Learning Organizations: Their Importance to Systems Acquisition in DoD

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Authors: Col Robert L. Tremaine, USAF (Ret.) and Donna J. Seligman

The success of the Defense Acquisition Workforce depends on experience, and since the majority of what it learns is on-the-job, a wide array of learning techniques dominates. Together, they behave as a learning ecosystem full of opportunities—and even learning hazards. While all these learning techniques jockey for the fastest learning lane amid variable workplace demands, proven learning methodologies help form the foundation of an organization’s learning faith. Many organizations already promote learning in the workplace. But, what have Department of Defense acquisition organizations that operate as Learning Organizations (LOs) implemented to achieve performance gains? The authors of this research sought out such organizations to better understand the key ingredients that make them authentically high-performing and appropriately armed LOs.

Every day, organizations face routine learning challenges. To tackle them, U.S. organizations spent approximately $156.2 billion on employee learning in 2011 (Miller, 2012). DoD acquisition organizations that design, develop, produce, and maintain essential capabilities required to meet U.S. security needs have instituted their own learning solutions. However, few have formally adopted all the learning practices that address their unique learning challenges or have reenergized previous learning practices that have lost their charge. With the continued focus on finding greater efficiencies in the workplace coupled with any companion reductions in weapon systems costs, the concept of LOs deserves a closer look for every DoD acquisition organization looking to boost its learning mileage. Why is this important? The DoD’s human capital workforce—acquisition practitioners from all acquisition functional areas—depends heavily on learning gains, especially if it expects to fulfill warfighter capability needs and meet Better Buying Power objectives promulgated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which seek greater current as well as future efficiencies over the long haul in weapon systems procurement for today’s warfighters.

LOs have actually been around for some time. Lately, their relevancy has come into question. Some argue they are too subjective, elusive, ambiguous, and lack feedback loops (Grieves, 2010). Many authors have written about them or alluded to them in some fashion. In his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization (1990), Peter Senge first defined LOs as:

Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. (p. 3)

He further characterized LOs in the context of (a) Systems Thinking, (b) Personal Mastery, (c) Mental Models, (d) Shared Visions, and (e) Team Learning.

Learning vs. Training

Misunderstanding the distinction between formal learning and training can derail the promise of more workplace learning—a necessity for LOs. The difference is often obscured because learning and training are so tightly intermingled. A “training experience” is seldom on the same plane as a “learning experience,” albeit some training experiences, like simulations, closely resemble learning experiences. More often than not, training occurs outside the workplace or work group. Seen as preparatory, training fills a crucial “know-how” gap where workers practice what they learn without fear of failure. After the “training experience” is over, workers head back to their workplaces and apply what they learned. But, external training cannot address every aspect (Good & Brophy, 1990). In the workplace, training takes the form of on-the-job training (OJT), or more precisely on-the-job learning (OJL), and becomes much more informal, transparent, ubiquitous, and continuous. Mandatory learning comes back as formal training (in the form of an intervention) after something goes wrong like reduced profits, higher costs, design flaws, manufacturing defects, safety violations, or even major accidents resulting in loss of life. Learning in this context is not a continuous activity either. It is more reactive and short-lived. Understanding how fully embodied LOs leverage OJL and other key learning components might help reverse several other misconceptions about learning and raise them to more reputable levels.

Reforming Our Thinking About Learning

Despite the program type or life-cycle phase, learning in DoD acquisition organizations is compulsory. A vast array of learning methods, practices, and techniques prevails. In various ways, each contributes to workplace learning. Some are more effective than others, especially those that actually mimic the job. Far from a perfect science, the literature (Kerka, 1995) suggests effective LOs:

  • Provide continuous learning opportunities.
  • Use learning to reach their goals.
  • Link individual performance with organizational performance.
  • Foster inquiry and dialogue, making it safe for people to share openly and take risks.
  • Embrace creative tension as a source of energy and renewal.
  • Maintain continuous awareness and interaction with their environment.

Even though these active learning features help organizations achieve their objectives, most organizations have only a modest understanding of how these features generate the success upon which their organizations depend. Consequently, they spend less time thinking about learning since future benefits are not readily apparent. If DoD organizations recognized the significance of powerful workplace learning architectures, would they take them more seriously?

The researchers selected an unconventional framework to characterize LOs under four categories: Learning Pathways (LP), Learning Engines (LE), Learning Lubricants (LL), and Learning Additives (LA), but used a traditional mathematical formula to express them.

