Developing a Learning Organization Culture
The current state of the organization is that the educational institution lacks proper integration of processes supporting a learning organization, specifically concerning adult education. Adult education programs are a crucial part of learning not only in the schools themselves, but also within the community as a whole. Career paths are unpredictable because of the rapidly changing environment in addition to the shifting preferences of individuals. Adult learners are currently faced with the challenge of their roles being deemed redundant resulting from the changing job descriptions and disciplines. The learners can only keep up with the changing environment through reskilling and upskilling by enrolling in higher education institutions. The emerging new disciplines require that higher educational institutions become learning organizations to foster an environment of learning inclusive of all stakeholders. Educational institutions that adopt organizational learning and seek to understand the underlying theories gain significant leverage for change and influence and better awareness of changes to implement.
The educational institution is facing the challenge of rapidly changing technological development, which is currently reframing the structure and operations of all organizations across all industries globally. This has also provided an opportunity for individuals currently working in organizations integrating new technologies to reskill and upskill. Hence, the institution has been experiencing an influx of adult learners. However, these learners are unable to learn effectively under the current programs that are tailored for young learners. Also, the integration of economies resulting from globalization and digitization warranty an alteration of curriculums to suit the current industry trends. Higher educational institutions are under immense pressure to tailor their curriculum to prepare their students for the global labor market.
Education is a crucial component of a civilized society as it prepares individuals equipping them with competencies in different disciplines for contribution to the development of the society. Quality education is the single most significant factor contributing to the community’s ability to prosper and provide for their people. An educated society is more productive and innovative. However, educational institutions are also faced with various challenges resulting from the rapidly changing environment. Some of the challenges include increasing the need for life-long learning in a dynamic world, changing preferences and evolving expectations of learners, emerging technologies and business models that deliver better-increasing engagement in online learning, and an increasing integration between disciplines and formation of new fields leading to unpredictable job markets. Hence, the need for higher education institutions to adopt a learning organizational culture. Sustainable communities need viable schools for all their children, and learning opportunities for all their adults. Higher education institutions need to shift from an economistic approach of management focused on traditional formal learning settings, to a more humanistic approach geared towards contributing to sustainable social change. This goal can only be achieved through engagement of outreach activities, targeted research and curriculum adaptation.
Additionally, the institution does not have adult education programs that support life-long learning. Adult education programs differ significantly from the normal curriculum for young learners. Adults require the use of practical ways and methods that educators can utilize to combine theory and actual teaching techniques to ensure individuals gain meaningful learning experiences. Adult learners are more receptive to methods of learning that are problem-centered with immediate application and tailored to their experiences, which shape their identities. Young learners on the other hand are taught in a more instructional way, where they are provided with guidance and information by tutors to develop foundational knowledge. The curriculum of young learners is subject-centered. Tutors use pedagogy teaching approach for young learners and andragogy teaching for adult learners.
The concept of a learning organization implies that organizations view how their actions create the events they experience objectively. This provides an opportunity for organizations to change their reality. Learning organizations adopt a mindset of lifelong learning, in which all individuals within the institution learn continually. Schools become sustainably vital and creative by adopting a learning orientation. This involves involving all individuals within the system in building awareness, expressing their aspirations and developing their capabilities together. A learning organization enables for more effective collaboration between the various stakeholders (parents, teachers, educators, local businesses, administrators, union members, and students) as they recognize the impact of their own actions or their contribution to each other’s future and the community as a whole. The disciplines of a learning organization facilitate for development of leverage for institutions seeking to build better communities and organizations.
Characteristics of a Learning Organization
A learning organization has five characteristics or disciplines, that is, shared vision, systems thinking, team learning, personal mastery, and mental models. The disciplines of organizational learning help develop individual members’ skills and perspective of being more conscious of habits of thought that govern their behavior and shape their prospects. Each of the disciplines must be tailored to suit the specific organization, since they are personal disciplines. Building a shared vision ensures a commitment to the long run. Mental models enable openness to pinpoint shortcomings in present ways of seeing the world. Team learning facilitates development of skills of groups of individuals to gain the perspective of the larger picture that lies beyond individual perspectives. Personal mastery focuses on personal motivation of lifelong learning and how actions affect our world. Systems thinking enables seeing the organization and problems as complex systems of interacting parts rather than separate components.
