Byron's Babbles

Putting Learning Organization Theory into Practice

Posted in Education, Leadership, Learning Organization by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on September 30, 2011

Even though there is still much work to be done in promoting, developing, and sustaining a learning organization process; I believe in my own school’s situation we have made much progress toward developing a culture and process of a learning organization. It is important to note that through my research of both educational resources and those outside the educational field it is clear that the learning organization cannot be viewed as a “thing” or “fix” and must be internalized as a “process,” “strategy,” or “behavior”. Even as early as 1996, Robert Evans realized this when he wrote the following in The Human Side of School Change:

Most see change largely as a rational redesign of the school’s

goals, roles, and rules. They treat it as a product and, concentrating

on its structural frame, overlook its human dimensions (Evans, 1996, p. xii).

As Department Head of our Agriculture Department and member our Tiger Leadership Team (TLT – a team put together to lead our school toward becoming a learning organization), I have seen first hand the benefits of this process.

How Educational and Business Models and Literature Complement Each Other

Realizing, that my research has landed on both business and education references and models, it must be noted that the work in both entities compliment each other. There are many parallels, most important of which are the collaborative efforts to devise innovative ways of doing things and best practices.  In Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work (2000), David Garvin describes how the process needs to happen both in education and business: “if an entity does not purposefully modify its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights, it does not qualify as a learning organization” (Garvin, 2000, p. 26).

Additionally, what might appear to be differences between the business and educational world turn out to be similarities.  For example, one of the industry worker’s resistances to the learning organization is that of the question of “Will it make us money”? This compares to educational opponents to the learning organization asking, “Will it improve test scores”?

This is discussed in Steady Work: Policy, Practice, and the Reform of American Education. In this work Elmore and McLaughlin discuss how teacher’s openness to changes in practice turns heavily on service to students or the transmission of knowledge within a discipline (Elmore and McLaughlin, 1988, p. 43).  Again, I go back to my earlier criticism of looking at “plans” or “things” for bringing about a true learning organization.  True student achievement does not happen because “the reform consists of pressuring teachers to change by modifying requirements or incentives” (Evans, 1996, p. 81).

Because of requirements and incentives, teachers tend not to look introspectively at themselves, but to “seek external changes (that is, changes external to themselves) that will help them to do better what they have traditionally been trying to do” (Evans, 1996, p. 81). Traditionally these external changes have included, but are certainly not limited to, things like smaller teacher/student ratios, bigger classroom budgets, more planning time, and more parental involvement. Then, because these external changes do not work; school administrators, state agencies, and even federal agencies come up with new “things” to “make” educators better. These “things” (requirements and incentives) have included recertification programs, certificate credits, standardized assessment testing, and the list goes on, and on.

Both education and business/industry have been run in a command and control environment for so long it is tough to switch to an environment of trust, openness, collaboration, inquiry, or dissent (learning organization). Lebanon High School has instilled learning organization behaviors to develop an environment of high student achievement.


Elmore, R.F., and McLaughlin, M. (1988) Steady Work: Policy, Practice, and the Reform of American Education. Santa Monica: RAND Corp.

Evans, R. (1996). The Human Side of School Change: Reform, Resistance, and the Real-Life Problems of Innovation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Garvin, D. A. (2000). Learning in Action: A Guide to Putting the Learning Organization to Work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

2 Responses

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  1. Kevin Eikenberry said, on September 30, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Good stuff In the end is is about “changing they way we do things around here”, about creating new stories that describe the organization. . . Creating a learning organization is about creating a culture.

    Thanks my friend.

    Kevin 🙂


  2. Isaiah 1:18 « Byron's Babbles said, on October 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    […] as I would call it. I have written about collaboration in previous posts such as Putting Learning Organization Theory into Practice andPelican Leadership […]


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