Scholarly article on topic 'The Characteristics of a Learning School in Information Age'

The Characteristics of a Learning School in Information Age Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

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Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Ali Kış, Necdet Konan

Abstract Following the industrial age, we are in “the age of information” now, according to many scientists, in fact, it is the age of uncertainty. But one thing is “certain”; there is too much information to learn. As a result, there is a fundamental question that faces us today, as educators and as communities: What do children need to be learning today? and How do they need to be learning it? “Learning school” can be an answer to these questions. Schools as learning organizations may be the right choice to be able to live in “questions age”. 20th century schools do not seem to be appropriate for the answers of 21st century questions. Schools must have new characteristics to keep on its existence. In this paper, the characteristics of a learning school will be examined and listed. Qualitative research method will be used to determine the characteristics of a learning school.

Academic research paper on topic "The Characteristics of a Learning School in Information Age"

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Procedía Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 797-802

WCES-2010

The Characteristics of a Learning School in Information Age

Ali Ki§a *, Necdet Konanb

aInonu University,Yabanci Diller Bolumu, Kampus, Malatya 44280 Turkey bInonu University, Egitim Fakultesi, Kampus, Malatya 44280 Turkey

Received October 7, 2009; revised December 16, 2009; accepted January 5, 2010

Abstract

Following the industrial age, we are in "the age of information" now, according to many scientists, in fact, it is the age of uncertainty. But one thing is "certain"; there is too much information to learn. As a result, there is a fundamental question that faces us today, as educators and as communities: What do children need to be learning today? and How do they need to be learning it? "Learning school" can be an answer to these questions. Schools as learning organizations may be the right choice to be able to live in "questions age". 20th century schools do not seem to be appropriate for the answers of 21st century questions. Schools must have new characteristics to keep on its existence. In this paper, the characteristics of a learning school will be examined and listed. Qualitative research method will be used to determine the characteristics of a learning school. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Characteristics of learning school; information age; learning organization.

1. Introduction

Every school is a complex social community with the assigned task of passing onto the younger generation some of the knowledge and skill acquired by the older generation. The school's traditional role has been to provide access to knowledge and skills not readily acquired elsewhere (Goodlad, 1994: 200). However, the entire educational environment is in flux, as social, economic and political forces radically reshape the world of schools (Evans, 1996: 12).

According to Fullan, one of life's great ironies is that schools are in the business of teaching and learning, yet they are terrible at learning from each other (Fullan, 2001: 92). We now have the capacity to create far more information than anyone can absorb and to accelerate change far faster than anyone's ability to keep pace. It is undeniable that schools could and should be much better (Goodlad, 1994: 228). This paper delves into "the learning school", which is supposed to cope with a changing environment of this century.

* Ali Ki§. Tel.: 0-533-422-8346; fax: 0-422-377-4915 E-mail address: alikis@inonu.edu.tr

1877-0428 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.106

A learning school has a unique learning culture

The emergence of a culture that is more open and caring is a new style for this kind of school since a school's culture is its most enduring aspect (Senge, 2000: 325). A positive school culture establishes a culture of learning in the school, one in which questions of teaching and learning provide the social life and interpersonal relations of those working in the school. The culture of a school is so vital that structurally change that is not supported by cultural change will be overwhelmed by the culture, for it is in the culture that organizations find meaning and stability (Schlecty, 1997: 136). Learning schools are self-conscious of its culture (Goodlad, 1994: 212). In order to share personal knowledge, individuals must rely on others to listen and react to their ideas. Constructive and helpful relations enable people to share their insights and freely discuss their concerns.( Fullan, 2001: 82). A learning school prepares a school culture which renews itself by constantly learning, promotes learning anywhere anytime, gives priority to improve human resources, learns to change and improve, can be accepted by all the members of the school community and keeps the school away from lots of crisis. Teachers work in teams, which in turns, brings students achievements in the end (DuFour, 2004: 7).

1.2. A learning school is governed by values

Values and vision, rather than programs and rules, will drive the system (Schlecty, 1997: 71). Every child can learn. It is the school's duty to prepare the necessary environment in which any child can learn. Especially in 20th century, the values, such as democracy and human rights, claim that everybody has right to learn. In a learning school, the individuals' emotions, feelings, and mental models have to be shared to build mutual trust (Fullan, 2001: 81). According to Nixon, the learning school is managed by values. To widen the capacity and settle a new vision, values are carefully chosen and administered.

