Learning Culture
Training & Learning

7 Ways to Build a Learning Culture That Extends Beyond Training Programs

Employee development worldwide will need to shift to upskilling and reskilling learning experiences to ensure that organizations can continue to thrive through the disruption of 1.1 billion jobs in the next five years, as the OECD predicts.

 A 2022 Pew Research survey highlighted the correlation between high workforce turnover rates and poor or non-existent development programs. More than 60% of employees cited the lack of opportunities for career advancement as the reason they quit their last job. 

Organizations can no longer treat training and development as a one-and-done activity, or they risk missing out on strengthening their team and losing employees in various positions. The solution is a culture of learning paired with the right learning management system, which we’ll dive deeper into the specifics of below.

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What is a strong learning culture?

A learning culture is an everyday experience, not a one-off event saved for training sessions. 

The culture of learning is essentially a framework in which learners can grow and expand by taking opportunities for upskilling and career development. Learning and development teams develop and implement processes to help learners make the most of these learning programs.

An effective learning culture is nurtured and developed when an organization leverages learning initiatives that emphasize the company’s values, desired skill sets, practices, and conventions. Today’s strongest learning cultures are better supported by bottom-up learning environments that are decentralized and democratized (compared to the traditional top-down approach). 

To create a true learning culture within your organization, you should also leverage continuous learning, an ‘always on’ process that motivates employee development by making it easy for learners to acquire new skill sets and competencies while promoting knowledge sharing through collaborative learning

Ultimately, your culture of learning will help you and your team members improve performance, drive innovation, and create an inclusive and diverse organization. 

How does culture affect learning?

By building a continuous learning culture, you’re creating a learning environment where all employees are eager to learn, free to ask questions, and rewarded for strategic risk-taking. 

Culture helps set the standard by which everyone within the organization understands expectations and performance standards. 

If learning is an intrinsic element of your company culture, then employee development will be a process that occurs on the job and in the flow of work. A culture of learning even helps those in leadership roles and can boost retention. Managers with the resources they need to grow are three times as likely to stay at a company for at least two years. 

To build and nurture a learning culture, you’ll need to take some key steps to ensure your company approaches this learning philosophy in a way that sticks. We outline the seven most important below—or you can cut right to the chase and download our ebook on how to become a learning organization.

1. Create and share a learning culture mission statement

With an objective learning mission statement, you tell employees, "When you show how your behavior, time, or effort fulfills this objective, you're working toward our learning mission." Basically, you give the entire company something concrete to work toward, together.
Your team members need a clear mission statement to determine learning successes and failures. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish with your learning culture, how will you know if you accomplished anything?
Give your team direction, and make your mission statement as straightforward as possible. Use specific language, decide what you want to achieve, and state how you will achieve it.

  • Bad: “At Dunder Mifflin, we will embrace learning in everything we do.”
  • Good: “At Dunder Mifflin, we prioritize learning and growth by ensuring every employee has deadline-driven learning goals, the tools they need to complete them—including an accessible LMS—and quarterly learning performance reviews.”

The bad example is vague, much like a motivational speech from The Office’s Michael Scott. Don’t be a Michael or a Toby Flenderson. Instead, use clear and actionable terms in your mission statement. 

The good example is specific. It calls out what they’re doing—prioritizing learning and creating a growth mindset—and how they will do it—ensuring every employee has learning-oriented goals and the tools they need to achieve them.

2. Reward experimentation

Most learning happens through experimentation and discovery, and experimentation comes with the risk of failure. Encourage trial and error by rewarding it and building a culture that values controlled risk-taking.

  • Whenever someone wants to run an experiment, ensure they take ownership of the experiment itself and gather the results.
  • Reward those who take risks and run experiments, even if the experiment fails. A simple shout-out on Slack or a bonus is a great way to deliver positive feedback.
  • Remind everyone that failure is a part of the process. If an experiment fails, celebrate the bravery behind the test and see what the group can learn.

Weigh the risks of any experiment proposed by your team, and encourage them every step of the way. If you reject an experiment, explain why and help them come up with a new angle. Over time, experimentation can become second nature.

An example of our experimentation mindset on Trello
Here’s an example of an experimentation template we use on the marketing team.

3. Make conversations public (when appropriate)

If your company uses Slack or another communication platform, have open forums around work-related topics, company culture, new processes, and anything else that’s not sensitive. Open forums and public conversations turn closed-off learning experiences into open-ended ones in which others can learn from the outcome.

How we share knowledge on Trello
At 360Learning, we use Trello to share tips, learnings, and advice. Here’s an example of how we share knowledge on the marketing team (by creating a Trello card accessible to anyone, where colleagues can comments, ask questions, or continue the discussion).

When all conversations are private, potential learning opportunities are missed. If two people are privately discussing an issue with a process or a client, no one else is able to share their knowledge. This also prevents anyone from seeing the outcome and from learning from that experience.

