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Creating a Culture of Learning: 4 Steps to Define a Continuous Learning Program

Lori Smith Avatar
by 
Lori Smith
on June 19, 2018

An exclusive emphasis on traditional learning and development is no longer relevant to 21st-century careers. Employees know they need to constantly update their skills. And organizations are recognizing that a “culture of learning”—one that is dynamic and continuous—is key to attracting and retaining the best talent.

Learning is no longer an episodic, siloed experience. It’s an agile process defined by the employee experience. And employee preferences are further shaping new approaches to learning, career models, performance management, and career development.

According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, 90% of executives say learning and development is a necessary benefit to employees at the company.

Continuous learning—defined as a program that enables employees to enhance their skills and knowledge at their own pace through a personalized development design—empowers employees to perform effectively and adapt to changes in the workplace.

This model, when powered by the right training and development strategy, best practices, and technology, allows leaders to align employee learning and performance with overarching business goals.

Traditional learning and development is no longer relevant to 21st-century careers. Continuous learning, when guided by employee and company goals, can give you a competitive advantage.
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If your organization is interested in building a continuous learning program, here are 4 steps to follow for success over the long term.

Step 1: Define the Goals of Your Learning Program

In order for learning managers to create a strategy that works, they need a firm idea of the desired end state. So take time to define the ultimate business outcomes and consider how you will influence and empower employees and tie initiatives to organizational goals.

Remember that your learning program can support multiple goals, so it’s important to prioritize them.

Given that 81% of executives say talent is the number one priority, aligning learning and development priorities with individual aspirations is a logical approach for many companies.

A whopping 94% employees say they would prolong their tenure in a position if the company invested in their career development, yet learners feel they lack adequate time and managerial guidance. Talent developers agree, naming “increased manager involvement” as the number two challenge they face.

In light of that, another high priority for your learning program might be for managers to stay proactive in employees’ learning programs and foster an active dialogue.

Orienting your program around employee needs also allows leaders to tie learning to employee performance data. Your performance process is another excellent foundation for identifying and prioritizing learning program goals—to ensure you are preparing employees for promotion and growing future leaders.

Step 2: Create a Program Structure That Supports Your Goals

With goals defined and prioritized, you can build a program with sufficient flexibility to support your strategy. A solid structure links that strategy to execution—including your instructional design, program management, training logistics, and, if necessary, change management.

In large organizations, learning and development programs are typically centralized, but continuous learning demands some autonomy at the department level to create meaningful opportunities for informal learning, coaching, and mentoring.

Not surprisingly, structuring your learning program to align with individual and business goals is key. Here again, when learning management systems and performance management systems work together, HR teams can better map learning opportunities to core competencies and goals established during the performance process.

Step 3: Empower Employees with the Right Instructional Design and Technology

Continuous learning in enterprise organizations is successful in part because it draws on the experience and expertise of your high-performing and most engaged employees—if you have the right tools in place to empower them.

Live courses, seminars, and conferences are still popular training techniques, but offering next-generation learning can bolster traditional approaches by creating more frequent and informal learning opportunities. You can teach key skills, strengthen company culture, and share knowledge across the workforce through:

  • On-the-job training
  • Mentoring and coaching
  • Digital learning.

These instructional approaches hold the key to just-in-time learning—allowing employees to access training and information where and when they need it, on desktop or mobile, in the flow of work.

Video and real-time collaboration are particularly valuable training and coaching tools. For example, empowering employees at all levels to create short videos of key tasks or skills, to ask questions, and to share knowledge can deliver a rich, informal learning experience. One that drives learning outcomes and builds a culture of engagement, collaboration, and connection.

Step 4: Invest in a Next-Generation Learning Management Solution (LMS)

Not all learning management solutions are created equal.

In order to create a successful continuous learning program, your LMS should support digital and informal learning, as well as coaching and mentoring—including online courses, on-demand content, video, and real-time collaboration. A modern LMS will enable you to deliver learning opportunities that accommodate the variety of learners in your organization—enabling them to learn at their own pace and at the point of need.

Your LMS should also enable the organization to track and report progress toward individual goals and desired business outcomes by integrating learning, performance, and business data.

Making Learning a Competitive Advantage

Employees today view learning is its own reward. When organizations create learning opportunities, they drive up engagement, job satisfaction, career growth, and retention.

And by empowering employees not only to learn but also to share knowledge and mentor one another, working relationships are forged and fostered, which in turn enhances motivation, innovation, and productivity.

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