What Is a Culture of Learning—and How Does Yours Stack Up?

The term “learning culture” has been around for a while, but it’s becoming even more prevalent—and relevant—as more people transition from traditional office life to working remotely. But what does learning culture mean, and why is it important? In this series, we’ll explore what a good culture of learning looks like and common barriers that can prevent organizations from cultivating an environment of continuous learning. We’ll also look at tools and strategies to tackle each barrier so you can establish a learning culture in your organization.

What is learning culture?

A learning culture is a mindset within an organization where learning and improvement are at the heart of how people prioritize their time, do their jobs, and interact with one another. It’s a culture where people are actively seeking opportunities to develop themselves and others, and to explore new ways for the organization as a whole to improve. (We’ll discuss what a good learning culture looks like in the next post).

By contrast, those who work for organizations without a culture of learning often associate the term “learning” with boring, ineffective compliance training—and self-improvement isn’t even on the radar. People attend training and complete courses where and when they are told to, and normally only when they start their role and then on an annual basis for compliance refreshers. People don’t know (and perhaps don’t care) what they need to learn to enhance and advance their careers or how to access the resources they need to make it happen. (We’ll explore what a bad learning culture looks like in the third post.)

Why is a learning and development culture important?

The world has changed dramatically during the last 30 years, and continues to change—especially in light of COVID-19. But even pre-pandemic, we’ve seen many once-successful businesses fail because they didn’t adapt to the world around them. At the same time, other businesses have adapted and thrived. A vital part of any agile business is an evolving workforce—and having a learning culture, the ability to learn and adjust accordingly, is essential to long-term success.

The learning required to keep up with the pace of change can’t all be top-down formal training. The people on the ground doing the work need to have the freedom and support to drive their own development. According to a recent study from Fosway, current global conditions have resulted in a significant shift to digital learning, which includes an increased demand for digital learning content from learners themselves.

So, perhaps more now than ever, it’s imperative to create an environment where people not only take responsibility for their own professional growth and development, but also have the resources they need to make it happen. Otherwise, how can they be expected to support the organization’s changing needs?

What are common workplace learning challenges?

For many organizations, getting people to take charge of their own learning and development can be a challenge. That’s because some people may consider “learning” as their annual compliance training, while others don’t know where or how to start on their own. And for many, simply finding the spare time—and motivation—outside daily projects, meetings, and other commitments can seem impossible.

The organization itself also can create barriers, either inadvertently or deliberately, to learning. For example, people may not be given dedicated time for learning, or they may be penalized for taking time away from their work to learn. Other barriers might include a lack of opportunities and resources to support learning, or a lack of support in identifying career development that relates to specific learning needs.

Providing opportunities and an environment for self-directed learning is an important step (e.g. offering content via a learning experience platform). But that’s not the whole solution, and people need to be encouraged and supported to make use of these opportunities to learn. And because we also learn so much from experience, it’s critical to allow people to learn from mistakes without harsh punishment. In other words, creating a culture of learning while removing barriers to self-directed learning are vital to the continuous growth and success of employees and, as a result, an organization’s long-term success.

How can learning analytics improve learning culture?

As we’ve shared before, it’s hard to know what improvement looks like if you’re not defining and measuring it. Each post in the series will link learning culture to learning measurement and ask how analytics can support the development of a learning culture. In general, learning analytics helps in two ways:

  1. It provides tools to monitor the development of a learning culture in your organization so you can see what’s working and what’s not.
  2. It helps you identify how strong the learning culture is across different areas of the organization, allowing you to foster and enhance those areas where learning culture can use a boost.

Up Next: What does a good learning culture look like?

In our next post, we’ll envision what a good learning and development culture looks like. As a result, you’ll be better able to create a vision and plan for cultivating your own culture of continued learning in your own organization.


The Office is used here only to illustrate the examples in this blog post. Watershed is not associated with, sponsored by, or affiliated with Reveille Productions, NBC Universal Television, 3 Arts Entertainment

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