Publish at March 01 2023 Updated March 01 2023

When training organizations become learning organizations

Learning through virtuous organizational processes

Office workers

"The purpose of an organization is to enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things."

Peter Drucker

"The purpose of a learning organization is to enable ordinary learners to learn extraordinary things."

Peter Drucker, somewhat modified

Stories of learning in educational organizations

The corporate universities are organizational spaces invented in large companies after the war to develop learning. As they grew, especially internationally, and changed scale, large companies indeed understood that they generated organizational behaviors and that these had an influence on their performance.

Initially they structured training departments with course catalog logics, then to go further, they created schemes linking to business life, career management, project management, monitoring or innovation to develop individual and collective know-how in action, to learn faster than the competition. They identified that the individual and collective tacit knowledge concealed great value for their development. Progressively, they realized that they were building cultures that were favorable to learning. They knew how to organize reflexivity loops on their organizational behaviors. They were learning to evolve their mental models, to react to the hazards or varied situations encountered, and to anticipate the changes in the systems in which they were embedded.

Thinking about the role of organizations was not confined to the sole register of business and also challenged the educational world. "The learning university" is a surprising phrase suggesting that universities could be ignorant or unlearning. Here again, the expression must be understood as a challenge to set in motion and to make people aware that learning goes beyond the simple transfer of data from brain to brain in a room dedicated to this purpose. Even if the practice of learning in an agreed space has been codified since the 16th century, the various pedagogical discoveries attest that we learn everywhere and all the time. How can we take into account favorable effects of organizational structures on learning?

Easier learning

As early as 1997, Hélène Trocmé-Fabre describes the need of contemporary universities: "It is a matter, for the University of today, of filling an absence: that of a time-space between three types of expertise:

  • domain expertise (factual knowledge, basic rules, specific know-how and reasoning..),
  • pedagogical expertise (didactics and training engineering), and
  • learner model expertise (mental operations involved, "cognitive repository".

Yet, to read the criteria for evaluation and recognition of teachers or the standards of university management, the University overvalues expertise and knowledge and, too often, neglects pedagogy and the desire to learn. A teacher-researcher is indeed more likely to advance in his or her career and remuneration if he or she publishes a research article in a ranked journal, rather than if his or her pedagogy is appreciated by his or her learners.

Becoming a learning university would mean transforming management modes to develop virtuous behaviors in collective learning. It means working to forge links between the disjointed expertise of the field, the pedagogy, and the learner. These connections are made through organizational choices or, put another way, it is about creating a culture of learning that goes beyond the mere expression of content in the classroom and incorporates a pedagogical approach and a true place for the learner.

The principle of function, manner

What is true of universities is also true of most educational actors. Circumstances now force a shift in habits. Thus, training organizations are faced with a random motivation of their audiences in the face of an offer too often standardized in internship mode that struggles to attract and capture attention. However, a research carried out by Sol France shows the capacity of certain structures to initiate transformation processes sometimes by taking side roads like the CNFPT which has modified the relationship to knowledge

  • by acting on training spaces,
  • by promoting project approaches,
  • by creating a pedagogical cooperative for its trainers,
  • by initiating spaces for research and dialogue by instituting codesign practices,
  • by promoting a community spirit and networked learning.

By changing the way its permanents interact, it is a whole environment that enriches the traditional internship offer. And it is particularly during the Covid crisis that the role of this environment is particularly visible (see the Sol France action research on the acceleration of learning during the Covid crisis). Making educational and formative professionals (trainer, designer, administrator) change their relationship to knowledge, contributes to distilling the possibility of new practices for learners who are the final beneficiaries of educational and formative institutions.

Younger students are also concerned. The idea of "learning high schools" mark a shift to "collaborative training models" develop within so-called learning institutions where collective thinking is enriched by the contributions of each. The core of the approach here aims to get the teacher out of his or her solitude in the face of a class that is increasingly difficult to make progress in and to more systematically install collective strategies to respond to the problems of transforming students in their relationship to knowledge.

The learning high school would thus be, according to its promoters, an effort to put the collective back into the teaching teams beyond the mere physical meeting during a break in the "teachers' room" sometimes turning into an emotional outlet. Making a collective learning project is the goal of the learning high school. If the learning high school strives to change the way a physical space and activities in the same vein the "learning holidays", we look differently at a space of time hitherto without an explicit learning intention to "ensure the consolidation of learning and contribute to the personal development of young people through cultural, sports and leisure activities, supervised by professionals".

If there is always informal learning whatever we undertake during the vacations, this time it is a matter of being more explicit and taking an informed look at what is experienced to extract a life lesson. It is an effort to formalize what has been informal until now, with the exception of the school assignment at the end of the year, which was expressed in the form of a text to be written such as "what did you do or learn during your vacation"

The development of practices to become a learning educational actor

All actors endowed with the mission of teaching and learning now apply strategies to themselves to increase the reflexive gaze on their practices, or strive to develop this gaze in their recipients. This reflective gaze helps change their view of their learners and allows for the introduction of innovative practices.

Several axes can be identified to develop as an educational organization promoting the desire to learn.

  • The main thrust is likely to be establishing a culture of learning, that is, encouraging employees to constantly learn and share their knowledge. To do this, it is a matter of developing internal training programs and encouraging employees to develop their skills and improve themselves and thus create opportunities for collaboration to foster collaboration between employees to exchange knowledge and solve problems together. Therefore, encouraging risk taking gives employees the opportunity to try new ideas and learn from their mistakes becomes a key focus.

  • A second focus is supporting diversity and inclusion, creating a culture where differences are valued and employees can learn from each other, providing regular feedback, offering constructive feedback to help employees develop their skills and achieve their goals.

  • The technology axis can also be mobilized. This involves using technology as a training tool and using digital tools to enhance employee learning and collaboration.

  • A fourth axis is to create a fun learning environment that is stimulating and conducive to learning. Such an environment promotes accountability and encourages employees to take ownership of their own professional development.

All of these actions together will develop a culture of learning. The whole process will benefit from being driven by a performance and skills monitoring system to evaluate the effectiveness of training and learning programs and adjust strategies accordingly. For it is always in the feedback of organizational behaviors that they are likely to evolve and be adapted according to the reactions and initiatives of the various actors.


Thot Cursus. Learning Organization, the Digital Transformation of Training

Centre-inffo. How to become a learning organization?

Ciret Learning Today, in a Learning University

Sol France Research action learning vacations

Thot Cursus Corporate Universities and other collaborations

Centre-inffo. A research on current events in learning organizations

Wikiliberal. Tacit Knowledge -

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