Professor of Entrepreneurship
Coalitions; Organizational Learning; Performance Feedback; Routines; Vicarious Learning;
Organizational learning theory examines how organizations change routine behaviours as a function of their goals and experience (Levitt and March, 1988). Research built on learning theory has assembled much evidence on how organizations adapt to their environments (e.g., Gavetti et al., 2012).Learning acts both as an underlying assumption in other theories and as a theory on its own, and is used in organizational theory, strategy, and entrepreneurship.This foundational role means that a reassessment of learning theory is consequential for the wider field of management, not just for scholars specialized in learning theory.The Covid‐19 pandemic poses challenges to four branches of learning theory – organizational routines, performance feedback, vicarious learning, and coalitions – and this commentary explains how each challenge could inspire new research in this area.One may argue that pandemics are rare and unworthy of special attention, but this would be wrong in two ways. First, pandemics are not rare. Spanish Flu killed more than 40 million 100 years ago, HIV/AIDS killed 35 million in 40 years, and Ebola, SARS, and MERS are recent pandemics that suddenly halted. Research on each one is important because pandemics cause fundamental changes to organizations and communities, with effects seen decades later (Rao and Greve, 2018).Second, pandemics reveal assumptions behind our theoretical mechanisms that we rarely question, allowing creation of new theory and integration of new evidence. One should therefore examine this pandemic for its theoretical importance and substantive impact.