Transactive memory systems, learning, and learning transfer

Kyle Lewis, Donald Lange, Lynette Gillis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

322 Scopus citations


Knowledge embedded in a group's structures and processes can be leveraged to create sustainable advantage for organizations. We propose that knowledge embedded with a transactive memory system (TMS) helps groups apply prior learning to new tasks and develop an abstract understanding of a problem domain, leading to sustained performance. We present a framework for understanding TMSs as learning systems that affect group learning and learning transfer, and we test the major outcomes of the framework in an empirical study. We found that groups with a prior TMS and experience with two tasks in the same domain were more likely to develop an abstract understanding of the principles relevant to the task domain - a critical factor for learning transfer in general. We did not, however, find strong support for our contention that a TMS facilitates learning transfer after experience with only a single task. Further examinations of our findings showed that the extent to which members maintained expertise across tasks influenced the degree of learning transfer, especially for groups whose members had previously developed a TMS with another group. Our findings show that a TMS has broader benefits beyond the task for which it first developed because a TMS affects members' ability to apply prior learning and develop a collective, abstract understanding of the task domain. More generally, our study demonstrates that TMSs influence group learning and learning transfer. We discuss our study's implications for practice and for TMS and group learning theories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)581-598
Number of pages18
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Learning
  • Transactive memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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