Learning Organizations = ∑ ((LPi (LAi) + LEi (LAi) + LLi (LAi))


This research used a combination of interviews and surveys to assess learning practices operating across 18 different DoD acquisition program offices (Figure 1). They constitute a rich blend of functional professionals who apply expertise every day in programs spring-loaded with risks and uncertainty. As a distinctive group, the researchers responded that the current leaders in DoD’s acquisition program offices could readily characterize the learning practices making a difference for them and the organizations they lead. Accordingly, diverse acquisition leaders from Acquisition Category (ACAT) I and II program management offices, representing all military departments, were interviewed. These DoD acquisition leaders would offer informative “top-down” views. A 63-question survey was administered to them and their acquisition foot soldiers, who would offer equally informative views from the ground “looking up.” What learning attributes made a difference, and which ones required more learning voltage?

Figure 1. Listing of Program Offices and Directorates Interviewed and Surveyed

18 Interviewed and Surveyed
Ballistic Missile Defense Systems (BMDS) RQ-4A/B Unmanned Air System (UAS) GLOBAL HAWK
Navy Virginia (SSN 774) Class Attack Submarine Wideband Global Satellites (WGS) (Military Satellite Communications Systems Direcetorate [MILSATCOM], Advanced Extremely High Frequency {AEHF], Family of Advanced Beyond Line-of-Sign Terminals [FAB-T], Global Broadcast Service [GBS])
C-130 Aircraft Modernization Program National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)
B-2 Bomber and SATCOM and Computer Increment I Spaced Based Infrared System (SBIRS) – High Satellite
C130-J – Super Hercules Global Positioning Systems (GPS) Directorate – GPS IIIA and NAVSTAR GPS
MQ-9 Unmanned Air System (UAS) REAPER Apache Block IIIA (AB3A) Remanufacture
KC-46 Tanker Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) and GMLRS Alternate Warhead (GMLRS-AW)
F-22 Raptor Program Executive Office, Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (PEO C41)


The researchers invited 4,158 acquisition program office personnel to take part in this survey. Of that group, 2,125 personnel responded. Their aggregate views exposed the prevalence and dominance of many learning components. Their views also confirmed the active implementation of 16 preselected LO components (independent variables) and the resulting workplace learning dividends (dependent variables) expressed as positive or negative gaps.

Figure 2 represents the combined percentages for the top two boxes for the 18 organizations on a Likert scale (1–7). Some of the LO component percentages were strikingly low. The subsequent discussion addresses each component one-by-one by top box.

Figure 2. Program Office Top Box Gaps

Learning Pathways (LP1)

At any given time, the direction of workplace learning matters (Marquardt & Reynolds, 1994, p. 21). To give a clear site picture of an organization’s learning heading, LOs underscore the significance of Strategic Planning, Organizational Learning, Leadership Guidance, and Learning Climate (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Strategic Planning (LP1)

Note. Each dot represents aggregate box responses from the 18 program offices.

Strategic Planning (LP1). Organizations averaged 44 percent for their top box on organizational implementation while only 34 percent in learning dividends. This first learning pathway component emphasizes the connection to an organization’s mission and goals. Since workplace learning has been found to be “the most effective when it’s aligned to corporate objectives and strategies” (The Conference Board of Canada, 2009), the impacts of learning outcomes become more visible when they are woven into an organization’s strategic plan. In this study, many leaders conducted strategic planning initiatives. In their current state, the data indicated conspicuously reduced learning returns for the respondents. To increase learning dividends, one organization made its strategic plan a “trusted system” by instituting a corporate management board that met monthly to verify worker contributions. The organization inculcated the strategic plan into its learning culture by tightening the connection between individual performance and mission accomplishment. In most organizations, however, strategic plans seemed to satisfy more of a literary requirement than a means to a learning end. Several leaders considered them to be overly burdensome and costly. They decided against a formally written strategic plan and substituted it with “all calls” or monthly/quarterly meetings where they discussed progress against their overall goals. Another organization equated its Integrated Management Plan to a strategic plan since it anticipated little return by investing in another plan. Over 30 years ago, Shell Oil learned the strong relationship among strategic planning, learning, organizations, and corporate success (Marquardt, 2011). DoD acquisition organizations have not appeared to find the same linkage, or at least exercised it enough to show any tangible value to sustain it as a universal practice. The workforce was more confounded by strategic plans. The respondents who rated this component as operating below average responded that their plans were confusing, poorly communicated, disconnected, not tracked, and/or had little to no impact on learning.

