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Laura Overton

Learning Changemakers


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Shifting the learning atmosphere

How L&D can drive a change in the ‘learning climate’.

The latest CIPD Learning at Work study released this week explores how learning professionals are responding to the changing world of work. Core to its findings is that the way we flex and adapt as individuals, teams and organisation is more important today than ever before.

While this is not a new view - indeed Peter Senge addressed this back in 1990, as did Josh Bersin in 2020 and more recently the CIPD’s previous report on the New Learning Organisation - one thing all these frameworks have in common is their holistic view of how the organisation adapts and flexes by bringing in outside perspectives and learning from others to address the task at hand. 

They all contain evidence to show that learning organisations are more likely to be successful - improving growth, agility and competitiveness. They also indicate that workplace learning is learning while working, and it is the responsibility of everyone, not just L&D.  

L&D’s role in this type of organisation isn’t just about the way we deliver courses and content to our audiences more flexibly and personally; and it’s not just about how technology can help us design, analyse and deliver better aligned programmes faster. 

Centrally it’s about playing our part in equipping organisations to flex and adapt.

Fresh insights

Working with data volunteered by over 1100 learning practitioners across the UK during February 2023, the CIPD Learning at Work study offers a snapshot of the opportunities and challenges that the learning profession are facing right now. 

Trust, curiosity, psychological safety and willingness to learn from mistakes are regularly considered key features of a great learning culture.

At a foundational level the study explores trends in approaches, methods and media, uncovering attitudes to our profession and the environments in which we work. It compares perspectives from those leading and working in L&D teams, those hard pressed HR people with an add on of learning in their job role, and those passionate about learning but without a formal remit.

What the majority (65%) have in common is a belief learning offers a meaningful career. It’s also clear that as workload increases with an organisational focus on the skills agenda, our role will need to move beyond traditional approaches to course and content delivery to influencing and shifting the environment in which we work.

The current learning climate 

If workplace learning involves learning while working, individuals and teams need a conducive climate in which to thrive; a climate that creates permission to spot opportunities, solve problems, to learn and share from the experience of learning.

Unfortunately, fewer than two in five of learning practitioners said they were working in an atmosphere of trust and curiosity that enabled this level of learning.

Learning professionals who intentionally build their own skills within their own busy work schedules are better equipped to help others do the same.

Time to say no to blame culture

Trust, curiosity, psychological safety and willingness to learn from mistakes are regularly considered key features of a great learning culture. What’s needed is an environment where staff are empowered to become more self-directed and in control of their learning journey.

Half of learning practitioners today reported that a lack of learning time and lack of engagement prevented them from supporting the wider people and organisational goals of the business.

There’s a potential problem here: when we conflate engagement with our programmes as an indicator of our organisation’s ‘learning culture’, we are in danger of making  others accountable for our success. In doing so, we become part of the problem versus part of the solution.

This is an exciting time, so let’s move out from operating under a culture of blame to contributing to a culture of continual improvement.

While the CIPD study explored how we currently go about our day to day L&D practice, the data also highlights opportunities where we can create a positive shift in the learning atmosphere of our organisations.

Four opportunities for shifting the learning atmosphere

1. Collaborating with others on common goals: In the CIPD study, 63% agreed or strongly agreed that they work in collaboration with other functions to deliver business-critical priorities and 57% said they are proactive in identifying performance issues before recommending a suitable solution (up from 2021). Let’s make sure that we are working together on jobs to be done versus courses to be delivered.

2. Modelling alternatives: We may not have significant sway over the way our organisations operate but we can proactively model effective learning practices within our current work remit. Lets become more intentional in encouraging alternative approaches to building skill and confidence by:

  • Supporting sharing and collaboration: 36% said they had encouraged collaboration with peers as a means to support learning in the workplace, up from 30%. It’s clear there’s still plenty more opportunity for growth. Only 18% say that individuals in their organisation know how to learn from connections and community, so perhaps there’s a great opportunity there
  • Prioritising practice: It’s encouraging to see that a quarter of respondents said they now encourage job rotation, secondment and shadowing as a mode for building skill (up from 16% to 26%), and 45% have a process in place for supporting learning transfer. There’s so much more we can do, however - the workplace is where the ‘aha’ moments take place and knowledge gets turned into skill.

Everything that you do on a daily basis, either puts deposits into your culture bank account, or it takes its toll.

3. Enabling the system, not just the learners: Self-directed learning was listed as a top three L&D priority for 13% of respondents, while 29% said that their managers are equipped to support team learning. With all our focus on leadership and management training we have a perfect opportunity to model what continual learning looks like and give managers the tools and motivation to use it within their teams. Currently only 23% offer performance support tools at the point of need - now that might be a useful place to start making a difference.

4. Being the change: In previous studies I have seen that learning professionals who intentionally build their own skills within their own busy work schedules are better equipped to help others do the same. So let’s give ourselves permission to experiment (13% have used test and learn in the last year to build their own skills), to network (42% did this), to join communities of practice (17% participated in this) or engage with research to stimulate and challenge your thinking (29% said they’d done this in the last year to build their skills).

Investing in culture

Beth Hall, former head of People Experience and Development at Cotton On Group, said this about culture:  “Everybody is the CEO of culture, and you all own culture, because every behaviour and every interaction, everything that you do on a daily basis, either puts deposits into your culture bank account, or it takes its toll”.

This year’s CIPD study highlights so many opportunities for us to invest in the culture of our organisation and positively shift the learning atmosphere. I have flagged just four, but what will you choose to do to make a difference?

Download the full CIPD Learning at Work report here.

If you’ve been already investing in the wider learning culture of your organisation then it’s time to enter (for free) the 2023 Culture Pioneer Awards. Laura Overton is on the judging panel and  we would love to see what you’re doing in this space.

One Response

  1. highlights the importance of
    highlights the importance of learning culture for organizational success. To thrive, L&D must focus on collaboration, modeling effective practices, enabling managers, and investing in self-development. Let’s proactively shape a culture of continual improvement in workplace learning.

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Laura Overton


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