Understanding Learning Culture in Your Organisation

Do you dare to learn? The annual festival for rethinking learning, Dare to Learn, is taking place in September in Helsinki. Inspired by the themes of the event, we want to give you a quick guide to understand the learning culture in your organisation. Let’s explore what learning culture is, why it is important and how to recognise where the pain points and growth opportunities are in your organisation.

What is a Learning Culture?

In the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends review published by Deloitte, the three most significant workforce and talent issues for C-suite executives were:

1. transitioning to the future of work
2. the need to redesign work, and
3. reskill the workforce

This is quite a transformation of the corporate landscape and requires not only looking at what happens inside the training room, but thinking about the whole learning culture of an organization.

So what is the definition of a learning culture? Josh Bersin talks about culture as something intangible like the air we breathe, but at the same time necessary and a “hard” business issue rather than a “soft” touchy-feely thing.

“A learning culture is a collection of organisational conventions, values, practices and processes. These conventions encourage employees and organizations develop knowledge and competence.” -trainingindustry.com

Having a training plan is not a sufficient measure of building a culture of learning. The culture of learning (or the lack of) becomes tangible in moments when people react to failure, bad news or need to develop something new and innovative – it is about behaviour, mindsets and actions.

Diagnosing Learning Culture and Conditions in Your Organisation

A good way to analyse where you are and where you could start from is to identify the right questions. Below you will find a list to get conversations started, but first let’s take a look at how you could use them:

1. Get the right people in the room to have a diagnostic dialogue about learning. Get the people in a circle (everyone is equal). If you have more than 6 people, you can divide in smaller groups to give everyone a voice. Book 2 hours so you are not in a rush.

2. Pick the right questions. Use the list below as a starting point or come up with your own powerful questions. The questions need to be inspiring, focused enough to guide the conversation and open ended enough so you can’t answer yes or no. (There’s a more detailed instruction about brainstorming questions by Hal Gregersen on Harvard Business Review).

3. Discuss the issues one question at a time or cluster the questions in bundles. Don’t rush into decisions and actions before you get deeper into the issues. You don’t need to agree on everything – a part of learning is to explore and understand different points of view.

4. Crystalise the learnings. Use post-it notes or flipchart to harvest and crystalise the insights of the discussions. You can choose to wrap-up with next actions, or choose to schedule another meeting for a more action oriented approach.

Questions for exploring the state of learning culture in your organisation:

  • What do we reward for in our organisation?
  • How do people/leaders react when someone makes a mistake or don’t reach their targets?
  • Do we share mistakes, as well as successes, and what do we learn from them?
  • What are people not supposed to talk about?
  • What resources do we offer for people to learn?
  • How do we create time for learning?
  • What are the general attitudes towards learning?
  • Do we encourage people to think about their own learning goals? How do we do it and how could we support individuals to reach them?
  • What are the biggest learning challenges we are facing as a company/team right now?
  • What are the biggest learning challenges we will be facing as a company/team in the future?
  • How could we support peer learning and learning on the job?
  • If we look at our formal trainings, what kind of learning approaches could lead to desired results? (lecturing, action learning, games and simulations, group exercises etc)
  • How do our physical spaces support learning and co-creation?
  • How could we design learning in a way that supports an inspiring learning culture?

If you want to take this discussion into a more action-oriented direction, one good way to cluster the outcomes is to write down ideas on three categories:

1. STOP – What should we stop doing? (in order to develop a learning culture)
2. KEEP – What should we keep doing
3. START – What should we start doing?

Daring to Learn

Learning is about daring in many ways. To acknowledge the fact that one is learning, indicates that they are not “there yet”. In order to learn, we need to often push ourselves outside our comfort zones and try something new. Creating a learning culture in your organisation to support that is definitely not easy, but with the right tools, you’ll get there.

Keep on learning!

P/S: This year we have partnered with the Dare to Learn event and created a new game. This special edition game will be handed out to all the 1000+ participants of the 2-day festival taking place in Helsinki. If you can’t make it to the event, the Dare to Learn game will be on sale online when the event kicks off. The game will ideally work as a learning tool to engage colleagues in dialogue on learning – to give a little taste what it is to Dare to Learn.

Hope to see you at Dare to Learn on September 19-20, 2019.

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