Workplaces as learning organisations

The idea that organisations learn is not new.

Commercial organisations have for decades understood the importance of developing organisational culture that contributes to behaviours and practices supporting continual improvement. With no such culture organisations become stale, uncompetitive and risk dying. In the same way learning disabilities in children can be tragic they can be fatal to organisations. 50% of organisations live half as long as a person – most die before reaching the age of 40. Of the top 25 industrial corporations in the United States in 1900, only two remained on that list at the start of the 1960s. And of the top 25 companies on the Fortune 500 in 1961, only six remain there today. The inability of organisations to monitor, adapt and to learn leads to high mortality rates.

As we know, organisations don’t learn; it’s those in them who cognitively and intellectually evaluate, synthesise, apply and demonstrate knowledge and understanding that experience learning. When organisations fail to adapt, people in them are failing to adapt. When organisations don’t monitor, people aren’t monitoring. And when organisations don’t learn people are either unable to learn, unwilling to learn or both unable and unwilling to learn. When teachers have a learning disability it’s tragic for all concerned – in particular those teachers’ students. Teaching as Inquiry is a vehicle educators are being asked to use to demonstrate their commitment to developing and maintaining a culture of continual improvement in their schools; it’s one way leaders and the Ministry of Education can ensure schools go beyond learning in classrooms to learning becoming part of organisational culture.

In education we have ironically lagged some distance behind the commercial world in this area. Although our core business in schools might be learning we have never seriously thought of learning as it applies to the culture of a school. Until recently educators generally had a narrow view of learning, restricting it to something students did in classrooms with the assistance of teachers. Not until the turn of the century did we really start to hear of organisational learning in our sector. And we gave it a different name – the Professional Learning Community.


Learning Organisation (a definition)

A Learning Organisation is one in which people at all levels, individually and collectively, are continually increasing their capacity to produce results they really care about.