Public conversations allow every employee to learn from a discussion, ask questions, and feel included. Rather than having people send direct messages to each other, have them use Slack threads (unless the topic is personal or sensitive in nature).

Experts agree transparency naturally leads to better communication in the workplace. If your management team openly asks questions about new clients or industry trends, other employees may also be inspired to ask questions.

4. Set deadline-driven goals for learning

It’s one thing to talk about learning; it’s another to make it a priority. Have people work with their managers to set quantifiable objectives and key results (OKRs) around learning. Turn soft goals into time-sensitive objectives so employees know to prioritize them.

Without deadline-driven goals around learning, it’s easy to neglect the learning process. Deadlines create urgency and let employees know they’re responsible for learning. They also let employees know they won’t get in trouble for spending time on learning, as it’s a company priority.

Deadline-driven learning goals give your team members tangible learning objectives with a realistic time frame built in. It’s also helpful to break up larger learning goals, like mastering a new piece of software, into smaller micro-goals.

For example, rather than setting the goal, “Master Adobe Photoshop,” you can set up smaller goals like, “Complete course on light levels and curves,” and “Successfully use blending to combine two images.” These smaller goals work toward the overall plan but are far more tangible and easier to assign a deadline to.

Related: Microlearning Examples and Techniques to Improve Employee Learning Outcomes

5. Evaluate performance based on learning

Having set deadline-driven learning goals, you need to determine how to evaluate performance. This requires clear-cut metrics, much like you’d use to evaluate any other business performance.

You need evidence for individual employee development, for their sake, and to ensure your company is meeting its learning culture mission statement. Creating performance-based evaluations helps you gather that evidence.

Once goals are set, measure the employee’s performance in relation to those goals. While learning should be a fun, rewarding experience, you can still measure learning progress by examining a few key areas:

  • Goals completed: Simply put, measure if the person is completing goals. Avoid comparing the number of goals completed between employees, as goals vary in size and individuals move at their own pace.
  • Goal cancellation: Look at the number of goals an employee has canceled. If they’ve canceled or changed any goals, try to determine if there’s a common thread.
  • Deadlines met: Along with the number of goals completed, see if the person is also meeting deadlines. If they’re frequently achieving goals after deadlines, attempt to determine if goals are too lofty or if another issue exists.
  • Work improvements: If you can, track or notice any work-related performance improvements due to goals. If someone made it a goal to master a specific tool, and now their output is faster because of that tool, celebrate that!

Measuring performance in learning also helps cement learning as necessary, not just a one-and-done event. Much like experimentation, ensure employees feel celebrated for accomplishing their goals.

6. Encourage employees to look for external learning opportunities

Your company is brimming with knowledge, both documented and undocumented. Sharing institutional knowledge helps this information get out into your company. It’s still important you and your team find outside learning opportunities as well.

Virtually every industry experiences growth and change. Without any outside sources of knowledge, your company will only ever be as smart as the knowledge within it. Outside knowledge, whether something small like a book or something large like a paid course, can help you stay competitive.

Set aside a budget for outside learning opportunities such as books, classes, and other resources needed for upskilling. Be sure to update your onboarding to reflect this learning stipend so new hires are aware.

Next, create a standardized way for employees to request these resources or funds. Have them justify their need against the company’s mission statement and their own learning goals. This will help ensure the budget is used wisely. In many cases, learning stipend use cases can also be tied to the person’s learning goals.

Here’s an example of how we organize this:

7. Facilitate connections that wouldn’t otherwise happen

No matter the size of your company, there’s always a chance people won’t have an opportunity to get to know each other. You may need to create opportunities for people to connect, chat, and share knowledge.

Let’s say you have someone in marketing who’s excellent with website copy. Meanwhile, someone on the product team excels at explaining the product concisely and convincingly. 

Giving the two the opportunity to chat, whether in an informal watercooler setting or a formal co-working session, allows them to share knowledge and discuss their methods. As a result, you have a marketer who’s better at describing the product and a product person who understands how marketing materials engage the customer.

Create opportunities for collaboration: onboarding buddy partnerships, co-working sessions, mentoring programs, and informal watercooler chats. Coupled with the transparent conversations happening in Slack, your team will have numerous opportunities to connect and swap knowledge.

Related: Why Collaboration Skills Offer a Major Competitive Advantage (Plus 10 Ways to Unleash Them)

Transform a learning culture into a learning organization

An effective learning culture will help you develop a team that embraces learning by establishing productive practices around a growth mindset and employee development. 

This is a great way to get your team on board with continual growth, and there’s more you can do. For example, you can take a step further and become a learning organization

A learning organization makes education and growth the foundation of their company and is unafraid to change the direction of their company or positioning when discoveries are made. Learn how you can become a learning organization with our free ebook download here.