Organizational Learning (LP2). Organizations averaged 36 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 32 percent in learning dividends. Organizational learning forms the centerpiece for LOs and incorporates the concept of adaptive learning, where workers respond to changes in the environment by detecting errors and correcting the errors through modifying strategies, assumptions, or norms (Choo, 2006). To strengthen their learning bridges, many leaders instituted rotational assignments, OJT checklists, and hosted recurring “brown bag” discussions. Others established microuniversities inside their workplaces that teach unique processes and product line technologies. To be effective though, this second pathway component requires the presence of three critical factors: meaning, management, and measurement (Garvin, 1993). The respondents who rated this component as operating below average reported that they found noticeable deficits in all three. Their organizational learning goals had little connection to their work, were overcome by program pace, or lacked meaningful metrics.

Leadership Guidance (LP3). Organizations averaged 30 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 34 percent in learning dividends. Aside from serving as a compass, leaders are expected to remove learning obstacles so their organizations can make more learning inroads. They also have an incumbent responsibility to introduce workplace “learning initiatives…legitimize managers…and be deeply involved in the learning process” (Miller, 2003). This third learning pathway component also requires leaders to serve as the model for continuous learning while encouraging their employees to do the same. Often, the opposite is true (Marquardt & Reynolds, 1994). Actions speak louder than words. One leader who reported higher gains encouraged his workforce to seize learning as their number one priority and held supervisors accountable for making sure their subordinates gave it sufficient attention. Several leaders reported that their workforce did not challenge the status quo nearly enough. Others expressed the view that their daily demands were compounded by excessive administrative burden, leaving them with less time to address all their learning curves. The respondents who rated this component as operating below average said they needed much more definitive direction or more frequent communication regarding learning expectations.

Learning Climate (LP4). Organizations averaged 37 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 39 percent in learning dividends. This last pathway component speaks to the workplace safeguards in place to mitigate the learning turbulence that can emanate from leadership expectations, workplace processes, or workplace cultures. Effective LOs ground these key elements by instituting resilient and sustainable learning practices that encourage and condition their employees to value the need to continually learn new skills and “avoid the erosion of their knowledge stocks” (Cooke & Meyer, 2007). One leader offered that he actively pushes his workforce to think critically and challenge the status quo. He further reported that his organization could never meet its technical challenges without it. Another leader reminded his workforce to actively think differently. Respondents who worked in organizations where this component rated below average reported their learning climates were too weak to face the pressures of risk. People took shelter to avoid it since their leadership did not endorse it.

Learning Engine (LE1)

Learning engines are the source of an organization’s learning muscle. They depend heavily on individual learning, increased responsibility, professional development, and individual advancement (Figure 4). Properly sized learning engines give organizations the ability to tackle uncertain and variable learning terrain with lesser strain. Learning engines also have to operate at peak levels to achieve enough momentum to safely negotiate steep learning grades.

Figure 4. Organizational Learning (LP2)

Note. Each dot represents aggregate box responses from the 18 program offices.

Individual Learning (LE1). Organizations averaged 33 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 41 percent in learning dividends. A vehicle’s towing capacity depends on the horsepower and torque its engine produces. In a similar way, individual learning represents the source of an organization’s intellectual muscle. Like any muscle, it needs to be exercised. Individuals must value and keep their new learning skills fit enough to promote “psychological states of competence” (Cooke & Meyer, 2007). This first learning engine component is closely linked with LP2 in an explicit and structured way (Marquardt & Reynolds, 1994). Individual learning gives organizations immediate traction by serving as a “core resource and mechanism” that moves organizations toward their goals (Srihawong, Srisa-Ard, & Chiwpimai, 2012). It also helps organizations respond to strong learning counterforces like competition from other workplace demands and daily programmatic risks that subject individuals to continuous learning pressure. To help strengthen individual learning development, one leader had his junior personnel teach others what they had learned. He ensured they had learning in the correct gear so they could effectively react to workplace eventualities while operating at peak proficiency levels. The respondents who reported below average dividends questioned the amount of time set aside for individual learning, or the link between learning and performance improvements was missing.

Increased Responsibility (LE2). Organizations averaged 43 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 42 percent in learning dividends. LOs are known to evenly distribute responsibility across their enterprises in the same fashion that air shocks and assisted breaking systems safely handle heavier loads “on demand.” Although occasionally tenuous, this second learning engine component also keeps employees intellectually challenged enough so they do not seek employment elsewhere (Emery, 2010). One leader reminded his workforce that “Innovation doesn’t live in the routine, and takes persistence and the responsibility to challenge themselves instead.” The opposing forces (e.g., lack of motivation and shortage of available time) can inhibit the pursuit for some workers to seek or accept increasingly more responsibility. However, the distribution of responsibility deserves frequent inspection since it behaves as a catalyst for forces leading to change management inside LOs (Beaver & Hutchings, 2004). The respondents who reported lower than average results cited the preponderance of responsibility placed on select positions as not always evenly distributed, minimized, or even overlooked.

