Transfer learning in ongoing and newly acquired components of multiunit chains: US nursing homes, 1991-1997

Jane Banaszak-Holl, Will Mitchell, Joel A.C. Baum, Whitney B. Berta

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Multiunit chains proliferated rapidly during the twentieth century and now dominate much of the service sector landscape, often growing by acquiring components from other owners. Transfer learning plays a central but only partially understood role in chain strategy, in both ongoing and newly acquired components. Multiunit chains gain potential benefits of reliability and accountability when they standardize activities by transferring capabilities among their components. Moreover, with the importance of acquisition in chain growth, transfer learning plays a key role both in bringing the activities of newly acquired components in line with others in the chain, as well as offering the potential to infuse new capabilities into established units of a chain. We develop a model of chain-to-component and component-to-chain transfer learning in which the levels and similarity of a chain and its components' capabilities have direct and interactive effects on transfer learning across the ongoing and newly acquired components. We test the model using data on changes in capabilities at the facilities of all federally registered nursing home chains operating in the United States between 1991 and 1997. In contrast to past research in the learning curve tradition that uses changes in performance to infer how transfer learning influences components' capabilities, we operationalize transfer learning by measuring changes in service characteristics that lie closer to the underlying capabilities themselves. Our findings suggest that transfer learning among a chain's components tends to be localized within its established and newly-acquired components, providing new insights into the dynamics of chain capabilities. In particular, new acquisitions commonly lead to only limited changes at a chain's established components while chains may find it difficult to bring their newly acquired components in line with chain standards. In turn, this shows that acquisitions tend to change a chain's capabilities more by changing its portfolio of components and less through diffusion of new capabilities throughout the chain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-75
Number of pages35
JournalIndustrial and Corporate Change
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2006

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