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The school as a learning organisation: a review revisiting and extending a timely concept

Stoll, L; Kools, M; (2017) The school as a learning organisation: a review revisiting and extending a timely concept. Journal of Professional Capital and Community , 2 (1) pp. 2-17. 10.1108/JPCC-09-2016-0022. Green open access

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Purpose: Schools today have to prepare students for life and work in a fast-changing world, for jobs and for using technologies some of which have not yet been created. But the schools and school systems are not keeping up and all too often, teachers are not developing the practices and skills required to meet today’s learners’ diverse needs. Changes indicate a greater imperative but also some cautions. This review is part of the attempt to work towards a common understanding of schools as learning organisations (SLOs) today which is both solidly founded in the literature and recognisable currently by researchers, practitioners and policy makers in many countries. But this is not just a theoretical exercise. If it is to be truly relevant and have the necessary impact, the concept also needs to support those who are interested in transforming or further developing their school(s) into learning organisations (LO) at this point in time. In this paper, the authors first summarise different perspectives on the concept of the LO as used more generally across disciplines. Next, the authors describe the methodology for exploring the SLO and discuss definitional issues, before presenting a summary of the integrated model with accompanying rationale, Finally the authors discuss plans to bring the model to life, with associated issues for researchers, educators and policy makers. The paper aims to discuss these issues. / Design/methodology/approach: The search for this literature in the English language was carried out through: focussed searches of nine electronic databases – ERIC, SAGE, Google Scholar, Taylor & Francis, Emerald, JSTOR, SpringerLink, Google, Science Direct – using the search terms “SLO” and “learning school”; and contacts with leading experts in this area of work which led to identification of additional literature. The first approach led to selection of 25 most frequently found publications on the SLO and/or learning school. Through the second approach, the authors used an additional seven publications to further enrich the analysis. The interdisciplinary review was extended to include investigation of related organisational change, learning, school improvement and effectiveness literatures. / Findings: The starting hypothesis is that the seven action-oriented dimensions of the model together add up to a sustainable LO; that is, successfully realising all seven dimensions is greater than the sum of the parts. But, it is not clear how the individual dimensions relate to each other, and whether some are more important than others. Elements within dimensions are also likely to vary across country contexts. Over the next few years the authors will explore and amend the model, together with practitioners, policy makers and researchers from around the globe. / Practical implications: Despite differences in interpretation, common features emerge. First, there is general agreement that the SLO is a necessity for dealing with the rapidly changing external environment by any school organisation, regardless of context. This is exemplified by application of the concept in many countries including, for example, Australia, Canada, England and Wales, Iran, Israel, Korea, Malaysia, South-Africa and the USA. Second, the SLO is defined as “organic” and closely connected to its external environment. Third, the SLO literature strongly emphasises the importance of individual, group and organisational learning with inquiry, problem solving and experimentation as key drivers of change and innovation. Last, the literature highlights the importance of beliefs, values and norms of employees for continuous and collaborative learning, and processes, strategies and structures to create the conditions for such learning, experimentation and innovation to flourish. The review led to the design of a new action-oriented model. In its current form, the model is intended to offer a stimulus and provide practical guidance on how schools might support and use learning at all levels to improve and transform themselves into a LO and ultimately enhance outcomes. The language is deliberately action-oriented, and elements highlight both what a school aspires to and the processes it goes through in its journey of developing itself as a LO. / Originality/value: While the concept of a school LO is not new, at a time of constant and complex change, this multi-disciplinary international literature review has given it a new lease of life: drawing on previous studies, but connecting these to a wider relevant knowledge base and the current context. It offers a way forward while arguing that deeper understanding is needed on how schools can develop as LOs. It is now informing the OECD’s work on SLOs with policy makers and practitioners in different countries and the findings are being used to help assess impact at a range of levels.

Type: Article
Title: The school as a learning organisation: a review revisiting and extending a timely concept
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1108/JPCC-09-2016-0022
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/JPCC-09-2016-0022
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Keywords: Human capital, Professional learning community, Knowledge mobilization, Professional community
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Learning and Leadership
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1529866
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