How to transform schools into learning organisations?

by Andreas Schleicher
Director, OECD Directorate for Education and Skills

Schools nowadays are required to learn faster than ever before in order to deal effectively with the growing pressures of a rapidly changing environment. Many schools however, look much the same today as they did a generation ago, and too many teachers are not developing the pedagogies and practices required to meet the diverse needs of 21st-century learners.

In response, a growing body of scholars, educators and policy makers around the world is making the case that schools should be re-conceptualised as “learning organisations” that can react more quickly to changing external environments, embrace innovations in internal organisation, and ultimately improve student outcomes. Despite strong support for and the intuitive appeal of the school as a learning organisation, relatively little progress has been made in advancing the concept, either in research or practice. This lack of progress partly stems from a lack of clarity or common understanding of the school as learning organisation.

The OECD-UNICEF Education Working Paper, “What makes a school a learning organisation?” should be seen as a first step towards building a shared understanding of the concept that is solidly founded in the literature and is recognisable to all parties involved, i.e. scholars, educators, policy makers, students and parents.

Based on an in-depth analysis of the literature and informed by a small network of experts, the paper identifies and operationalises an integrated model that consists  of seven over-arching ‘action-oriented’ dimensions which show how to transform schools into learning organisations:

  1. Developing and sharing a vision centred on the learning of all students.
  2. Creating and supporting continuous learning opportunities for all staff.
  3. Promoting team learning and collaboration among all staff.
  4. Establishing a culture of inquiry, innovation and exploration.
  5. Embedding systems for collecting and exchanging knowledge and learning.
  6. Learning with and from the external environment and larger learning system.
  7. Modelling and growing learning leadership.

    In short, a school as learning organisation has the capacity to change and adapt routinely to new environments and circumstances as its members, individually and together, learn their way to realising their vision.

    A set of themes flows through all seven dimensions: the four Ts: trust, time, technology and thinking together. Although some of these themes may seem more pertinent to one action than to another, all four have an impact on the whole. For example, trust underpins the kind of relationships needed internally and externally for learning organisations to thrive; and all aspects of school development require the provision of time.

    The OECD Directorate for Education and Skills aims to help countries transform its schools into learning organisations by gathering evidence from a wide range of countries on how to develop schools into learning organisations. The school as learning organisation model’s dimensions and its underlying characteristics, referred to as “elements”, form the starting point for the development of an instrument to (self-) assess the school as learning organisation. The SLO model and assessment instrument under development are intended to provide practical guidance to policy makers, school staff and other stakeholders that wish to develop theirs schools into learning organisations.

    As also noted in the Guide for policy makers, school leaders and teachers further guidance and support will be provided to schools and local and system-level stakeholders for catalysing the desired change and innovation, and developing professional learning cultures across their school systems. Through this work the OECD intends to further explore the policies and capacities needed at other levels of the education system to help schools blossom and thrive as learning organisations – and ultimately equip students with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed in an uncertain, constantly changing tomorrow.

    Kools, M and L. Stoll (2016), “What makes a school a learning organisation?”, OECD Education Working Paper, No 137, OECD Publishing, Paris.
    What makes a school a learning organisation? Guide for policy makers, school leaders and teachers
    Figure source © OECD

    Leave a Reply