Personal mastery implies a special level of proficiency realized by continually clarifying and deepening the personal vision, while seeing the reality objectively. Personal mastery fosters and environment for staff and faculty to constantly learn and strive to develop their expertise in adult education thus improving their teaching and the learning outcomes. This characteristic enables learning organizations to realize results that matter most deeply to them by being committed to their own lifelong learning. Hence, institutions can expand their capacity to make better choices and achieve more of the desired results. Success hinges on the growth of individual members within the organization. The discipline of personal mastery begins with clarifying what matters most to us. There needs to be harmony between personal learning and organizational learning. Individuals should also be allowed to air their own thinking that it may be open to the influence of others.
Building a shared vision involves bringing individuals together around a common identity and sense of destiny, focusing on a mutual purpose. A shared vision spurs the creativity of stakeholders within the organization and motivates them to take action. It results in a collective commitment to provide valuable education for adult learners, enhancing engagement. Strategies, principles and guiding practices to achieve the shared vision should be communicated to all stakeholders. Individuals excel and learn in the presence of a genuine vision because they believe in it rather than as a result of being told to do so. Personal visions should be translated to shared visions which stimulate, inspire, and energize individuals within an organization. Building a shared vision involves unraveling shared pictures of the future that provide contentment and enrollment, while maintaining enthusiasm. Dictating a personal vision will lead to compliance and limit the perks of seamless collaboration and enhanced motivation.
Team learning involves combining the intelligence of individuals within the team to form a collective that exceeds the individuals’ intelligence. It is a discipline of group interaction. Collaborative team learning benefits all stakeholders because it aids in designing the adult learning programs and tutors can share strategies and resources to facilitate engaging adult learners. Individuals within the teams develop enhanced capacities for coordinated action. The discipline provides a development path for acquiring certain skills and competencies. The individuals need to be able to think together through dialogue and skillful discussion. Teams rather than individuals are the fundamental learning unit in modern organizations. Team learning can be fostered inside classrooms between adult learners and tutors and between peer groups of the adult learners. The adoption of this characteristic implies that the individuals become lifelong learners.
Mental models discipline involves honing reflection and inquiry skills focused on developing awareness of attitudes and perceptions of the individual and others within the organization. Adult educators should constantly challenge and update their mental models because of the complexities of the field and the different nature of adult learning compared to young learning programs. Also, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in education. The discipline enables the individual to gain more clarity; hence, they can define the current situation honestly and objectively. Mental models enable individuals within learning educational institutions to develop the capability to talk safely and productively on sensitive and discomfiting subjects.
Systems thinking implies that all individual parts are interconnected and the system can only be understood in its entirety by contemplating the whole, since each has an influence that is hidden from view on the rest. Tutors are able to understand the broader context of adult learning programs and adjust their teaching approaches based on relevance to the situation and response of the adult learners to course concepts. Also, the use of stock and flow diagrams, system archetypes, and learning simulations facilitate adult learners’ deeper understanding of the subjects they are taking. Adopting systems thinking enables the view of full pattern rather than a focus on snapshots of isolated patterns of the system, thus providing the ability to see how to change patterns effectively. Systems thinking ensures the disciplines are coordinated, fusing them into a coherent body of theory and practice. Systems thinking enables for success because organizations are able to tackle complex problems by identifying where the highest leverage lies and making improvements. Small subtle strategic changes can significantly improve human systems, such as schools.
Figure 1: Senge’s five disciplines of a learning organization.
Adoption of a learning organizational culture provides numerous benefits to both the institutions and individuals within. For instance, facilitating for the process of knowledge accumulation and transfer due to developing learning infrastructure, developing the institution’s proactive and anticipatory behavior, enriching the lives of employees resulting from exposure to multiple points of views and ideas due to collaboration, and developing a commitment to lifelong learning for both the individuals and organization as a whole. Individuals whose lives are improved subscribe to the learning organizational culture because of belief in the shared vision.
