Three pillars of an exceptional learning culture.

A discussion about how senior learning professionals can transform the learning culture of their organisation.

Without question Learning is one of the most critical factors of success. Whether this is for individuals on a personal or professional level. For businesses and even for nations.

It is clear when speaking to senior leaders across all industries that they and the organisation they work for consider learning to be a critical success factor. Despite this, it is also very clear that these organisations don't behave in a way that supports this thinking.

This article will discuss how senior learning professional (Director, Head of etc.) can target their efforts to develop a self-sustaining learning culture which will:

  • Improve employee experience and engagement

  • Improve employee capability and opportunity

  • Improve client experience and results.

These are all aspirations of Learning functions regardless of scale, industry and budget. This bring us to the Three Pillars.

Pillar One - Audience

This should always be the first area of focus is the learning audience. In many organisations it is a general perception that this is the front-line operational employees.

This is incorrect.

Everyone in the organisation is a member of the learning audience. And they engage with learning differently depending on their age, experience, drivers, role and availability.

It is not too bold to say that while the majority of organisations have the data available to clearly define their learning audience - and perhaps define them across numerous 'sub-audiences' - this data is, more often than not, of poor quality and/or disconnected.

With this in mind, it's worth considering the consequences of a poorly understood learning audience. Let's consider two simple examples.

Person A - Front line Operational employee.

At work, this person's available time is incredibly limited. From the start of the day until they leave for home, almost every minute is planned for them and accounted for. Learning will happen when it is planned. Learning will happen when more senior employees deem it appropriate or necessary.

If we speak to Person A we find that they are someone who loves to learn. They are the kind of person that would scroll through social media watching 'how-to' videos simply because they're interesting. We also find that they are someone who thoroughly enjoys to debate, discuss and overcome problems. They thrive on it.

Person A is also ambitious. Loves the organisation they work for and they are particularly interested in a specialism - which also appears to be a position the organisation struggles to fill.

What is the actual learning experience for Person A at work?

Person A transacts with learning. They consume it. And they move on. The majority of learning they do is compliance and process related, specifically to their current role.

Much of the learning they experience is one-way - such as reading memos, reading E-learning, listening to a trainer or manager tell them about a new process.

Person A is uninspired by learning. They harbour strong ambition to progress into their desired field and based on their current learning experiences they expect that they will need to self or part-fund an external learning opportunity, potentially leave the organisation or reduce their hours to complete it. And in many cases, they simply do not have sufficient financial stability to do this.

This is, more often than not, likely to result in an incredibly valuable employee who could deliver incredible success for the organisation reaching one or more of the following conclusions:

  1. I am just a number

  2. I am not valued

  3. I won't get the development I want and even if I get the development I need I'll always be peeking out of the window to see what's available elsewhere

  4. I'm apathetic to my employer and will do a good job. But that's it.

Let's now consider Person B. A mid-level specialist in a business support function.

Person B - Mid-Level Specialist

At work, this person's available time is within their gift. They spend a great deal of their time managing varying projects and work streams, in addition to completing a number of transactional and operational tasks and a lot of time in meetings. Person B is someone who regularly works more than their 'required' shift and often completes work at home on an evening or weekend.

Person B is driven to succeed and has clear career goals though they have no immediate desire to move away from the organisation and would prefer to progress within. That said, they would not hesitate to move to another organisation should the opportunity appear a good fit.

What is the learning experience for Person B?

This person's experience of learning falls into two categories. First, Compliance and Mandatory learning. These are things like annual Health and Safety or Financial Crime E-learning modules.

The second is personal and career development. Though this is far down the list of priorities and is often something that they seek out from external providers.

Person B is appreciative of the value of learning but sees it more as a commodity than an essential tool for achieving success. This means that anything they are asked to complete which is not mandated will be avoided, in preference for completing their to-do list.

What does this mean for learning culture?

The above examples illustrates, in simple terms, the differences in learners experience and attitude toward learning.

When looking to evolve your learning culture, the learner must be the central aspect. You must know the different facets of your learning audience and manage your cultural development to suit.

Why? If we consider the above examples, you will not achieve your ideal learning culture if you focus your attention on developing amazing digital learning for an audience who doesn't care for, or has no time in learning.

And there's little benefit investing in learning technology to provide a catalogue of amazing face-to-face experiences, for the same reason.

Your attention would be better focused on first demonstrating the value of learning and ensuring all employees are given the time and space to learn. However it is currently available.

To do this, you then need to consider Pillars Two (Tools) and Pillar Three (Specialists).

Pillar Two - Tools

Tools are the things you use to develop, publish and promote your learning products. Broadly, this can be broken into four categories:

  1. Design

  2. Management

  3. Delivery

  4. Communication

Design Tools

There are some important things to consider when choosing your design tools. Things like which tools you will use to create your digital, remote and face-to-face learning solutions. And the multimedia within them.

Above all of this is your Design Framework and Methodology.

These are the definitions of how you will approach the design of a learning experience and production of content.

I know you're asking, "What has this got to do with a learning culture?" (And if you're not, you should be...).

In it's simplest form, the Framework and Methodology will become your Learning Brand. This is how your employees know that you are the source of the learning experience, for better or worse. This could be the visuals, the tone, the interactions or the whole experience. And whether you realise it or not, you already have a learning brand. Whether this is good or not is something you probably know already.

Fundamentally, this matters because if your learning brand perception (reputation) is poor, it's highly likely that your learning culture is not as strong as it could be.

Having worked across some of the biggest organisations in the world, across Finance, Energy, Charity and Public sectors. I'm ye