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Educational Institutions as Learning Organizations

Special issue call for papers from The Learning Organization

Educational Institutions as Learning Organizations

Special issue call for papers from The Learning Organization

Guest Editors:
Laurie Field
Faculty of Human Sciences
Macquarie University, Sydney Australia
[email protected]

Shih-wei Hsu
Nottingham University Business School China
The University of Nottingham Ningbo China
[email protected]

The topic of ‘educational institutions as learning organizations’ has attracted considerable interest amongst educational leaders and scholars. In the school sector, some governments (e.g. Dutch, Norwegian), together with agencies such as the OECD (What makes a school a learning organization? 2016) and the Australian Council for Educational Research (Schools as Learning Organisations, 2016), have strongly endorsed moving toward the organizational learning ideal. In addition, there have been related moves by a range of other organizations (e.g. the US National Staff Development Council’s championing of ‘learning schools’; the Singapore government’s ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation’ policy; the Welsh government’s aspiration to create comprehensive education and lifelong learning programmes that support a ‘learning country’). Resonant with initiatives like these, the educational change literature contains a variety of accounts of the benefits of schools becoming more like learning organizations (e.g. Wohlstetter et al., 1997; Silins and Mulford, 2002; Bowen et al., 2007; Schechter and Feldman, 2010).

However, despite attention to ‘educational institutions as learning organizations’ over more than two decades, there are still significant shortfalls in the literature, such as:
•    the poor quality of much of the scholarship, including the tendency to make sweeping, unsubstantiated claims and to base commentary on Senge’s The Fifth Discipline (1990), a book so vaguely written that anyone citing it can ‘get away with almost anything’ (Örtenblad, 2007, p. 108)
•    the lack of agreement about what the term ‘learning organization’ means in the context of educational institutions
•    related to the last, the diverse range of questionnaire items included in scales that purport to assess organizational learning in educational institutions, based on a wide array of characteristics claimed to be associated with educational institutions described as learning organizations (compare, for example, Bowen et al., 2007; Higgins et al., 2012; Holyoke et al., 2012)
•    the paucity of attempts to consider differences in sector, culture and socio-economic context which may influence the extent to which the notion of learning organization applies and the forms it optimally takes in educational settings
•    the failure to adequately map the types of learning included in (or excluded from) glowing accounts of ‘learning organisation’ schools and universities—for example, a tendency to make questionable assumptions about the content of learning in learning organizations (e.g. that learning, if shared, is likely to contribute to outcomes sought by the organization; that what is learnt is apolitical and uncontested) as well as about learning processes (e.g. that the sharing of learning with others whose interests differ is unproblematic; that organizational members’ learning is valued by others)
•    the scarcity of investigations that probe beneath the OL rhetoric and, in the way that Collinson (2010) and Thursfield (2008) do, examine in detail the contested, multi-agenda realities of learning associated with educational organizations
•    the absence of detailed accounts of organizational learning processes, if any, in early childhood settings
•    a tendency to dichotomize learning in educational institutions into ‘individual’ and ‘organizational’, with far less attention to learning by groups within and external to the organization, bound by such things as common interests and/or status.