Higher educational institutions are under significant pressure to adapt to the rapidly changing global labor market. The dean of the faculties need to collaborate with the tutors in developing and deciding how to structure the program. The tutors can communicate directly with the adult learners and get their input on how to structure the programs. Change management involves strategies to help employees accept new organizational developments. The change agent’s role is to select strategies or models that increase acceptance and reduce change resistance.
Figure 2: University organizational hierarchy.
However, implementing the disciplines of a learning organization effectively reduces resistance to change. For instance, employees who feel that the change is beneficial to the organization are more likely to be committed to its implementation (change appropriateness). A shared vision involves not only translating personal to shared visions, but also communicating strategies to arrive at the desired destination. All stakeholders must be informed of the change decisions and be involved in the change management process for their input, and to minimize resistance.
Strategies for Enhancing Adult Education Praxis
Adult learners are defined by the key characteristic of their participation in multiple roles and responsibilities, such as a part-time student, caretaker and worker. Moreover, adults have different kinds of experiences, which are organized differently. The adults’ experiences in addition to defining who they are, is a rich source for learning. Also, adult development differs from young learners in that their development has to do with social roles rather than physical and cognitive development. Hence, adults’ learning needs differ significantly from young learners’.
Tutors should create different curriculums for adult learners because of their distinction from young learners. Adults are problem-centered rather than subject-centered and desire immediate application of knowledge learned. Leveraging the life experiences of adult learners as a rich source for learning. Tutors can capitalize on their students’ experiences to show the practicality of the course concepts, structuring the course content in a way that facilitates application to real life scenarios. For instance, providing case studies or assignments that are relevant to the current environment trends. Adult learners are more motivated to learn when they are able to apply the course concepts to solve problems. Additionally, learning something that complements their experiences reduces resistance to learning new and unfamiliar concepts. Problem-centered learning is preferred by adults because it is engaging, leads to immediate application, and solidifies the learning.
Adoption of technologies provide flexibility to adult learners, enabling them to learn at their own pace. Adults are engaged in multiple roles of worker, spouse, parent, and community member; as opposed to the main role of young learners as primarily students. Tutors need to be trained on how to leverage the technologies to provide a learning environment that promotes engaged learning. The curriculum of adult education programs should be planned around their need for learning resulting from the social roles of adulthood. The social role of workers predominates adults’ reason to engage in formal learning activities. Hence, creating readiness for learning is possible through instructional techniques that are experiential, since adult learners are interested in immediate application.
Leveraging self-directed learning facilitates adults learning at their own pace. Adult learners have a self-concept of being independent and self-directing. Adult learners are more receptive to self-directed learning rather than instruction-based lessons. Adults have a deep psychological need to be perceived by others as capable of taking responsibility for themselves and their own growth, and imposing will without their participation leads to resistance and resentment. Adult learners must be involved in what they learn and how they learn something. Tutors need to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust to facilitate collaboration. Also, the environment should be comfortable and adult-oriented.
Figure 3: Summary of Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory
Proposed Approach for Cultivating a Learning Culture within the Organization
As explored in the previous section, organizational learning refers to the process through which an entire organization collectively acquires, creates, shares, and applies knowledge to enhance its performance, adapt to changes, and achieve its goals. It involves creating a culture that values learning, encourages the sharing of insights, and continuously improves processes and strategies based on acquired knowledge.
While this has been studied and theorized extensively, creating processes within an organization that promote learning is easier said than done. Not only does an organization have to take into account their field of operation, goals and their current level of knowledge but also the individual differences within their workforce. It is important for an organization, therefore, to take all these factors into account before taking measures that improve their organizational learning.
This section will explore a tailored approach to improving organizational learning within the school, taking into account the unique nature and its goals and vision. This paper proposes a three pronged approach which targets the employees/students, management and processes. In order to implement the strategies into these key areas we will combine Knowles’ theory of andragogy and the theories of organizational culture with the characteristics of a learning organization into the context of our organization.
