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Developing a Culture of Learning in Your Organization

“An organization’s ability to learn, and to quickly transform that learning into action, is the ultimate competitive advantage in the marketplace.”

– Jack Welch, General Electric

Staff turnover, changes in technology, new policies… there are many things that can lead to knowledge gaps in an organization. How your organization adapts to fill those gaps, or doesn’t, can have enormous implications for your success. In order to ensure that you stay relevant and that your employees and leadership have the right tools and knowledge to do their job, you need to foster a culture of learning and strive to become a Learning Organization.

In the Harvard Business Review, David Garvin et al. explain that organizations that incorporate a culture of learning are successful in:

  1. creating, interpreting, sharing, and keeping knowledge
  2. modifying actions and behaviours based on that knowledge.

You can send your employees for endless training sessions, but unless there’s a culture within your organization that values the outcomes of that training and focuses on applying the knowledge gained, then much of this training will go to waste.

So, how do you build a culture of learning?

Use What You Already Have

Your workforce includes Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who have a wealth of knowledge about your organization and your industry or market. You may also have employees who already seek out the latest information relevant to what you do, so why not make use of the knowledge, skills, and passion you already have on hand? Give those SMEs a platform to share their knowledge with other employees, leadership, and potentially external stakeholders too, whether through informal or formal sharing sessions, webinars, email blasts, blog posts, or whatever media works best for your audience. This also allows you an opportunity to capture the knowledge you have before staff retire or move on, and shows your employees that you value their expertise.

Provide Job-Relevant Training

If employees don’t feel training is relevant to their everyday work or understand how and why it matters or what’s in it for them, they’ll lack the motivation to learn and even more importantly, apply that learning on the job. Using your existing knowledge base may overcome some of this reluctance, as employees will know that the information comes from an ‘insider,’ but it’s also important to seek up-to-date training materials that are applicable to your specific context and goals, rather than simply relying on ‘out-of-the-box’ training.

Engage Your Leadership

All levels of leadership need to model the right behaviour in terms of updating their own knowledge and skills, encouraging conversations with their teams, and applying what’s been learned in an active, concrete way. Communication, support, and knowledge sharing between all levels of employees helps build your organization into one that’s learning-focused.

Use Engaging, Easy-to-Use Learning Platforms

A lot of instructional and training materials focus on interactivity and learner engagement, which is excellent for facilitating learning and information retention. However, if the delivery method, such as the online Learning Management System that contains the materials is clunky, hard to navigate, isn’t mobile friendly, or doesn’t accommodate the needs or time constraints of the learner, you’re less likely to have employees engage with the materials and more likely to have them ‘check out’ before completing the training.

Follow Clear Processes

As Garvin et al. explain, “for maximum impact, knowledge must be shared in systematic and clearly defined ways.” Clear steps and processes need to be in place for how knowledge is shared as well as how the impact of that knowledge is measured. It can take time to build this up, but expecting your team to learn in a haphazard way will lead to frustration and ineffective training.

Don’t Just Learn, Do

Continuous learning is great, but if you don’t actually apply that knowledge, then it’s useless. Change your methods, your behaviours, or your tools based on the knowledge you’ve gained. This helps reinforce the idea that the learning and training you’re asking your employees to engage in is directly applicable to their jobs. People invest more in what matters to them and what they can see makes a difference in their day to day lives.

Build on Your Success

Building a culture of learning has tangible benefits. It increases your employee engagement1 and retention, improves productivity, and also proves to your clients and stakeholders that you’re keeping up and are able to meet their ongoing needs. Ultimately, creating a culture of learning ensures that your organization stays relevant, efficient, and successful well into the future.

1 Gallup. (2017). State of the American Workplace.

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