Learning in Service Systems

  • Wägar, Karolina (Projektledare, akademisk)

Projekt: Externt finansierat projekt



Learning plays a central role in service systems. According to Vargo, Maglio and Akaka (2008), service systems involve processes in which people interact, innovate, and learn in order to produce service; indeed, it is even contended that learning and knowledge are implicit in the essential notion of ‘service’ (Vargo and Lusch 2004) and that organizations exist to integrate and transform knowledge into service (Lusch and Vargo 2006). However, despite the prominence of knowledge and learning in contemporary discussions of service systems (Beirne and Cromack 2009; Kwortnik and Thompson 2009; Lusch, Vargo and Wessels 2008; Maglio and Spohrer, 2008), and although learning has been identified as integral for innovation in service systems (Normann, 2001; Maglio and Spohrer, 2008; Paton and McLaughlin, 2008), the lack of attempts to examine how learning takes place and can be facilitated in a service system is obvious. As recently noted by Peters, Gassenheimer and Johnston (2009) and as proposed by Slater and Narver (1995) and by Wikström (1996), the ongoing learning processes in the organization constitute the basis for the service provider to be able to support the customer’s value creation. In other words, an organization that is conducive to learning is also better equipped to participate in the customer’s value creation. Thus, this study addresses the following research questions: i) how does learning in a service system take place? ii) what enables and constrains learning in a service system? Socio-cultural theories of learning and theories of workplace learning constitute the theoretical foundation of the study. The study comprises two sub-studies. First, an ethnographic study of the service system of car-service advisors working for a major car-retailing company was studied- The study included 200 hours of fieldwork. Thereafter, the service system of a small business-to-business service provider (within food industry) was investigated during 300 hours of ethnographic fieldwork. Both phases included participant observations, informal discussions and interviews. The study identified learning in the service system as constituted of i) drivers that enable and constrain learning, and ii) processes of learning. The drivers of learning are structural dimensions of learning that are intertwined with the socio-cultural context of the service system and the subjects of the service system (that is the ‘learners’). The processes of learning, on the other hand, refer to how the subjects of the service system learn both individually and collectively. The processes of learning are labelled becoming part of the service system, being part of the service system and transformation of the service system. The main contribution of this study to service research is twofold. First, although learning is recognized as crucially important in service systems, a conceptual basis and empirical studies addressing this issue have been lacking. A major contribution of this study is thus conceptual development and the exploration of the processes, constraints and enablers of learning in service systems. Secondly, this research develops theory by combining service literature with theories of learning and integrating them into a comprehensive framework grounded in in-depth ethnographic studies within various service settings.
Gällande start-/slutdatum01.05.200931.12.2011


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