Implementation of Strategic Processes that Support Learning:
Integrating Learning Organization Characteristics
Learning organization characteristics, as previously explored, refer to the essential traits and features that define an organization’s commitment to continuous learning, adaptation, and improvement. These characteristics create an environment where learning is not just an individual activity but a collective effort that contributes to the organization’s overall growth, innovation, and success. Some of the characteristics of a learning organization that will be heavily incorporated into the solution will include a shared vision, team learning and personal mastery. These three aspects will allow the school to empower its students/workforce in determining what they know, what they need to know, how they can acquire this knowledge and why they need to continuously grow in their knowledge and abilities. The learning organization characteristics provide the framework for the vision. That is, it represents how the organization, once a learning culture is created, will look like and function. However, this does not provide the framework for implementation. In order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the learning culture to be created, the school needs to take into account how to implement this culture. This is where Knowles’ Adult Education Praxis comes in.
Integrating Adult Education Principles
Andragogy serves as a foundational framework for the effective implementation of a learning organization culture aimed at nurturing the characteristics inherent to such organizations. By emphasizing the principles of adult learning, Andragogy recognizes the autonomy, self-direction, and life experiences of learners – essential traits for fostering a culture of continuous learning within an organization. Through personalized learning pathways, experiential learning projects, and collaborative learning circles rooted in Andragogy, employees and management alike are empowered to take ownership of their learning journeys, applying prior experiences and contributing diverse perspectives. This alignment enables the development of learning organization characteristics, including open communication, adaptability, innovation, and knowledge sharing. As a result, Andragogy provides the guiding principles that enable an organization to cultivate a learning culture.
In order to improve the status of the leaders within a field and improve efficiency and effectiveness, it is important for an organization to continuously develop its capabilities as a whole. However, organizational learning stems from individual learning which is guided by the principles of Andragogy, studied and promoted by Knowles.
Intergrating Appropriate Organizational Culture
Westrum [footnoteRef:1]studied organizational culture and how culture impacts the flow of information, learning, within an organization. He concluded that: [1: Westrum, R. A. (2004). A typology of organisational cultures. BMJ Quality & Safety, 13, ii22-ii27.]
· 1. Cultures could be classified into three types: pathological, bureaucratic, and generative.
· 2. The most important and noticeable feature of organizational culture is how new information spreads within it.
· 3. Cultures that adeptly embraced and reacted to new information showed significantly better performance than those that faced challenges in doing so.
How members of an organization learn is deeply influenced by the existing culture within the organization. It is therefore important to conduct an assessment and ensure the existing overarching culture promotes the seeking and dissemination of information within the organization. There are three organization cultures, as studied by Westrum, summarized below:
Figure 4: Summary of the types of cultures within an organization
Pathological cultures are marked by mistrust, fear, and dysfunction, hindering collaboration and innovation through blame-shifting and self-interest. Generative cultures prioritize cooperation, experimentation, tolerating failure and learning, fostering an environment where diverse perspectives are valued, and change is embraced. In contrast, bureaucratic cultures rely on rigid processes and hierarchy, limiting responsibilities potentially stifling innovation and slowing the implementation of learning initiatives due to excessive rules and centralization.
Incorporating a generative organizational culture, in contrast to pathological and bureaucratic cultures, is paramount when implementing a learning culture within an organization. A generative culture fosters innovation, adaptability, and collaboration, creating an environment that values new ideas and embraces change. This is essential for learning to thrive, as it encourages employees to experiment, share insights, and collectively drive improvement. In contrast, pathological and bureaucratic cultures hinder learning by stifling creativity, discouraging risk-taking, and favoring rigid hierarchies. A generative culture empowers both employees and management to be proactive in seeking new knowledge, sharing experiences, and collectively evolving the organization. By promoting open communication, experimentation, and a growth mindset, a generative culture not only supports the implementation of learning initiatives but also amplifies their impact, enabling the organization to navigate challenges, seize opportunities, and continuously advance.