Professional Development (LE3). Organizations averaged 36 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 40 percent in learning dividends. Professional development helps learning engines burn leaner by improving learners’ “time to competence” (Senge, 1990). Additional knowledge found in collaborative opportunities like professional conferences, communities of practice, or cooperative deep intellectual dives on functionally specific topics favorably boost learning effects. Internal development programs make strong impacts since they are more workplace-specific. One leader crafted an internal Career Development Guide that created a comprehensive glide path for a wide range of experiential and collaborative learning opportunities inside his learning house. Another leader modified his organization’s reporting structure to allow more junior personnel to assume roles that increased their developmental momentum. The respondents who rated this third learning engine component as below average reported that professional development was either poorly promoted, unorganized, ad hoc, or inactive.

Individual Advancement (LE4). Organizations averaged 35 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 39 percent in learning dividends. LOs help their workforce seek advancement by applying more force to their learning opportunity accelerator. One leader whose organization reported the highest workforce learning dividends in this last learning engine component instituted (a) functionally focused internal meetings to show what it takes for personnel to advance; (b) a program where competitive individuals could diversify into other functional areas; and (c) an accession model that illustrated the experience required for progression. Interestingly enough, advancement does not always imply more supervision, which could be holding back some from seeking it (Kosteas, 2011). Respondents who reported below average advancement opportunities expressed the view that more promising prospects existed outside their own workplaces or lacked the time to pursue the required qualifications to compete for internal advancement.

Learning Lubricants (LL1)

Purposeful, timely, and active learning in the workplace is an important component for organizational success. But, under this third category, friction can easily interfere with expected gains if four components—empowerment, mentorship, individual feedback, and creative tension—are not at their ideal viscous states. The variable and unrelenting learning pace found inside acquisition organizations requires all four components to keep workplace learning moving freely (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Leadership Guidance (LP3)

Note. Each dot represents aggregate box responses from the 18 program offices.

Empowerment (LL1). Organizations averaged 38 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 43 percent in learning dividends. When it comes to learning, empowerment might be the most highly underestimated component of them all. In this study, it signaled the highest individual learning dividends paid. Companies like General Electric actively push empowerment by applying a risk quotient where they “measure employee performance based on their capacity to take risk in championing ideas, learn from the experience, and drive improvement” (Peters, 2012). Leaders who reported high learning dividends from empowerment widely delegated “the authority” across their organizations. Respondents in organizations that operated below average reported that empowerment was visibly absent, not fostered, or underwhelming at their workplaces.

Mentorship (LL2). Organizations averaged 27 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 35 percent in learning dividends. LOs seize mentorship since it helps employees avoid costly mistakes. LOs also recognize that mentors must be willing to bear the responsibility for their employees’ growth and development in their dual role as a “performance confronter” and “career counselor” (Gilley & Maycunich, 2000, p.  32). One leader noted that making mentorship too formal would lead to its death. He selected certain personnel to fill positions that demanded mentorship. The respondents who reported below average dividends for this second lubricant component saw little evidence of mentorship even though they felt it could pay huge returns if it found its way into their development.

Individual Feedback (LL3). Organizations averaged 26 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 35 percent in learning dividends. LOs recognize the importance of feedback—the only facet of knowledge and skill development that is significantly associated with individual impact (Cooke & Meyer, 2007). In its raw form, this third learning lubricant operates like a learning performance regulator. Too little feedback can slow the learning flow. Too much feedback can lead to excessive focus where learners are always altering their performance, leading to inconsistent and variable performance-impaired learning (Lee & Carnahan, 1990). Premature feedback can have an adverse learning effect much like an engine backfires when an explosion occurs in the air intake or exhaust system rather than inside the combustion chamber. Negative feedback can be toxic and contaminate learning climates. In its ideal form, feedback needs to be timely, respectful, accurate, carefully communicated, and void of negative undertones. Leadership plays a significant role in feedback by ensuring it remains constructive and freely flows, but sticky enough to reduce workplace propaganda and eliminate counterproductive interference. Most leaders reported that feedback directly affects their ability to accomplish workplace challenges and made it a priority across their organizations. The respondents who experienced below average learning dividends noted either little or less constructive feedback, no connection to learning plans, or a failure to close the feedback loop.

