President's Perspective: Learning Organizations - Solutions for Change in Higher Education?

CAS President Gavin Henning introduces a series of blog posts about learning organizations, challenging higher education professionals to consider how best to respond to the unpredictability of our environments.
This is part one of a series of blog posts regarding learning organizations. 
In many ways, higher education has not changed much in almost 1000 years since the founding at the University of Bologna in 1088. Professors still often lecture to students who diligently take notes (or sleep, daydream, or chat with each other). In other ways, higher education is very different. A review of headlines from The Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed offers examples of topics that have a daily impact for colleges and universities. These issues may be local (such as racist flyers), national (federal education policy), or international (international student enrollment) and they have ripple effects on the higher education landscape. Given this tumult, how do colleges and universities weather the storm of unpredictability in higher education?
Creating a learning organization may be the answer. Coined by Richard Pascale in the 1980s, the term “learning organization,” was popularized by Peter Senge in his acclaimed 1990 book The Fifth Discipline. While the book is almost 30 years old, the concept holds promise for colleges and universities today. According to Senge (1990), learning organizations are
Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. (p. 3)
Senge (1990) described the five disciplines, which are approaches to building learning organizations:
Personal mastery: A commitment to individual learning so as to do the job well.
Mental models: Assumptions are made explicit and are tested.
Shared vision created by personal visions: Collective purpose and goals are developed.
Sense of team learning: Team capacity building is aligned with shared goals.
Organization is seen as a system: Seeing the big picture and how component parts are interdependent.
Kumar Sundra (2014) identified a number of characteristics that typify a learning organization. These include:
Change and disruption is embraced and celebrated, not resisted as it is seen as opportunity for improvement.
Conflict is accepted as normal and is managed effectively. It is understood that no one knows all of the answers and people will have different ideas how to things should work.
There is a commitment to cycle of continuous improvement and learning. Learning is engrained in the fabric of the organization. It is valued, expected, and made time for.
Integrated feedback mechanisms are developed to collect ongoing data to know how well things are working and to provide suggestions for improvement.
Data results are value-free. People are not penalized or judged for poor assessment results and poor results are seen as opportunities for improvement to make something better for end users
Failure is encouraged and celebrated because learning comes from failure. Value is placed on failing fast, failing often, and failing forward.
Transforming colleges and universities into learning organizations may be a way to not only manage change in higher education, but to leverage the volatility for success. 
Kumar Sarna, Satyendra. (September 18, 2014). A learning organization and its characteristics. [Blog post]. Retrieved from its-characteristics/

Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Dr. Gavin Henning is Professor and Program Director for the Master of Higher Education Administration and Doctorate of Education at New England College. He also is the President of CAS and a recent past present of ACPA: College Student Educators International. Gavin actively contributes to higher education assessment literature, and he recently co-authored Student Affairs Assessment: Theory to Practice and co-edited Coordinating Student Affairs Divisional Assessment: A Practical Guide. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education Leadership and Policy Studies and a Master of Arts degree in Sociology both from the University of New Hampshire as well as a Master of Arts degree in College and University Administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and Sociology from Michigan State University.