Organizational Learning in Schools, School Systems, and Higher Education Institutions

There is widespread interest in the notion that schools (including colleges and universities) and education systems should develop and use evidence to improve their effectiveness over time.The aim is that educational organizations will not only draw on scientific evidence developed from outside their walls but also strengthen their capacity to learn from their own experience about how to be increasingly effective.

Sustained improvement in educational performance requires continuous learning within and among schools, education systems, and higher education institutions. The Foundation is interested in advancing understanding of ways to strengthen the capacity of schools and education systems as learning organizations.

Organizational learning can be more or less intentional and formal, ranging from designing randomized experiments aimed at comparing effects of alternative curricula to fostering environments that promote the informal exchange of knowledge about effective practices among teachers.New developments in technology coupled with new requirements for accountability are leading educational organizations to generate increasingly massive amounts of data, which we are only beginning to understand how to use effectively to promote educational improvement.

Realizing these potentials (and avoiding negative side-effects) raises questions that include but go far beyond the technological.Issues of culture, of incentives, of authority and autonomy, of the selection and preparation of teachers and leaders are among the obvious elements at play.An essential element in promoting learning is the development of techniques that permit reliable and meaningful assessment of learning gains.

The capacity and motivation for organizational learning depend as well on the larger institutional structures within which schools and systems operate.These include, among other things, the roles of school boards, governments and unions; the role of markets and competition in the funding of schools; and the perceptions, concerns, and opportunities for voice among parents and the broader public.

Understanding the factors that promote and that impede learning by and within educational organizations is an essential element in developing realistic innovations in policy and practice that will improve education.