What makes a school a learning organisation?

This OECD guide proposes a model to describe the processes a school uses when it aspires to become a learning organisation.

Read online – OECD website

The guide is a summary of a longer working paper – see references below. The OECD is following up these publications with a project to gather evidence from countries across the world on how schools develop into learning organisations.

Learning organisations

The concept of learning organisations is not new, but there isn’t a common understanding of how it applies to schools.

The concept describes a place where individual behaviour, team work, and organisation-wide practices and culture reflect the idea that “learning to learn is essential for everyone”.   

Learning organisations have the capacity to respond and adapt to new environments and situations because they “learn their way together to realising their vision”.

The model

The experts involved in developing the working paper have proposed a model with seven action-oriented dimensions:

  • Developing and sharing a vision centred on the learning of students
  • Creating and supporting continuous learning opportunities for all staff
  • Promoting team learning and collaboration among all staff
  • Establishing a culture of inquiry, innovation and exploration
  • Embedding systems for collecting and exchanging knowledge and learning
  • Learning with and from the external environment and larger learning system
  • Modelling and growing learning leadership. 

The seven dimensions are all essential. Together they make the learning organisation possible and sustain it.

Four themes run across all of the dimensions, the 4 Ts:

  • Trust
  • Time
  • Technology
  • Thinking together

The themes underpin the whole, but each may be more pertinent to certain dimensions than others.

The guide also lists the elements that characterise each dimension and gives a short descriptive overview of the dimension.  It also illustrates some of the ideas with international case studies. 

Reflective questions

School leaders could use this guide to stimulate reflection and dialogue about the concept of a school as a learning organisation and/or about how to use this model to further develop their own school or community.

The guide suggests these questions:

  • Does the concept of school as a learning organisation resonate in your own practices?
  • Are the dimensions and elements described in the model evident in your school?
  • How might you explore this idea further?


Kools, M., and Stoll, L. (2016). What makes a school a learning organisation? OECD Education Working Paper, No 137. OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD. (2016). What makes a school a learning organisation? A guide for policy makers, school leaders and teachers. OECD Publishing, Paris. 

Tags: Collaborative practice

Tell a colleague | Back to top