Fostering a continual learning environment

Over the past twenty years, the business world has learned that you never know what may be lurking around the corner. The 9/11 attacks. The Global Financial Crisis of 2008. The COVID-19 pandemic. There also have been major innovations that have radically changed industries. Market disruptors like Netflix and Amazon Prime have changed how we watch movies and TV shows. Spotify has changed the way we consume music. All this reminds us how volatile the business environment is and how quickly such disruptive innovations can render obsolete existing products and business models.

So, companies need to be agile and flexible to adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace, identify opportunities in times of crisis, and act as regular innovators. For this to happen, you need to have a highly engaged, creative, and inquisitive workforce that can immediately impact your business.

This type of workforce can only come together when fostering a continual learning environment that encourages employees to develop new skills and adopt new ways of thinking. Continual learning environments have many benefits. For example, a study by Deloitte showed that companies that provide learning opportunities are 92% more likely to innovate and are 37% more productive. There are many ways you can allow employees to gain new skills and knowledge. Before we describe them, let’s look at what it takes to build a culture of continuous learning in your company.


Building a continuous learning culture

Align learning with company goals

There are a variety of learning opportunities you can offer your employees. They can range from formal education and training to informal knowledge-sharing between workers. Whatever you choose to provide must be relevant to your company and employees’ needs. This starts with your leaders obtaining a clear vision of what continuous learning means to the organization and the results. They must also articulate how continuous learning will help the company achieve its goals and benefit individual employees.


Set up a learning management system

A learning management system (LMS) allows companies to document, track, administer, and deliver educational programs, training courses, and learning content to employees. The main benefit of an LMS is that it can be tailored to your business needs and enable you to deliver personalized learning programs to different employees simultaneously in one place. The tracking element of the LMS helps you to identify skills gaps, which you can use to create future training programs. Employees can also use the system to track their progress. The LMS can support a variety of content formats, including text, audio, and video. This way, you can create innovative and highly engaging training programs.


Allow employees to take ownership of their learning

Ownership is the most effective way to get your employees to buy into the continuous learning culture. Setting their own learning goals makes them more engaged and creates a sense of ownership in their professional development. A great way of doing this is creating a development action plan with key goals and milestones for each employee. Let the employee have significant input in the plan. After establishing learning goals, the manager and employee are accountable for achieving them.


Leaders need professional development too

Employees at all levels of the organization must gain new skills and knowledge to truly support a continuous learning culture. This means your C-suite executives and mid-level managers are also continuously learning. Acquiring new skills and adopting new ways of thinking enable everyone to perform their roles more effectively and improve as leaders. Also, please encourage them to share their learning experiences. Sharing information will show employees that managers are willing to lead by example and don’t consider themselves above or exempt from learning and development.


Monitor and consistently improve learning opportunities

You can achieve this through encouraging managers and employees to share their experiences of educational material, training courses, and learning content. So, provide them with the communication tools to give feedback, such as online forums, social media, and the company intranet. Learning management systems also gather and track data, allowing you to monitor the usage of training materials and gather employee feedback. This data will help you identify areas for improvement and make sure learning opportunities stay relevant to the employees and company’s needs.


Some learning options

Tuition reimbursement

Tuition reimbursement is financial support provided by a company to an employee to help pay for courses that will benefit both parties. The company reimburses the employee once they have completed the course. Offering this benefit makes your employees feel valued and appreciated. It also sends the message that you see great potential in them. These positive messages motivate your employees to improve their performance. And, supporting education also allows upskilling your existing workforce and makes them promotable. For example, are there certifications your employees could obtain that would sharpen or hone their expertise? Those are great educational experiences to get behind! Investing in the education of current employees helps avoid the cost of the alternative – recruiting and training external candidates.


Attendance of industry events

Paying your workers to attend trade shows and industry conferences can be a considerable investment. But, with enough preparation, it can yield significant benefits for both your employees and your company. Attending events represents an excellent opportunity for employees to network with people from other companies. They may also meet and learn from industry experts. These connections can lead to lasting relationships for your employees and your company.

Very often, conferences include presentations and workshops led by experts and influencers. This allows employees to learn new skills and best practices, which they can quickly apply to their roles. Industry events also enable your employees to broaden their knowledge and visualize their roles as part of a larger picture. This visualization adds meaning to what they do, making them feel reinvigorated and more productive upon their return to work.


Informal learning

Many different forms of informal learning are just as, if not even more, valuable than formal education and training. It includes listening to podcasts and watching videos, shadowing senior executives, and mentoring and coaching managers and peers. More importantly, informal learning can also involve encouraging employees to talk about their mistakes and any ideas they tested that failed when performing their roles. Sharing lessons learned with managers and colleagues is a valuable exercise. Others may suggest alternative solutions to avoid similar problems in the future. It’s a win-win as the whole organization learns and improves. Openly sharing challenges also provides employees with a safe space to experiment, fail, and learn.

There are so many educational experiences, training courses, and content out there that you can offer your employees. But, to encourage them to take up these learning opportunities and make them work for your organization, you need to build a strong learning culture. Tailor learning options to benefit your company and meet your employees’ needs. Once you succeed in building a learning organization, you’ll have a highly motivated and creative workforce that may become the next ‘market disruptor.’


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