Continuous learning at work: the benefits and behaviours of learning organisations

October 4, 2021
June 26, 2023
Learning And Development

Do you ever feel like sprinting to a finish rather than enjoying the process? We’re increasingly governed by to-do lists at work and, when every task is a “I needed this, like, yesterday” priority, there’s not a lot of time to pause and observe what you’ve achieved.

For many employees, learning and development is put on the back-burner — it’s something we’ll “get around to one day” rather than every day.

But what if we told you that L&D is the solution to an always-running-never-reflecting environment. That a culture of continuous learning can bring development front and centre. Let’s find out how, shall we?

Continuous learning in the workplace: a definition

Team managers are the gatekeepers of continuous learning at work.

Continuous learning is an approach to team management — one that encourages managers to facilitate ongoing and regular learning opportunities for their team. This is particularly powerful in fast-growing or otherwise busy companies, as an employee’s self and career development is factored in as an essential task during the working day.

Why is continuous learning something we need to continually pursue? 10 of the biggest benefits

The benefits of continuous learning are far-reaching and hard to deny:

  1. Employees can expand their capabilities and upskill, learning key competencies in new fields.
  2. It helps your employees feel supported, motivated, and valued, improving employee morale.
  3. You can help your teams to be more adaptive and flexible in situations outside of their comfort zone (hello, greater organisational resilience!)
  4. When a company invests in career development, 94% of employees want to work there longer. A culture of continuous learning facilitates greater employee retention and means employees are 83% more likely to be happy, too.
  5. Continuous learning strengthens an individual’s soft skills, like communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.
  6. You can encourage employees to make the transition towards more senior roles and build key leadership traits.
  7. With a highly-developed team, work can be tackled more efficiently, at a faster turnaround rate.
  8. When employees feel capable and invested in, that’s when innovation and creativity are at their highest.
  9. It’s the opposite of a time drain! Once you’re in the routine of continuous learning, there’s no lengthy set-up meetings and no (figuratively) herding cats into training sessions. Employees will be more confident, capable, and only working smarter.
  10. Employees are learning when they’re most motivated, in their moments of need! If continuous learning is happening, that means people are finding knowledge and guidance in the flow of work, as they encounter challenges they need a nudge in overcoming.However, this will only truly work if you’re giving people the right tools do it! HowNow connects people with the knowledge they need, in the moments they need it, everywhere they already work (by integrating with tools they use every day).Just fill in this short demo form and we’ll show you how you can do it at your company.

In short, by embracing continuous learning in your organisation, you’ll be equipping your teams to manage challenges and opportunities — not only more effectively, but faster too.

How to develop a culture of continuous learning

If you’re totally sold on the concept of continuous learning (and trust us, you should be), your next question will inevitably be: how can I start developing this culture in my workplace?

Any and all of the below should get you on the path to continuous learning.

Promote self-directed learning

Finding the time to design learning content is a common challenge, which normally results in L&D teams becoming a bottleneck for knowledge and delays to an employee’s ability to find it. A continuous learning culture can’t exist if people run out of content or simply can’t find the resources they need in the first place.

So, why not inspire your employees to take charge of their own development and engage in self-directed learning instead?

Tips for self-directed learning

  • Allocate dedicated time each week where employees can take an online course, attend a workshop or simply spend time finding new information. Time’s not only a barrier to your leaders or L&D team, but to your learners too! