The Learning Organization Implemented in Education through Advisory Committees

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The Learning Organization Implemented in Education Through Advisory Committees

As secondary and post-secondary educational institutions enter the twenty first century there is a growing challenge to deliver education that continues to meet the global work force needs. In response to this challenge, should advisory committees be expected to assume more responsibility within educational institutions? Career and technology advisory committees have a long history as effective components of education. To enhance effectiveness as change agents, should advisory committees in education be reengineered to follow the lead of business and industry and integrate the relatively new concept of the learning organization into their operating framework?

Passage of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917, was the first legislative action that promoted the use of local program advisory committees in the area of vocational and technical education. The Act encouraged use of citizen advisory groups to assist in planning and evaluating vocational programs and to establish communication links between schools and communities. The concept and basic framework of advisory committees is as appropriate today as it was in the early twentieth century. During the 90 years since passage of the Smith-Hughes Act, secondary and postsecondary educational institutions have made use of advisory committees to maintain close ties to the local, state, national, and global community. To maintain this link to the community, advisory committees must be representative of all stakeholders. Comprehensive teams within learning organizations are more inclusive of the members' personal contributions and collective experiences in defining and reaching the goals of the organization.

Peter Senge (1990), Director for the Center for Organizational Learning, Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, assembled the collaborative works of several of his colleagues into a composite that was the philosophical base for the concept of the learning organization. At the center of the concept of the learning organization is team learning. In his work, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, he describes the concept of the "learning organization" as being the composite of five disciplines. The disciplines of the learning organization are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, building shared vision, and team learning. He considered systems thinking as being necessary for the functioning of the other four. Senge defines the learning organization as "a place where people are continually discovering how they create their reality and how they can change it" (p. 13). Additionally, he envisions the learning organization as "an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future" (p. 14). He further described the learning organization as individuals connected together as a community. The community concept increases the capacity of an organization to embrace synergy--the premise that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, & Smith (1994) envision the five disciplines as tools to increase the capacity of individuals as well as teams:

Personal Mastery--learning to expand our personal capacity to create the results we most desire, and creating an organizational environment which encourages all its members to develop themselves toward the goals and purposes they choose.

Mental Models--reflecting upon, continually clarifying, and improving our internal pictures of the world, and seeing how they shape our actions and decisions.

Shared Visions--building a sense of commitment in a group, by developing shared images of the future we seek to create, and the principles and guiding practices by which we hope to get there.

Team Learning--transforming conversational and collective thinking skills, so that groups of people can reliably develop intelligence and ability greater than the sum of individual members' talents. …