Creative Tension (LL4). Organizations averaged 31 percent for their top box on organizational implementation and 37 percent in learning dividends. LOs encourage their personnel to seek new learning methods and embrace creative tension as a positive attribute because it generates resolution (Senge, 1990). One leader stitched healthy tension into his own learning formula and encouraged his workforce to voice their disagreement at every meeting if they felt strongly about an issue. He could not think of a better way for them to shoulder more “ownership” at the workplace. Some respondents misunderstood the concept of this last learning lubricant, but the respondents who noted lower than average dividends reported little evidence of tension in their workplace, especially the creative type, and it resulted in missed learning opportunities.

Learning Additives (LA1)

LOs recognize the need for certain learning additives under this last category such as new technologies, challenging work, time for learning, and generational learning solutions (Figure 6). They give workplace learning added momentum and can raise learning outcomes to even more favorable levels. This last category evaluated the effectiveness of each.

Figure 6. Learning Climate (LP4)

Note. Each dot represents aggregate box responses from the 18 program offices.

Learning Technology (LA1). Organizations averaged 46 percent for their top box that technology was effectively used. Technologies are becoming more and more predominant in the workplace. They can help organizations save money, save time, increase productivity, manage knowledge, and improve learning. In the last several years, social media has skyrocketed. In an earlier survey that polled 125 learning and training leaders, 82 percent used social media to advance their own professional skills and resources while another 81 percent believed social media offers valuable learning opportunities (The CARA Group, 2010). In another study, Twitter® and YouTube® ranked number one and two, respectively, as tools for workplace learning among 545 learning professionals worldwide (Hart, 2011). In this LO study, e-mail was seen as the most effective learning technology, although it also created issues (Figure 6). Several program managers instituted more restrictive e-mail discipline to reduce the e-mail barrage by instituting no more “reply to all” and no more e-mails to their leadership team without “action recommendations.” Another reminded his personnel to “send less so they would get less.” One in particular issued an e-mail “stand-down” day and directed his personnel to either communicate by phone or talk face-to-face. Afterwards, he noticed a shift in cooperative learning. People started to talk again and shared knowledge more openly. The low rating of social media in acquisition organizations could most likely be attributed to limited access to certain sites. Generational preferences may also play a role since far fewer “millennials” are yet working in acquisition organizations. Nonetheless, learning technologies serve as a gateway to both information and knowledge sharing. However, some organizations in this study had limited means to leverage more effective solutions or the knowledge to understand this first additive’s association to learning. Many key learning technology decisions were left to the information technology specialists.

Challenging Work (LA2). Organizations averaged 65 percent top box for presenting challenging work. Adding challenging work into the learning mix helps individuals achieve greater self-efficiency (Huys, De Rick, & Vandenbrande, 2005). One leader said that until he got his people exposed to this second learning additive, he risked losing them. Another leader encouraged his personnel to read the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, and then had them list five strengths to share with others. He reported that the organization as a whole could achieve more challenging work if it understood the sum of its parts.

Time for Learning (LA3). Organizations averaged 41 percent top box for giving enough time to master skill. For workplace learning to be meaningful, LOs allow adequate time for learning to “warm up” and give learners time to reflect, practice, network, and seek any necessary training (Vaughan, 2008). Many leaders blended “just-in-time” learning into their learning mixtures whenever new processes or initiatives surfaced. Others reinforced the importance of taking time to build expertise. One leader reminded his personnel not to leave the organization without becoming proficient in their fields. Another leader created time for thinking experiments inside his organization. One of his teams decided to run a product line contest out of graham crackers, peanut butter and marshmallows, and toothpicks. To them, the competition ended up reinforcing the importance of product resiliency and a resilient workforce.

Generational Learning Accommodations (LA4). Organizations averaged 26 percent top box for accommodating differences in generational learning. Looming changes in workforce demographics have placed even more pressure on an organization’s learning ecosystem. However, while generations have their own learning preferences, how they actually learn is not significant enough to “warrant different instructional designs or learning technologies” (Reeves, 2006). None of the leaders instituted any generational-unique learning techniques although many leaders reported that they gave more attention to the development of their junior workforce. One leader ensured his junior personnel understood that performance would evolve them as “hot runners.” Another leader specified that teaching the next generation at his workplace was the most important thing he could do.