The aim of the Special Issue is to address shortfalls like these in a way that is both critical and clear, in the process steering a middle-course between the extremes Driver (2002) refers to as ‘Foucauldian gloom vs. Utopian sunshine’. As well as being conceptually clarifying, it is hoped that the special issue will be of assistance to the leaders and staff of education institutions, by clarifying such things as:
•    the extent to which the LO concept is applicable to educational institutions operating in particular sectors, cultures and socio-economic contexts
•    whether educational leaders should focus on improving organizational learning and, if so, how
•    the processes by which potentially contributive learning—that is, learning which has the potential to benefit the whole organization—is shared, retained and applied in educational institutions
•    the types of human and technical systems—e.g. rewards and performance review approaches, skills enhancement opportunities, hardware and software—that have been shown to improve organizational learning in educational institutions
•    the processes by which ‘individual’ learning becomes ‘organizational’ in an educational setting, and the impacts of this occurring
•    the meaning of the terms ‘learning organization’ and ‘organizational learning’, taking into account the unique aspects of educational institutions (e.g. the mix of prescription and autonomy that characterises the work of many teachers and academics; the influence of stakeholder groups; the fact that, in higher education institutions, there may be considerable overlap between academic’s professional expertise and learning and organizational operations; the different assumptions underpinning shared learning in different national cultures)
•    the merits of different approaches to assessing the extent to which educational institutions in various sectors function as learning organizations
•    the educational sectors and circumstances in which organizational learning is / is not a useful concept
•    the extent to which (as investigators like Millward and Timperley (2010) have claimed) schools that function as learning organizations achieve better student outcomes.


Full papers should be submitted by 18 Febuary 2019.
The publication is scheduled for the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020.

Author Guidelines

All submitted papers should follow TLO’s author guidelines:

About the special issue editor

Dr Laurie Field is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) and a long-standing member of the Editorial Board of The Learning Organization. For 20 years, he ran a consultancy, Field Learning P/L, dealing with workplace / organizational learning, and his PhD (Macquarie Graduate School of Management) looked at organizational learning during pay and performance management change. He has written widely about shared / organizational learning over several decades, beginning with a paper published in 1993 and another (in TLO) in 1997 and an early popular text (Managing Organisational Learning: From Rhetoric to Reality, 1995, Longman), and extending to a 2017 paper (on interests and organizational learning). During the last five years, Dr Field has written or co-authored papers about shared / organizational learning in each of the main educational sectors—early childhood, schools and higher education.

References Cited

Anon., (2016), “What makes a school a learning organization?”, OECD, Paris. Available from [Accessed 5 December 2017].
Bowen, G.L., Ware, W.B., Rose, R.A. and Powers, J.D. (2007), “Assessing the functioning of schools as learning organizations”, Children & Schools, Vol. 29 No. 4, pp. 199-208.
Collinson, V. (2010), “To learn or not to learn: A potential organizational learning gap among school systems?”, Leadership and Policy in Schools, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 190-219.
Driver, M. (2002), “The learning organization: Foucauldian gloom or utopian sunshine?”, Human Relations, Vol. 55 No. 1, pp. 33-53.
Field, L. (2017), “Interest differences and organizational learning”, Administrative Sciences, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 1-14.
Higgins, M., Ishimaru, A., Holcombe, R. and Fowler, A. (2012), “Examining organizational learning in schools: The role of psychological safety, experimentation, and leadership that reinforces learning”, Journal of Educational Change, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 67-94.
Holyoke, L.B., Sturko, P.A., Wood, N.B. and Wu, L.J. (2012), “Are academic departments perceived as learning organizations?”, Educational Management, Administration & Leadership, Vol. 40 No. 4, pp. 436-448.
Millward, P. and Timperley, H. (2010), “Organizational learning facilitated by instructional leadership, tight coupling and boundary spanning practices”, Journal of Educational Change, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 139-155.
Örtenblad, A. (2007), “Senge’s many faces: Problem or opportunity?”, The Learning Organization, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 108-122.
Schechter, C. and Feldman, N. (2010), “Exploring organizational learning mechanisms in special education”, Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 48 No. 4, pp. 490-516.
Senge, P. (1990), The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Doubleday, New York, NY.
Silins, H. and Mulford, B. (2002), “Schools as learning organisations: The case for system, teacher and student learning”, Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 40 No. 5, pp. 425-446.
Thursfield D. (2008), “Managers’ learning in a UK local authority: The political context of an in-house MBA”, Management Learning, Vol. 39 No. 3, pp. 295-309.
Wohlstetter, P., Van Kirk, A.N., Robertson, P.J. and Mohrman, S.A. (1997), “Organizing for successful school-based management” (ERIC document ED413655), Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA.