Simple Ways To Build a Culture of Continuous Learning at Work

Learning and development is in the middle of an exciting transformation.

New technology, the changing nature of work, and an influx of millennials into the workplace mean companies have to move away from a training culture — in which companies serve specific training to employees — to a culture of continuous learning.

The need to do this is pressing — transforming corporate learning emerged as the second most important trend in Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report. The reason? Rapidly changing tech means much of the training offered by corporate universities becomes obsolete within a few years. To keep up, 83 percent of the Deloitte’s respondents are shifting to “flexible, open career models that offer enriching assignments, projects, and experiences rather than a static career progression.”

In other words, those companies are shifting from a training culture to a culture of continuous learning.

Why is a culture of continuous learning important?

A career is no longer the end product of an education. Now, a career itself is an education for employees. It has to be; technology is developing at a lightning pace, and many of the skills employees were using even 10 years ago are outdated. Employees who are in charge of their own learning know what they need to learn and are able to find that learning when they need it, becoming more adaptable and according to ATD, making their organizations more agile, cooperative, and sustainable.

For managers, however, creating an atmosphere of continuous learning in an organization might seem like an overwhelming task, as it represents a shift in an organization’s learning and training philosophy. Changing the culture of anything is daunting; leadership will have to take a hard look at their company’s learning culture, commit to working out a strategy for continuous learning, and allocate resources to support employees.

While the big picture is important, the real creation of a culture of continuous learning happens on a smaller scale: on teams and in smaller departments where managers encourage their employees to learn whenever they can. There are many small, every-day steps managers can take to support employees, and build that culture of continuous learning from the ground up.

Integrating continuous learning into the day-to-day life of your employees

Accept that development is becoming learner-centric. Learning should be about the learner, and many learners expect and want their company to provide development opportunities for them. In fact, workers are happiest when development opportunities are provided for them: according to Mental Health America’s 2017 Mind the Workplace report, 69 percent of employees at mentally healthy organizations are offered the opportunity to learn — specifically, to acquire new skills, diversify their work, and experience autonomy at work — because professional development allows employees to learn skills that will eventually help them land better jobs. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the training provided by the company will let them do that — the learning employees value may differ from the learning their employers value. Employees who get the training they want feel like their employers care more about them, and are less likely to leave. Creating a learner-centric training environment means that managers have to be willing to relinquish some control. Rather than trying to push certain content on employees, consider the daily life of an employee and try to anticipate the sort of learning employees will need in order to do their jobs. Think of it in terms of a cafeteria: you are no longer serving a hot lunch with a predetermined menu. Instead, you’re thinking about what your employees might be hungry for, creating a buffet and allowing them to help themselves.

Know (and care) about what younger employees want.  By 2025, 75 percent of the workforce is likely to be made up of millennials, a generation used to helping themselves to the learning they need whenever they need it. Millennials, who range in age from 20-36 years old, grew up after the establishment of the Internet, and spent their school years looking up information for homework and projects online. Millennials also relish finding their own learning; according to Execu-Search’s 2017 Hiring Outlook, 76 percent of millennials say that professional development opportunities are one of the most important elements of company culture. Find out what sort of learning your youngest employees want and see how you can support them.

Don’t shy away from technology. Provide opportunities for employees to access the sorts of learning they’re used to, which in the case of millennials and even young Gen-Xers, are online resources. Employees often turn to their phones for information — according to Google, 40 percent of people search for information using only their phones. Organizations can support such mobile learning in a variety of ways; by subscribing to a content library that offers mobile learning opportunities, for example. Managers can support mobile learning much more simply— by not giving employees a hard time about being on their phones at work.

Continuous learning is good for everyone

Remember Jurassic Park’s “life finds a way” line? Learning also finds a way. If you don’t provide opportunities for your employees to improve their skills, they will look for learning on their own.

According to Udemy, 48 percent of workers spend their own money on development, but not all learners are spending money on learning. Most people head to Google and YouTube when they don’t know how to do something, and as a manager, you may not approve of the teachers they’ll find there. So rather than allowing your employees to dig up learning on their own, offer them access to a high-quality content library, served up via a flexible, but centralized LMS like Litmos, that will let them find the learning they need when they need it.

If you show your employees that you support the fact they are learning on their own, they will appreciate that. And if you give them the means to educate themselves, they’ll see that as a perk.