divided into four parts, the first part deals with shortcomings found in the contemporary organizational learning literature, particularly when it comes to positivism. The article outlines that, this literature is not consistent in many ways. In one way or the other, there are different modes of governance, organization, and different theories of management. As a result, this literature has explained concepts that lead to different governance theories.

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This article has clearly explained pluralistic epistemology, through which interpretive, as well as positivistic stands, are developed. In this section, the article explains the difference between “the explicit and implicit types of knowledge; and the individual and social levels of analysis to a two-by-two matrix of knowledge types” (Spender, n.d). In this article, the two concepts have been differentiated by the use of learning and memorization modes. Generally, the article describes an epistemological model which embraces all types of organizations. In its final phase of pluralistic epistemology restructuring, the author proposed a dialectical relation existing between implicit and explicit classes, and between the organization and personal classes. However, the study found that there is no way through which knowledge development can be explained through or scientific or explicit methods.

The third part of this article outlines ways through which different types of knowledge identified in the second section can be contrasted and how to measure them. It also explains ways of exploring and interacting with them. The last but not least section of this article outlines the opportunities held by the management particularly in shaping the organizations acting as systems “of knowledge, learning and memorizing processes” (Spender, n.d).

Critique of the Journal

The author of this article selected a very good topic to research; his wordings in the title are catching, interesting and precise. This ensures that the audience particularly psychologists gets to read about his article. In his introduction, he started by defining the problem statement and the significance of his study. This is very good as its audience is informed at an early stage of what the article contains without struggling. In general, the way the author has developed this paper is up to standard. This is based on the fact that he started with the introduction, the main body and then finished with a conclusion. This is the standard way of developing academic papers.

Looking at references and referencing style, the author has not dealt with literature from a certain period. References range from the 1920s to the 1990s, this implies that the author researched far and wide to get materials for his paper. In addition, this means that the paper contains lots of concrete information starting with the history of some models, to the implementation of such models. In general, this implies that the topic has been covered extensively. Referencing style used by the author is very good. This is because, he has not just copy-pasted the references in the paper, but he has discussed them, compared, and analyzed them. In supporting the point that the topic has been covered extensively, look at the number and quality of references used. The number of references is over 50, and all of them are academic references, which are books, journals, and reports, such references can be termed as being high class, as they are authoritative in the academic fields.

The author also stated some limitations that one encounters while carrying out such research. This is a requirement for any academic paper. In addition, the methodology has been stated well, though the author does not explain them satisfactorily. This is because, though the author has stated triangulation, qualitative and quantitative methods as having been used in the study, and their limitations, they are not explained how and at what level they were used. In addition, the author did not state research ethical issues as required in academic papers.

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By looking at the flow of ideas in the paper, one can recognize that the flow is perfect. This is because, every paragraph and topic, introduces the preceding paragraph and topic. This makes the reader know what he/she expects in the preceding paragraph, after reading the previous.

The author also composed his conclusion very well. He restated the thesis, summed up the results of the study, and made some recommendations. These are the fundamental components that have to be included in the conclusion of any academic paper like this.


The first limitation in this study is the inconsistency of literature dealing with knowledge, memorizing, and learning. Available literature covers different concepts as well as learning behaviors. As a result, conclusions made based on such literature can be considered weak, because, while some materials will be supporting it, others will be opposing it by supporting other conclusions.

Secondly, the model used in the definition of the term learning lacks ways through which initial knowledge led to learning possibility. So basing arguments on such models might not give distinction between knowledge types, like conscious and preconscious knowledge. In addition, for this research to be successful there is a need to define the link between information and data, which is not as obvious as such. So, this research does not make sense when it comes to memorization, as there is no theory of meaning and intelligence theory.

