Schools as Learning Organizations. Lessons learned from Business.

By Carlos Trullén Calvo - Presenter at the ICOT 2015 - Abstract related to his coming conference.

Society and economy present nowadays a high level of dynamism, which is demanding from organizations a continuous adaptation to the environment. This fact has led to an increasing interest on the topic of how teams learn and how this knowledge is distributed to the organization as a whole. So, knowledge has become the most important asset for people, organizations and society in general.

Schools are living today a turbulent time because of the changing educative paradigm. The focus of interest has turn from teaching into learning. The R&D (Research and Development), knowledge and innovation triangle is pushing schools to adopt new pedagogical methods. The pressure on old teachers about modifying their traditional way of procedure is huge, while policy makers are changing the teacher training curricula.


Within this educative environment, schools have some lessons to learn from businesses about how to change their learning culture at all levels: principals, teachers, pupils and parents. About 30 years of scientific social research about organizational learning at business companies has made available for us a great variety of tools in order to make our traditional schools into 'learning organizations', understood as those organised in such a way that innovation, flexibility and continuous improvement can be accomplished.

Only a common effort, shared by policy makers, principals and teachers, can achieve the goal of adapting our obsolete schools to the needs of the 21st Century, where the four C´s (Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration) together with the European 8 Key Competences for Lifelong Learning must be deployed upon our young pupils in order to build a better world for all of us.

However valuable, the heritage of the research developed on business companies is not enough to fully understand and control the complexity of a school, which main function, educate people, is rather different from the goal of a business. More research, with a more holistic approach, is needed. Schools can be conceived as systems with a high degree of complexity, in terms of the mutual influence among its elements. The sciences of complexity in general, and particularly the Cybernetics, provide us with the epistemic foundations and the methods needed to get a comprehensive knowledge about the structure and dynamics of schools, and efforts must be done in this direction.

Another lesson to be learnt from the world of business is not scientific but economic. In most countries teacher career is not well considered and therefore is not well paid. Teachers obtain the same salary whatever their efforts and results are, with no rewards or professional development at sight. As The Economist, the English weekly newspaper, states in its February 14th issue: "...too often schools systems are designed to attract mediocre timeservers". Some countries as Finland or South Korea have different systems where teachers are considered to be the most prepared. Their outstanding outcomes in the standardized international tests have shown us how important is the figure of the teacher. In words of the famous McKinsey Report on Education: "The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers".

Therefore, the education of our young people is important enough to deserves deep attention from political, scientific and economic perspectives, that is, a systemic and holistic approach is needed in order to fully understand the structure, function and dynamics of schools. In doing so, we will be able to apply conveniently some of the lessons learned from the business world about how to create learning organizations; although, of course, the most important lessons are still to be discovered.

Copyright - Icot 2015