We explore how openness in terms of external linkages generates learning effects, which enable firms to generate more innovation outputs from any given breadth of external linkages. Openness to external knowledge sources, whether through search activity or linkages to external partners in new product development, involves a process of interaction and information processing. Such activities are likely to be subject to a learning process, as firms learn which knowledge sources and collaborative linkages are most useful to their particular needs, and which partnerships are most effective in delivering innovation performance. Using panel data from Irish manufacturing plants, we find evidence of such learning effects: establishments with substantial experience of external collaborations in previous periods derive more innovation output from openness in the current period. © 2013 The Authors. Strategic Management Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.