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6 strategies to create a culture of continuous learning

What sets companies apart in the ever-changing global marketplace? Factors like having a unique selling point, great branding or targeting new markets often come to mind. To stay relevant, you need a workforce that has the knowledge and skills to innovate, quickly respond to challenges and adapt to the changing nature of work. The key to achieving this? Cultivate a culture of continuous learning.

Employee upskilling and reskilling is a top priority for Learning & Development professionals around the world. And it’s the same for employees themselves — their top three motivations to learn are all connected to career development. While continuous learning is integral to a fast-thinking, adaptable workforce that can keep pace with current trends, implementing continuous learning in the workplace requires leadership, decisive planning and dedicated time and resources to embed it in the company culture.

What is continuous learning?

The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) defines a learning culture as an environment that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge and embraces shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization. It’s the ongoing process to encourage individuals to embed new skills, knowledge and innovation across an organization. Continuous learning can take many forms — from online courses to more informal social learning, peer-to-peer sessions, or mentorship from a manager. It could also be self-directed learning in the form of a research project, experimentation and exploration. The needs of your company can inform how the learning takes place, including what employees learn and why they learn it. 

Why is continuous learning important for your business?

There is a direct correlation between learning culture and business success. Deloitte’s Leading in Learning report shows that continuous learning firms are 46% more likely to be first to market, experience 37% higher productivity and are 92% more likely to innovate. As well as these impressive statistics, having a culture of continuous learning makes your company a desirable place to work. 62% of tech employees said more training and learning opportunities would make them more motivated at work, with 58% saying skills development is a top priority when selecting a company to work for. Not only does a culture of continuous learning attract talent, but it also helps you retain it. Giving employees access to on-the-job learning has a direct impact on staff retention. Plus, treating talent as a renewable resource makes your employees feel valued and is less expensive than hiring and re-training new employees. 

Disregarding the role of learning in your employees’ work leaves them unprepared to tackle rapid changes in the workplace or the declining half-life of skills. Once, we went to work to learn to do a particular job, but learning now is the job. Adaptive and proactive learning is a prized attribute and creates long-term dividends for career development. Fostering continuous learning in your company is a must if you want valuable employees who feel valued in return, improved staff retention and overall business success.

So how can you foster a culture of continuous learning? 

Here are six strategies that will ensure a culture of continuous learning becomes, and stays, effective in your company.

1. Focus on upskilling your managers

To create a culture of continuous learning, training initiatives must be embraced by senior leadership and implemented by management. Include people managers in driving employee learning. After all, they are responsible for the performance and growth of their direct reports and for shaping the experience of their teams. Managers are the secret, skill-building weapon, and their impact on the experience of employee learning within companies is only set to grow.

Managers have complex jobs involving multiple factors. Upskill your managers by equipping them in the moment for the task at hand, with on-the-job support. Research suggests that this, as well as using online resources, is a more effective way of upskilling managers than formal programs. For example, individualized support is quick and effective. Assign your managers a mentor, preferably a more experienced manager, who they can call on when they need to problem solve. Start a group chat for managers, both new and experienced, so they can pool their knowledge and resources and have a place for support online. Explore the data and find out how your managers are using your existing library of resources, and what is and isn't working in terms of your current training materials. From there you can adjust and refresh your resources accordingly. You could even introduce new training like self-paced e-Learning courses that your managers can come back to when they need to refresh their knowledge. With better training, managers can have higher-quality career progression conversations with their direct reports, which will enable them to better support and guide their teams.

2. Make it social

To avoid disconnection and make learning more engaging, do it socially. Community-based learning connects learners to co-workers, peers and experts to drive higher engagement and inspire skill building. This is a great way to make the most of social features on digital platforms such as messaging and online groups, as well making space to ask questions during virtual instructor-led training. Since the beginning of the pandemic, LinkedIn has seen a 1,100% increase in people joining Learning Groups and a 225% increase in courses shared with a learner’s professional network. They’ve also seen a 121% increase in course Q&A participation. Employees have already adapted to gathering socially online. Implementing more social learning in your company culture is in line with how employees are already learning.

3. Blend it

83% of people say a hybrid work model — where individuals have the ability to work remotely between 25% and 75% of the time — is optimal. This means there’s a high chance that you’ll be implementing continuous learning in a hybrid workplace, so you need to make sure it will work for both office workers and remote employees, so remote workers don’t miss out on learning opportunities. Use a variety of learning formats to increase engagement and knowledge retention. You could launch your learning program with a livestream workshop to maximize direct communication with employees, provide more detailed, modular training through a series of e-Learning modules and then wrap up the learning journey with an office learning day. Mixing up the content will keep your employees engaged and will increase learning equity between workers at home and in the office. Read our previous article discussing blended learning for more inspiration.

4. Lean into collaboration

In a time when employees change roles more frequently and fluidly and develop in different directions, everyone can learn and everyone can teach. Leverage this by starting a collective curriculum that your employees can add to and teach from. Skills swaps are a good example of democratized development where everyone has something to contribute and is learning continually. You could also create a peer-to-peer coaching ecosystem. One study showed that peer-to-peer learning can lead to higher success rates and confidence. For example, Google has the Googler-to-Googler (g2g) program, a volunteer teaching network of over 7,000+ Google employees dedicating a portion of their time to helping their peers learn and grow.

5. Make it relevant

Decision fatigue is widespread, so make it easy for your employees to find, follow and focus on a learning path they are interested in. Consider generational differences — research shows that older generations of learners focus more on developing their soft skills, like communication and leadership, while Gen Z employees are focused on hard skills, like business and technology basics. In this case, individual learning paths are a solution to make continuous learning in your company more relevant and effective.

It will be tempting to make time efficiency a major driving force when fostering a culture of continuous learning, but management must recognize and prioritize what employees value. Host brainstorms and surveys, speak to employees individually to find out what they would most value learning about. What’s more, people learn best when they have to learn. Applying your knowledge to real-world situations strengthens your focus and determination to learn. Research what skills are becoming more important in your sector to create an engaging and relevant learning culture, which will also help future-proof your employees and set them up for success in the years to come.

6. Explore and experiment

Part of continuous learning is experimenting. It empowers employees by giving them time and space to be creative and make a difference, while exploring different possibilities within your company. While it’s important to impart or share existing knowledge, it’s something else entirely to create new knowledge. Experiments help you test, learn and adapt along the way. They aren’t confined to science labs — there are endless ways you can experiment at work. For example, you can try different tools to increase the interactivity of your virtual presentations or explore the impact of camera-on versus camera-off meetings.

At Quadmark, we reorganized the size and structure of our teams, breaking down our larger teams into smaller, focused groups to increase efficiency, agility and leverage the expertise of individuals. With teams in three different time zones, we are used to experimenting with how we hand over information and keep our workflow running 24/7. For an experiment to be effective, it needs to be a conscious choice and labeled as an opportunity for learning. So, track the experiments your team are working on and what they’re learning along the way. Remember, part of experimenting is failing and making mistakes, but that shouldn’t put you off!

With the speed at which technology and businesses change and develop, staying relevant relies on how quickly your company can learn. When learning is part of daily life at work, emerging needs and new trends in business become easier to navigate and take advantage of. By focusing on upskilling managers, making learning social, blended, collaborative, relevant and experimental, you’ll start building a workforce that is skilled in the one thing all businesses need to thrive — the ability to learn.


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