With a conspicuous mix of entry to senior-level personnel who run the experience scale, the acquisition workforce demonstrates a wide range of “know how” that constantly fluctuates. While they relish what they learn on the job, few fully appreciate the magnitude of all the learning elements that affect their learning development. Even though the DoD organizations surveyed in this study confirmed the presence of all the LO architectural components, no single acquisition organization has fully energized them all. Based on extrapolation, more active implementation could result in a stronger learning footing and create more positive learning dividends for every individual and organization. Consequently, the researchers recommend the following for those in a position to champion the learning charge:

Become your organization’s Chief Learning Officer. Take the time to understand all the key learning practices that should be prevalent and highly active in your organization. Assess their contribution to mission outcomes. Involve yourself in your organization’s total learning equation. If you haven’t yet done so:

  • Energize your strategic plan. Communicate it and measure progress against it. Whatever the manifestation, it needs to be grounded, connected to both individual and organizational outcomes, flexible, well-communicated, and understood.
  • Codify your organization’s OJL program. It is where most workplace learning occurs, and organizational competence depends on it (Olmstead, 2002). Decide what needs to be formal and what does not.
  • Recognize that learning and formal training are distinctively different. Remind your workforce that learning is more formal and incidental. Learning is a contact sport. Make time to reflect.
  • Monitor your learning climates closely. Inspire and condition your workforce to value the need to continually learn new skills to avoid the erosion of its knowledge stocks. Promulgate the virtues of innovative thinking.
  • Eliminate the seam between “time for doing” and “time for learning.” The difference is too close to call. “Doing” is experiential learning.
  • Distribute responsibility across your enterprise. It increases learning health and reduces personnel turnover.
  • Create opportunities for professional development. It produces greater depths of expertise and strengthens an organization’s learning core.
  • Encourage advancement. It makes workers think more about their own skillsets and how they can make even greater impacts.
  • Empower your people and give them a solid sense of responsibility. It increases their learning capacity and reinforces their confidence. Give your personnel permission to switch gears. Encourage them to take risks.
  • Make mentorship a top priority and actively promote it. Mentors help build more sustainable careers for junior workers who are running low on experience.
  • Provide more performance feedback. There is no stronger learning barometer.
  • Embrace creative tension. Ask your workforce where your organization needs to be (i.e., vision) versus the “as is.” Explain that any gap between the two restricts the achievement of critical outcomes. Allow your workforce to challenge the status quo in a thoughtful and respectful way.
  • Maintain learning agility. Whenever learning needs change, maintain agility (e.g., presence of interns, changes in mission, changes in personnel, etc.).
  • Strategically manage your technology needs. Ground them to organizational goals. Don’t let them short-circuit the ability to get work done (Allen, 2012).


People have always been an organization’s secret weapon, and no cutting-edge system capability could have ever been built let alone conceived without it. After 22 years since their inception, LOs are still very relevant since learning is omnipresent in the workplace. It may be hard to visualize, but fully embodied LOs can help DoD acquisition practitioners think more deliberately about effective learning solutions. Indeed, LOs can provide just enough escape velocity to leave less productive learning practices behind, including the patterns that could be undermining learning itself, and ultimately—over the long haul—help raise learning to more efficient levels.

Authors’ Note

A year ago, the authors began this research to better understand the acquisition learning dynamic. They would like to personally thank the program office interviewees for their time and the frank responses to their interview questions, as well as all the program office personnel who took the time to complete this LO survey. Without their participation, this research would be without the rich data so crucial to the findings and the researchers’ ability to make any justifiable LO architectural recommendations.

To print a PDF copy of this article, click here.

Author Biographies

Col Robert L TremaineCol Robert L. Tremaine, USAF (Ret.), is the associate dean for Outreach and Mission Assistance at the Defense Acquisition University West Region. He has over 26 years of experience in air, missile, and space weapon systems acquisitions. He holds a BS from the U.S. Air Force Academy and an MS from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He is Level III certified in both Program Management and Systems Planning, Research, Development and Engineering. He is also a graduate of the Canadian Force Command and Staff College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; and the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, PA.

(E-mail address: robert.tremaine@dau.mil)

Ms Donna J SeligmanMs. Donna J. Seligman is a management information systems specialist at the Defense Acquisition University West Region. She has extensive experience with developing and managing complex business knowledge applications, performing comprehensive system analyses, and conducting extensive research. She holds a BS in Information Decision Systems from San Diego State University and is completing coursework toward an MBA with an emphasis in Program Management.

(E-mail address: donna.seligman@dau.mil)


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