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How To Create A Thriving Culture Of Learning

Did you know that 98% of learning and development (L&D) practitioners want to create a positive learning culture but only 36% feel like they’ve actually achieved it?

The concept of a “culture of learning” differs from organization to organization. A collaborative, informal environment where peer-to-peer learning is encouraged at one organization may not have the same impact in a more regimented, individualistic company culture, which prioritizes independent learning and development. 

But, as 98% of L&D professionals agree, a positive culture of learning is invaluable for driving learning and development across the organization. 

So how do we make it happen?

What Is A Culture Of Learning?

There is no single, set definition for a culture of learning. However, put simply, a culture of learning refers to an organizational culture whereby learning and development efforts and activities are prioritized, proactively pursued, and built into the day-to-day flow of work.

Learning efforts will have the support of senior management, and employees will be encouraged to build their skill sets and reflect on their work to seek areas for improvement.

As an example, let’s take a look at two graphic designers, Alex and Robin, who work in different organizations. 

Alex’s organization has regular “lunch and learn” sessions for the design team enabling knowledge sharing. They also have digital workspaces and dedicated channels in the company-wide chat program to share ideas and inspiration.

Alex can also take a few hours each week to research the latest trends and techniques in graphic design to improve their work, and Alex’s manager asks what they have been learning about in their monthly check-in meetings.

Learning couldn’t be further from Robin’s mind. They are constantly swamped with work, and they work in a silo with virtually no input from other designers in the organization.

They found an animation course they thought would improve their skill set, but their manager said that there wasn’t time for training, so Robin hasn’t engaged in any skills development in several years and that situation is unlikely to change without immense effort and pressure.

There is a clear difference between the two.

While Alex benefits from a strong culture of learning, including continuous learning opportunities and support from their manager, Robin’s culture of learning is non-existent.

There is no time or interest in learning, meaning limited opportunities for development and progression. 

So what creates this chasm between the two organizational learning cultures?

Meeting The Challenge Of Building A Learning Culture

Before we look at how to create a culture of learning, we need to understand the common blockers. 

According to the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 78% of learning professionals say that traditional expectations of the L&D function are difficult to overcome, with 76% saying that learning is not a management priority.

This alone suggests that the perception of the learning function, particularly at the management level, is a major challenge for organizations wanting to construct a thriving learning culture.

If the learning team is placed in a very specific box, with no remit to do more, it will be virtually impossible for a learning culture to flourish. If your team is seen as “the people who deliver the yearly health and safety training”, or your budget is the first in the organization to be cut, it will be a giant challenge to achieve something as significant as culture change.

That is why a big challenge requires a big solution, but it’s not as intimidating as it first looks.

How To Create A Culture Of Learning

The first step towards building a culture of learning is to understand your existing culture. 

How-to-create-a-culture-of-learning

Conducting a survey is a great first step to give you an insight into how people currently learn, what blockers people experience, and how people want to learn. 

You can also use data from your learning management system to gather information such as learning time, course completions, and the type of content people are accessing (such as e-learning courses, PDF manuals, videos etc.).

Once you have a foundation level of understanding, it’s time to act. Creating a culture of learning is a long-term process but, broadly speaking, the three steps you will need to take are:

1. Getting management buy-in 

In many organizations, learning isn’t seen as a priority. Make a presentation that shows the impact learning has (such as an increase in sales, productivity, customer feedback or anything else relating to your organization’s goals), and ensure you have engagement and support from the C-suite.

2. Securing budget

As part of your learning culture expansion, you may find that you need a new system to support digital learning and knowledge sharing. A learning experience platform (LXP) that integrates with your other learning systems (such as your LMS) is an invaluable component in many strategies relating to learning culture. You may also need budget for more frequent internal training opportunities (such as “lunch and learns”), mentoring programs, or increasing training resources.

3. Bringing together learning, engagement and performance

A great learning culture requires alignment across the entire HR function. Fostering closer integration between your learning, employee engagement, and performance management teams will enable you to support your culture of learning from multiple directions, increasing the likelihood that it will become embedded in your company culture in the years to come.

Action learning is a great place to start. With small groups working together to solve problems, you will start to build a culture of learning over time.

Organizations With Healthy Learning Cultures

According to research by Deloitte, organizations with strong learning cultures have employee engagement rates that are 30-50% higher than companies that don’t prioritize having a culture of learning. 

While many organizations struggle to get their learning culture off the ground, there are some who are making real headway. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Retailer Sports World found that the COVID-19 pandemic was the perfect catalyst for overhauling their learning culture, with huge demand for learning content throughout the global lockdown. This meant that the learning platform became embedded into the day-to-day flow of work, resulting in 98% employee coverage.

The Science Museum Group were previously struggling to get the employee engagement they wanted with face-to-face training, so they opted to switch to an LMS to improve the learning experience. Their new digital learning hub, “skillslab,” was implemented across their five museum sites, leading to a complete transformation in the organization’s learning culture as employees found it significantly faster and easier to access training.

Cinema chain Cinépolis chose a social learning approach to updating their learning culture, along with a focus on behavioral insights and analysis to better understand their employees. They rolled out an LXP to create internal learning communities, supporting more efficient knowledge transfer. “Internal champions” were appointed to drive engagement, and the system recommends relevant communities to employees to ensure they stay up to date on useful news and resources.

What Do You Think?

Have you tried to implement a culture of learning in your organization? What lessons have you learned so far? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

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By Lars Hyland

Lars is Chief Learning Officer at Totara Learning, a provider of enterprise learning, engagement and performance management technology. Lars has a deep knowledge of learning technology in all its forms and how it can be harnessed to deliver effective and engaging learning experiences, both in the workplace and in education. He brings over 27 years of experience in the design and implementation of large-scale learning programs and performance improvement solutions.

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