Improving Learning to Improve Health
“We have taken an idea that has been with us for long time and applied it to health. The concept of a learning system involves deep interdisciplinary science that can be applied to our own medical center and in health generally. Together our diverse faculty study the science of advancing how individuals, groups, organizations and systems learn--and how learning improves health.”
--Charles P. Friedman, PhD
The Department of Learning Health Sciences, a basic science department in the University of Michigan Medical School, focuses on revolutionizing learning and transforming health through the advancement of the sciences that make learning effective routine, and sustainable--at levels of scale from individuals to systems that span states and nations.
The Department of Learning Health Sciences embraces a bold and transcendent vision of learning. Once exclusively associated with attainment of knowledge and skills by individual persons, entities that learn now can be individuals, groups, organizations, regions, states, and entire nations. Once restricted to a specific time and location, learning now occurs everywhere and continuously. Learning is no longer seen as an activity with a single endpoint, but rather as the key element of a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement.
Learning in this sense is predicated on and sustained by a set of values that can be shared by groups, organizations and systems. A learning culture values an openness to new information and a readiness to rapidly change on that basis. Socio-technical infrastructure that persists in the world enables continuous study and improvement to be embedded in routine practice without being seen as a burden or a kind of overhead. A learning culture recognizes that continuous improvement is “what we do here”—akin to the well-documented safety culture in aviation—so much so that it is not routinely acknowledged or discussed.
Learning in this transcendent sense can be seen as a field of trans-disciplinary scientific investigation that develops deeper understanding of learning processes and their supporting infrastructures across levels of scale. Behavioral, social, implementation and organizational science; cognitive and information science; ethics and policy science and other fields combine to create the rich intellectual tapestry forming the learning sciences.