Aligning the Generative Approach, Adult Learning Praxis and Learning Organization Characteristics
Taking all of the above into account the implementation of the following strategies in the school environment could create meaningful change within the learning organization culture:
1. Embracing the Generative Approach to instill a culture of innovation and forward thinking: By developing a compelling vision that underlines the importance of perceptual learning and growth for both students and faculty, fosters an environment of limitless possibilities. Bearing fixed institutional visions hinders adaptability which reduces the school’s responsiveness to evolving educational needs. However, by taking on a generative approach an agile institution that thrives on anticipating and meeting the dynamic demands of education is fostered.
2. Creating personalized Learning Pathways for both faculty (management and workforce) and students: The uptake of a uniform curriculum without catering to individual learning preferences leads to uneven engagement and disinterest among students and faculty. However, by applying adult learning praxis by offering personalized learning pathways a motivated academic community is fostered where learning is tailored to individual strengths and aspirations. This approach acknowledges that learners have diverse backgrounds, learning styles, and aspirations, and aims to provide a more relevant and engaging learning journey. This could be achieved by determining the different learning styles within your workforce, taking time to set learning goals and thereby creating a suitable learning plan. In order to implement this, managers will have to be empowered to have personalized discussions with employees about their learning needs and goals. This might also include them supporting employees in creating individualized learning plans that align with both personal and organizational objectives. Concerning the last facet, processes, technology that allows for self-paced learning will allow employees to access resources and modules at their convenience whereas developing a system to track individual progress and achievements, could aid in promoting a sense of ownership over learning journeys.
3. Provision of Experiential Learning Projects: By providing cross-functional projects that require employees to collaborate, problem-solving the workforce is able to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world challenges which is one of the principles of Andragogy. They are hence equipped with the skills and insights needed to excel in real scenarios even within the organization. Thereafter, faculty/students could be encouraged to reflect on their experiences and extract insights to share with their peers. In order to integrate these practices as part of the organization’s culture, a mechanism for capturing best practices and innovative solutions that arise from experiential learning could be established by the management team. Such projects could be further enhanced by including the management team. Embodying the Generative Approach in leadership by cultivating a culture that values continuous learning no matter the level. For instance, leaders could set an example by participating in learning activities alongside our students and faculty.
4. Creating Collaborative Learning Circles: Although one of the key principles of Knowles’ assumptions of Adult Learning Praxis includes self-direction, aligning with the Generative Approach by creating collaborative environments that facilitate idea-sharing and problem-solving could prove useful. Self-direction promotes individual learning, however, to move information throughout an organization, the creation of collaborative learning circles could prove more useful. As previously established, the organizational learning culture is determined through the movement of knowledge throughout an organization as opposed to within the individual. By establishing physical and virtual spaces that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and discussion among students and faculty employees can discuss topics of interest and share insights which could in turn encourage peer mentoring and knowledge-sharing sessions within these circles. The organization could then establish a platform where employees can share resources, articles, and discussions related to their learning circle topics.
Personalized Learning Pathways
– Self-assessment tools for preferences and strengths
– Goal setting based on roles and aspirations
– Diverse learning resource formats
– Personalized discussions on learning needs
– Support for individualized learning plans
Tech integration for self-paced learning
– Progress tracking system
Experiential Learning Projects
– Cross-functional projects for collaboration and application
– Reflection on experiences and insights
– Support for interdisciplinary teams
– Allocating time for experiential learning
– Regular debrief sessions for learning from projects
– Capturing best practices and innovations
Collaborative Learning Circles
– Cross-functional learning circles for discussions and sharing
– Peer mentoring sessions
– Support for employee-led circles
– Recognition for contributions
– Feedback mechanisms for content refinement
– Dedicated platform for resource sharing
Table 1: Strategies for implementation of a learning organization culture
By implementing these strategies within a generative culture, the organization can harness the principles of Andragogy to create a dynamic and engaging learning environment. These strategies honor employees’ autonomy, leverage their prior experiences, and promote active participation, aligning with the adult learning principles advocated by Knowles.