In identifying organization knowledge types, the study has to use contrasting methods of research. In case the researcher ignores this, then heshe will be ignoring a very important part that deals with the development of different types of knowledge, both as an individual and as a whole group. In addition, “The failure to see the incommensurability on which Burrell and Morgan built their typology is additional evidence of the weak epistemological underpinnings of much contemporary organizational analysis. The two methods even have different objectives” (Shrivastava, 1983). As a result, using contrasting research methods in this research is very essential, but using such methods is very cumbersome.

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Future research/suggestion for improvement

Because the link between data and information is not obvious as many think. This is particularly in non-positive and uncertain situations. This is because accessing the truth is very hard and also problems exist in getting the meaning. As a result of “uncertain conditions existing in today’s organizations, as well as in human affairs, there is need for further research to come up with a meaning theory and learning theory to give sense to the memory concept” (Spender, n.d). The two theories will be much significant particularly in understanding memory.

It is also very important to carry out research to establish an epistemological approach that addresses different types of organizational knowledge along with practices in a separate manner and even explains their interrelationships. This theory will be of great importance particularly in developing models that will be inclusive, apart from being comprehensive. As a result, these models will replace the current mapping models which are inappropriate as they are rooted in “individual psychology (or individual learning practice) on to the firm, which may be wholly inappropriate” (Spender, n.d). On the same issue of models and theories, there is also a need to carry out more research to develop a theory that explains the link between social and individual levels. This will help in improving current models which have been developed by different psychologists studying self-development in children. Such psychologists have assumed that there are chances of separating all concepts dealing with knowledge processes of individuals from their social settings.

There is a need to carry out research to attain consistency in literature dealing with this topic. That is, research should be undertaken to link different concepts explained in different kinds of literature explaining ‘Organizational knowledge, learning, and memory. This will be of great importance particularly in strengthening conclusions made based on such literature.

Critique of the Methodology

The author of this article used secondary sources of data; this is because he used books, journals, and other reports. This source of data is good as it ensures that one obtains data very quickly at a lower cost as compared to primary sources of data. In addition, this method provides data that any individual researcher cannot be able to collect on his/her own. This is because, some of these data can’t be accessed directly, or it will be very costly for him/her to collect. However, the required information might not be found, hence researchers can hardly get all the information needed from this source. In case such information is obtained, they might lack reliability. This is because some of them might have been altered by authors of such sources, hence can be rendered unusable (Green, Tull & Albaum, 1993).

By looking at the sampling procedure used in selecting materials to be used in this study, one can appreciate that it fits the study topic. This is because, all of them are relevant to the topic, and cut across many years as they range from the 1920s to the 1990s which was the time this article was published. This implies that the materials were up-to-date. Such materials were published in different geographical regions, hence representing the whole world. In addition, the number of sources used in this study is large enough to represent the entire population (Miles Huberman, 1994). As a result, conclusions and recommendations made from such sources are reliable and have to be handled with great care as they represent reality.

However, though the author mentioned the use of contrasting research methods like qualitative, quantitative, and triangulation in this article, he did not explain how they can be used, and how this can result in meaningful results in this study hence replication of the same is difficult. In addition, the author did not explain the strength and weaknesses of using contrasting research methods. The author did not also state ethical issues involved in this research. Though the research used secondary sources which do not include people, ethical issues are dealing with secondary data collection methods. For instance, there is nowhere the author has indicated the way he was dealing with plagiarism.

In general, the author analyzed his materials very well. This is because; he compared and contrasted information from these sources. That is, the level of comparison used in the analysis of information is perfect.

List of references

  1. Green, P., Tull, D. & Albaum, G. 1993, Research methods for marketing decisions, (5thed). Prentice Hall: New York.
  2. Miles, M. & Huberman, A. 1994, Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook, (2nd ed). Thousand Oaks: California.
  3. Shrivastava, P. 1983, A typology of organizational learning systems, Journal of Management Studies, vol.20, no.1, pp. 7-28.
  4. Spender, J. (n.d), Organizational knowledge, learning and memory: three concepts in search of a theory, Organizational knowledge, vol. 9, no.1, pp, 63-78.
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