1.3 A learning school has an open and positive dialogue atmosphere

Relationships are crucial; A learning school is characterized by an array of positive human connections (Goodlad, 1994: 213). The role of the leader is to ensure that the organization develops carefully coordinated relationships that help produce desirable results (Fullan, 2001: 68). In Senge's definition, dialogue process is a course of action whereby people learn how to think together - not just in the sense of analyzing a shared problem but in the sense of occupying a collective sensibility, in which the thoughts, emotions, and resulting actions belong not to one individual, but to all of them together (Senge, 2000: 75). During the process, everybody talks to each other openly and reflectively about their situations and challenges; their subject matter, their teaching practices, and their own thinking - their attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions of the world. (Senge, 2000: 327). Principals in learning schools take a positive view of the teachers, viewing them as professional who perform well in their classrooms (Goodlad, 1994: 214). The exchange of knowledge, which is a vital tool in such a school, happens only in organizations that have a noncompetitive or a collaborative culture.

1.4 In a learning school, every learner is encouraged to take risks

It is courage and initiative that makes people learners in any case. If there is a potential to take risk, everybody starts learning. A learning school is a process in which individuals see any failures as opportunities to learn something new; and the school guaranties such atmosphere for its every members. Taking risks and trying new ideas is encouraged and expected (Senge, 2000: 327). All members in a learning school are open-minded and all know that there can not be a problem-free case. Avoiding the risk is a barrier to learning. Taking risk, without risking the basics of the school, is a character of a learning school. All members of the school community feel that they are valuable and they will find support in the event of a risk. In a learning school, supportive and liberalistic approach is dominant.

1.5 In a learning school, every learner is an active learner

The historical role of the teacher as a transmitter of knowledge and the student as the recipient of that knowledge has loaded the term student with a sense of passivity. The teacher delivers; the student receives. Learning is an active process, and it involves voluntary action on the part of the student (Schlecty, 1997: 133). Developing the capacity of the learner and commitment to solve complex problems is one of the main goals of this school. It establishes mechanisms for learning in the dailiness of school organizational life. It involves learning here and now

so that the next time will be better (Fullan, 2001: 131). In theory and practice, active participation of the learning makes concrete learning for every learner in school. Active learning, which is a characteristics of a learning school, has some specifications: student involvement, professional discussion among teachers, practices of every student according to his/her level etc. The objective of all these activities is to develop learning (Toremen, 1999: 89).

1.6 In a learning school, there are co-operating teams sharing personal practices

In a learning school, the leader's job is to create a forum for common learning, critique, collegial sharing and the development of a powerful culture of mutual support. Learning in a group is not supplementary but complementary to personal learning. A strong professional community encourages collective endeavor rather than isolated individual efforts (Senge, 2000: 327). A learning school is a place where you can see learning teams everywhere. In fact, these teams are nothing but a micro image of a learning school. Within the team, everybody spend his or her time identifying problems to be solved and getting others to solve these problems. In addition, every individual is assessed on their willingness to share their experience with others in learning school. The team is deeply compatible -indeed synergistic. All participants work together as peers and equals, which delivers the message that everyone is knowledgeable and has something valuable to contribute (Frankly, 2001: 1259). The learners come together for mutual reinforcing for positive change in school. To Hord, collaborative learning means learning together the learning practices that reveal solutions to students' needs and higher intellectual duties (Carpenter, 2008: 33).

1.7 In a learning school, there is always time for learners to learn

If schools are to change, school systems must create developmental capacity (Schlecty, 1997: 125). To reach that capacity, the school gives time allocated for teachers to talk, work, and reflect together for innovations. This is essential to developing a learning community. Time, in particular, is the most precious of all school resources. Substantial and regularly scheduled blocks of time are needed for educators to work as small groups with common interests (Senge, 2000: 330). Learning is process; it needs time to reveal itself. A learning school plans time for all individuals to learn and share the knowledge, thereby contributing the learning process. Moreover, time is precious for school personnel; it is so crucial to allocate time for teachers to create a positive environment (Carpenter, 2008: 31).

