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President's Perspective: Learning Organizations - Benefits

CAS President Gavin Henning identifies many benefits of becoming a learning organization. What can your unit, division, or institution gain from changing its mindset to orient on continuous learning?
 
This is part two of a series of blog posts regarding learning organizations. 

In my last blog post, I introduced the concept of learning organizations as a solution for addressing the rapid change in higher education by explaining what learning organizations are and their characteristics. This post builds on the previous one to outline the benefits of learning organizations. 
 
Senge (1990) describes learning organizations as 
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)
 
Given this focus on building capacity to achieve goals and problems, but also to approach issues in new, creative, and collaborative ways, there are many benefits to learning organizations. 
 
Kumar Sarna (2014) outlined the following benefits. 
1. Increased innovation: With new ways of thinking, new approaches to problem solving arise. 
2. Nimble response to external pressures: Since a learning organization is constantly using data to make improvements, they are proactive rather than reactive. The organizations cannot only anticipate external pressures, but also can more readily to attend to them. 
3. Better link resources to needs: With a constant influx of information, organizations can better understand needs of stakeholders and then reallocate resources to address those needs. 
4. Improved outputs and outcomes at all levels: Learning is a culture in these organizations. It's not just an activity, but it's the way things are done. Constantly using information for decision-making and resource allocation results in increased outputs and outcomes throughout the organization. 
5. Becoming more people/student centered: Since data is consistently gathered from stakeholders, they become the center of attention, the focus of the organization. 
6. Increased pace of change: A learning organization views change as normal, not an obstacle, and actually a beneficial force. Change fosters improvement and more effective and efficient ways of achieving outcomes. This attitude coupled with integrated feedback systems allows for change to happen more quickly than organizations that are not focused on learning. 
 
In addition to these benefits, Blackwood (2014) notes a few additional ones. 
7. Increased staff loyalty and satisfaction: A learning organization requires the involvement of each and every staff member. They and their individual learning (or personal mastery) is critical to the collective learning and thus success of the organizational.
8. Continuous improvement mindset: The focus of learning in the organization is improvement and these organizations value and reward continuous improvement. That value and attitude becomes embedded in the culture. 
9. Development of leaders at all levels: A learning organization values every individual and their strengths as each is critical to the success as the organization. Each person is a part of a system. This culture empowers individual to take both informal and formal leadership roles. 
10. Creation of a culture of inquiry and knowledge sharing: With a focus on collective learning, staff are more apt to be inquisitive about the work and willing to share information across the unit so that everyone can learn and improve as a whole. 
 
There are many benefits of a learning organization. The key is the actual creation of such an organization. In my next blog, I'll describe the strategies for developing an learning organization. Stay tuned!
 
References
Blackwood, Karmen (September 21, 2014). Benefits of creating an organizational learning culture. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://biv.com/article/2014/09/benefits-creating-organizational-learning-culture 
 
Kumar Sarna, Satyendra. (September 18, 2014). A learning organization and its characteristics. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://ispatguru.com/a-learning-organization-and-its-characteristics/ 

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

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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.

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