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Dani Johnson

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How effective is your learning culture in the hybrid world of work?

Six ways L&D can exert a positive influence on learning culture.

Every organisation has a learning culture – intentional or not. A learning culture is the sum of all systems, processes, content, technology, messaging, rewards and analytics that either encourage or discourage employees in their quest to continuously gain new skills and expertise.

L&D functions have the ability to influence six different behaviours through the language they use, the investments they make, the technology they employ, and the actions they enable.

Before the pandemic, we frequently heard the term ‘learning culture’, but we were also often disappointed in how the term was applied. In many cases, learning culture was used to describe an L&D function’s (usually aspirational) philosophy about how L&D wanted learners to learn.

Interestingly, though, the pandemic changed this a bit. After the initial panic that had L&D leaders scrambling to get all classroom courses online and accessible to their newly completely remote workforce, the sheer size of the challenge of learning remotely made several organisations stop and reflect on what learning really meant and what about their learning culture wasn’t working.

Now, as L&D functions come out from behind their masks, we see tremendous opportunities for organisations to redefine what learning means to their leaders and employees, and the impact their learning culture has on the organisation.

The learning framework

A couple of years ago, we introduced a learning framework that helps L&D functions (and the organisations they serve) to think through what behaviors are necessary to build a learning culture. While there are myriad ways to execute on this framework, in essence, it encourages L&D functions to focus less on pushing content and more on creating environments that encourage learning as a matter of course.

L&D functions have the ability to influence six different behaviours through the language they use, the investments they make, the technology they employ, and the actions they enable, as shown in the figure below.

1. Plan

L&D functions have a responsibility to help employees plan their development. As employees take more ownership of the kind of career they want to have instead of following predefined paths the organisation has identified, this task has become more complicated, but infinitely more important.

As L&D groups put into place processes and tools that can enable employees to not only think about their careers, but help them identify the skills they need to get there, they will most likely have more skilled and knowledgeable workers and establish development as a really important aspect of company culture.

2. Discover

L&D functions have a responsibility to help employees find the right stuff for the skills they need or wish to build. This is often done through curation (we recommend technology to help), marketing efforts, and building behaviors of sharing and cooperation.

As content continues to grow exponentially, L&D can do a lot to create a signal through the noise, guiding employees to the best stuff – whether it’s internal and external. Technology can help scale this for individuals.

3. Consume

L&D functions have a responsibility to make content that is accessible and easy to consume. While each organisation has to decide for itself whether to build, borrow, or buy the content, making it consumable and accessible takes into account factors like format (video, article, course) availability (is it applicable to just one function, or can it be shared more broadly?), and distribution (can it be viewed on mobile and outside the company’s firewall?).

4. Experiment

As we all know, learning often happens by doing. L&D functions have a responsibility to encourage employees to introduce new skills into their workflow and practice them on the job. Some of this can be done through solid instructional design (follow-on assignments or projects, spaced learning, etc.) and some of it necessitates collaboration and cooperation with those who assign and manage work (follow-up, check ins, making the culture a safe place for mini failures, etc.)

5. Connect

L&D functions have a responsibility to help employees find and learn from each other. Increasingly, peer-to-peer learning is happening through tools often used to do the work itself, like Slack, Teams, shared spaces, even social networks (e.g. LinkedIn).

Many of these tools have the added benefit of highlighting where and with whom knowledge can be found. In planning both its technology and its offerings, L&D should consider who can teach what to whom, deputising the organisation to teach itself rather than relying on L&D with its limited resources to do it all.

6. Perform

One of the most encouraging things we have seen with respect to learning culture is that L&D functions are getting better at side-stepping learning – taking people out of the work to ‘teach’ them something – to instead using the work itself as a part of the learning process.

While there are some pretty cool technologies out there to help incorporate consistent learning and feedback into work, real success is more about helping employees and managers see the value of the work itself for learning and incorporating job shadowing, stretch assignments, and regular communication and feedback to help employees learn. 

As L&D functions are faced next with the prospect of hybrid workforces, learning culture will be more important than it’s ever been. Paying attention to these six behaviors and the resources that will enable them can help L&D functions prioritise, plan, and even measure how successful their learning culture is.

Read more on the learning framework and its application to learning technology and learning analytics at Redthread Research.

One Response

  1. Very nicely put. Thank you
    Very nicely put. Thank you for helping cut through the fog to focus on essentials.
    Cheers, Paul

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