1.8 In a learning school, learning is doing and doing is learning

Learning in the setting where you work, or learning in context, is the learning with the greatest payoff because it is more specific (customized to the situation) and because it is social (involves the group). Such learning changes the individual and the context simultaneously (Fullan, 2001: 126). Learning by doing is needed to consolidate gains. Also, it generates short term wins, which encourages the learner to learn more. Learning is not a mental process alone. In a learning school, it is possible to learn from anybody and anywhere. In a learning school, everything learned is practiced, evaluated, and feedbacks are collected. Thus, learning and practice is blended in a learning school because genuine learning occurs in the context of our lives, and the long-term impact of any new learning depends on its relationship to the world around us (Senge, 2000: 41).

1.9 In a learning school, all learners need one another for learning

Teachers in good schools view their peers as professionals who know what they are doing (Goodlad, 1994: 213). Peter Senge, a leading advocate of learning organization, says that real learning units in learning organizations are the individuals that need each other. The learning school meets this need by creating tension towards learning in administrators, teachers and the other school personnel. In a learning school, everybody is a learner from student to teacher, from employee to principal and even to parents (Toremen, 1999: 94). Peer observations are invaluable sources of learning.

1.10 A learning school is a model to other organizations in the society

In information age, change effects nearly every organization including the school. According to Ensari, school has a task not only to work effectively but to become a model for other organizations in the community (§im§ek, 2004: 2). To be a good model, it must work in concert: Enhanced student performance, increased capacity of teachers, greater involvement of parents and community members, engagement of students, all-around satisfaction and enthusiasm about going further are necessary aspects of a model educational organization. In an environment

where constant learning is a merit, being a learning school facilitates everything more and more. Learning school is a model in terms of its enthusiasm for learning.

1.11 A learning school considers up-to-dateness important

Change, whether personal or professional, large or small, local or global, is a concept that defies definition or description (Smith, 2008: 13). To facilitate learning something new, we need to get previous knowledge up-to-date since the last things depend on the previous ones. Our current schools are designed according to the needs of industrial age. Therefore, they can not function in information age. We need to get and maintain current knowledge of this century. This is only possible if we make our schools learning organizations. In information age, people need "learning schools" not "teaching schools".

1.12 A learning school is learning-oriented

Living systems cannot be directed along a linear path. Unforeseen consequences are inevitable. Schools, particularly because we live in the knowledge society, need to strengthen their intellectual quality. All students and adults of the learning school live in a learning-oriented environment. From any activity, any event, or anybody, they learn; they always learn and their experience gets richer and richer day by day. They ask each other what the lessons learned are at meetings. According to DuFour (2004: 6), this shift, from "teaching" to "learning" is the heart of a learning school. The learning school believes that all children are capable of learning at high levels but not always on the same day or in the same way (Senge, 2000: 330).

1.13. A learning school wants graduates to be modern individuals: creative, innovative, constant learner

The learning school hopes that students will be prepared not only to live in the world but to improve it. The pace of change is ever increasing; change means rapidly occurring, unpredictable, nonlinear change (Fullan,2001: v). To adapt the conditions of this century, the best structure at hand is a learning school within existing organizations (Uysal, 2005: 34). The roles of educational organizations are changing nowadays. Aiming to foster creative and innovative individuals must be the new role of the school. Since there is too much information to transfer to students, the school must focus on how to get and organize the information rather than transmitting the knowledge.

1.14. In a learning school, students, teachers, administrators and other personnel know how to learn

All learners in the school have individualized learning methods; and trust themselves when it comes to what, where and how they will learn. Senge's five disciplines provides the schools with necessary philosophy and means: Through personal mastery, they can understand and reveal mental models; they create a vision by sharing the knowledge; participate team learning and practice the theory; and think everything in system mechanism, thereby making the school "a learning school".

1.15. A learning school is open to the world

Communication between any two (or more) parts of the world can be accomplished in seconds, via new digital networks. This new playing field opens opportunities in ways never imagined before; knowledge no longer stays within narrow domains as in school but can be accessed with ease and speed. The learning school is sensitive to external environment. According to Toremen (1999: 73), technological advancement of the 21st century, information increase at sky-rocket speed and incredible development in communication systems have all caused school to think in a parallel way. The present situation in schools forces the programmed learning and teaching process to overflow to the outside of the school. Today we have no alternative but connect the school to its environment as the limit of learning in a learning school is not the walls of the school. Learning school is a meeting point for those lifelong learners. The entire world is a source for learner. All information, regardless of the sources, is valuable.