Advantages of Implementing the Proposed Solution
In a rapidly changing organizational environment, further fastened by both globalization and advancements in technology, implementing a learning culture is not only beneficial but necessary. Organizations that do not constantly evolve and innovate will not only lag behind but eventually become redundant and extinct. Implementing learning organization characteristics involves adopting strategies and practices that foster a culture of learning and enable the organization to thrive in dynamic and evolving contexts. A learning organization fosters the personal and professional growth of individuals and teams. It cultivates a culture of collective learning within the organization, resulting in improved individual and overall organizational performance [footnoteRef:2]. Additionally, it improves the morale and motivation of the workforce and students in the school owing to the championing of self-directed learning. [2: Alonazi, W. B. (2017). Exploring shared risks through public-private partnerships in public health programs: a mixed method. BMC Public Health, 17(1), 571. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4489-z]
A learning organization culture has been demonstrated to impact the progress and advancement of an organization. Studies have shown that implementing a learning culture has a positive impact on an organization’s performance fiscally[footnoteRef:3]. [3: Hussein, N., Omar, S., Noordin, F., & Ishak, N. A. (2015). Learning Organization Culture, Organizational Performance and Organizational Innovativeness in a Public Institution of Higher Education in Malaysia: A Preliminary Study. Procedia Economics and Finance, 37, 512-519. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2212-5671(16)30159-9]
Another advantage of this solution is its cost-effective nature. By utilizing internal expertise, such as encouraging peer-to-peer learning through workshops and presentations, organizations tap into existing knowledge pools while fostering a culture of learning. Additionally, leveraging technology through free or low-cost digital tools for e-learning and virtual training enables self-paced learning, granting employees access to resources conveniently without significant financial outlay. Cross-training initiatives further enhance skills and knowledge diversification, promoting continuous learning without imposing additional expenses.
Lastly, by embracing adult learning praxis learners are empowered to take active control of their educational journey. This approach fosters intrinsic motivation, engagement, and a deeper understanding of subject matter, ultimately leading to enhanced knowledge retention and application. Moreover, by aligning educational methods with real-life contexts, adult learning praxis cultivates practical skills and critical thinking abilities that are directly applicable to learners’ personal and professional lives, ensuring a comprehensive and meaningful learning experience.
The integration of adult learning praxis with organizational culture to implement the principles of a learning organization emerges as a pivotal strategy. This approach capitalizes on the principles of self-directed learning and individual relevance, aligning seamlessly with the academic environment. By adopting adult learning praxis, we acknowledge the unique needs and experiences of both students and faculty, empowering them to take ownership of their educational journey. This transformational shift to a culture of continuous learning holds immense importance, as it fosters an engaged and motivated academic community. Students become active participants in their education, identifying their learning goals and leveraging their experiences for enhanced comprehension and application. Similarly, faculty members are empowered to tailor their teaching practices, incorporating real-world experiences that resonate with learners. As a result, this incorporation of adult learning praxis within our learning organization culture not only enriches the educational experience but also equips students and faculty with lifelong skills, critical thinking abilities, and adaptability – all indispensable attributes for success in our rapidly evolving world.
Footnote to Course Instructor (Identifying decision makers)
The key decision makers are the dean of departments in the institutions. The discussion of the issue is structured to highlight the significance of adult educational programs within a learning organization in light of the rapidly changing environment. The paper discusses how adult learners differ significantly from young learners in various areas, including their roles, experiences, motivations, and development stages; which alters the way they learn effectively. The paper also pinpoints the advantages adoption of a learning organization culture provides a higher education learning institution.
Alonazi, W.B. Exploring shared risks through public-private partnerships in public health programs: a mixed method. BMC Public Health 17, 571 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4489-z
Hussein, N., Omar, S., Noordin, F., & Ishak, N. A. (2015). Learning Organization Culture, Organizational Performance and Organizational Innovativeness in a Public Institution of Higher Education in Malaysia: A Preliminary Study. Procedia Economics and Finance, 37, 512-519. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2212-5671(16)30159-9
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