Spearheading an Organizational Culture of Learning

Written by Gauri Reyes | May 18, 2015 4:37:53 PM

Creating an organizational culture of learning is imperative.

Few people would argue with that statement, I would venture to say. But the nitty gritty of what a culture of learning should entail is likely organization-specific. In other words, each organization needs to develop its own, unique culture of learning in order to best meet its business goals and address its employee needs.

In some cases, online training is the perfect vehicle to spearhead the creation and promotion of an organizational culture of learning. Online training can be cost-effective, easily scalable, rapidly deployed across multiple locales, and can be used to share learning with business partners and customers—just to name a few advantages.

First, Two Definitions

To orient our discussion on a common plane, here are two definitions (among many) of “a culture of learning”:

  1. “The short answer is that a culture of learning is a collection of thinking habits, beliefs about self, and collaborative workflows that result in sustained critical learning.” [Terry Heick, from his article in Edutopia]
  2. “[A culture of learning results in] a compelling vision of an organization made up of employees skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge. These people could help their firms cultivate tolerance, foster open discussion, and think holistically and systemically. Such learning organizations would be able to adapt to the unpredictable more quickly than their competitors could.” [David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, Francesca Gino paraphrasing Peter M. Senge’s words in The Fifth Discipline]

How Online Training Can Help Foster a Culture of Learning

Should you decide to use an online training program to spearhead the creation of a culture of learning in your organization, here are seven suggestions to keep in mind.

#1 Incorporate “High-Mileage” Content

Content in online training should be applicable to both individual study and group learning. In addition, content provided in a verbal way should also be provided in visual and auditory ways (for example, information conveyed in text could also be conveyed via video and infographic). Creating high-mileage content can be cost-effective, but can also ensure that all of your employees acquire learning material in the manner in which they learn best.

#2 Bring Learning to the Job Site

According to Malcolm Knowles, a pioneer in the field of adult learning theories, adults learn better when learning is (among other things) task- and relevancy-oriented. We make learning a personal priority if it’s connected to our work and helps us solve real workplace problems. Use your online training as a part of an overall performance support system, to help your employees bring learning from the classroom to the job site.

#3 Allow for Failure True Learning

Create safe environments in online training so that learners have the opportunity to learn from their failures. A safe environment also ensures that employees feel comfortable, rather than ridiculed, when asking for help. Failure is an option—as long as people learn from that failure.

#4 Let People Talk

Online learning does not need to be one-way (i.e., from the computer to the learner). Incorporate multiple forums for discussion, and be sure to reach out to people who normally don’t speak up (but could be sitting on great ideas). Take advantage of social learning, knowledge sharing, blended learning, and post-training discussions. People of all ages want a sense of control over their learning environment. Promote and provide platforms for sharing that extend learning beyond the online training module itself.

#5 Reward Teaching, Sharing, and Coaching

Reward people who coach, mentor, and teach, especially those who don’t have “training” explicitly spelled out in their job responsibilities. The responsibility for learning lies with everyone. Ask people to serve as subject matter experts (SMEs) and offer “office hours” to online learners. Ask people to create a how-to video or job aid to incorporate into an online training module. Or, even challenge people to create an online training course for their co-workers in one day.

#6 Foster a Cross-Generational Learning Approach

It’s currently en vogue to focus on Millennials in the workplace. At a high level, this focus makes sense. The Millenial generation is currently the largest and fastest-growing segment of the working population. However, the Boomer’s and Generation X’ers are still a significant force in the current employment landscape. To create an inclusive learning culture, target everyone, not just the current majority. In addition, as the succession pipeline is being built, knowledge from those who’ve physically spent more time in the workplace must be passed on before that knowledge is lost. Ask everyone to contribute to content generation and content discussion, and value all contributions.

#7 Tie Learning Goals to Business Goals

In the end, all learning should be closely tied to business goals. And leadership behaviors should reinforce and recognize those who positively contribute toward building a culture of learning. Then the culture provides value to the organization and its constituents. If you can use online technology as the spearhead towards creating a positive organizational culture of learning, you can take advantage of current technology trends as well as create multi-faceted learning programs.

What ideas have you seen work for promoting an organizational culture of learning, whether spearheaded by online training programs or otherwise? What is your definition of a “culture of learning”? Please share your thoughts via our social media channels.

Gauri Reyes is a talent developer and learning leader with extensive experience in roles ranging from software management to managing the learning function in organizations. She is Principal Learning Strategist and CEO at Triple Point Advisors and Founder of the YOUth LEAD program. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.