1.16. A learning school has teachers who constantly develop themselves

Learning community of educators continually expands their professional knowledge and capabilities. In a learning school, leaders and staff must develop skills in identifying problems and inventing solutions as well as in evaluating those solutions in terms of their capacity to produce the intended results (Schlecty, 1997: 121). Teaching is secondary when learning becomes primary as in a learning school. However, this does not mean teachers are

useless; their functions are changed. He or she is there to lead the learning; becomes a model of a perfect learner to students and supports the learner during the process. Not learning teachers can not be the part of a learning school. According to the findings of Fullan (2001: 99), teachers and principals, once they experience knowledge sharing, are thirsting for more. They can't get enough of it.

1.17. In a learning school, it is the principal who is the most advanced learner

Principal is viewed as the chief learning officer, (CLE) of one of the largest knowledge-work organizations in the community. The principal becomes a context setter, the designer of a learning experience not an authority figure with solutions.(Fullan, 2001: 112). The job of the principal is primarily about enhancing the skills and knowledge of people in the school, creating a common culture of expectation, holding the various pieces of the school together in a productive relationship with each other, and holding individuals accountable for their contributions to the collective result (Fullan, 2001: 65). In a school where hierarchy is little or no, starting point of learning is at the top of the structure: principal. A learning principal is the trigger of the school wide learning process. There can be a learning principal and an not-learning school at the same time, but there can not be vice versa. A learning school has a learning principal in any case.

1.18. In a learning school, there is a shared vision for all

The thing that keeps people constantly learning is a large-scale, obvious and shared vision. This vision demands efforts of all learners and keeps them on the way. It creates a coalition within the school. In building a shared vision, a group of people creates a sense of commitment together. They develop images of "the future they want to create together," along with the values that will be important in getting there and goals they hope to achieve along the way (Senge, 2000: 72). If people can see a future in their organization, then they can believe it.

1.19. In a learning school, evaluations are never-ending

Without thinking, learning is impossible. After every experience and learning, there must be a time for serious evaluation. The lessons of this monitoring and assessment period differentiate the learning school from the traditional schools. System thinking suggests that we should view things not as snapshots (eg. a decline in student attendance) but instead as a system, which takes into account actions taken at different places and times (eg. school policy changes the way school attendance is calculated; an economic recession keeps students at home, taking care of siblings; dangerous schools discourage attendance. etc) (Smith, 2008: 21).

1.20. A learning school takes results as the criteria

To create a culture where results are valued and beliefs provide direction, those who occupy official leadership positions in schools must learn to manage by results and to cause others to be result-oriented as well (Schlecty, 1997: 111). There must be some particles of a learning organization where constant learning takes place. These are results and standards because at the end of every learning is learned information and gained experience.

1.21. In a learning school, hierarchy is almost nonexist

Relationships are formal where hierarchy exists. Hierarchy is not an end, but a means. A learning school is a place where this means never turns into an end since it is the learning that matters. Collaboratively working teachers and administrators are crucial for student achievement. However, an industrial-age model, hierarchy-oriented schools are not suitable for this end (Carpenter, 2008: 24).

1.22. In a learning school, there is a shared leadership

As Schlecty puts it, executives (principals in schools) are not problem solvers, they are problem definers (Schlecty, 1997: 73). Democratic school governance and supportive school leadership is a characteristic of a learning school. Shared leadership gets the support of employees, turning the leader more powerful, which is a key to starting learning. According to the findings of a research done by Huffman and Hipp on readiness of schools for learning organization approach, the most appropriate schools have shared leadership, shared vision and supportive environment (Carpenter, 2008: 28).

1.23. In a learning school, the physical conditions are suitable for learning

A school is a kind of organic thing - a system of organs and connections (Goodlad, 1994: 212). Learning school sets up mechanisms and practices that make knowledge sharing a cultural value. Physical conditions support all kinds of learning. As Fullan puts it, leading in a culture of change does not mean placing changed individuals into unchanged environment. Rather, change leaders work on changing the context, helping create new settings conductive to learning and sharing that learning (Fullan, 2001: 79)

2. Conclusion

In 21st century, we have undergone a remarkable transformation. Nearly all the systems, especially schools we have, is unsustainable. We need to reinvent our approach fundamentally. The learning school approach can be possible solutions to the problems of this century. The learning school provides continuous learning opportunities. It fosters inquiry and creativity, encouraging sharing ideas and collaborations as well as interacting openly with their environment. School activities nurture learning how to learn together in a community of learners, both within and outside the school so that students are trained to become lifelong learners and effective collaborators.

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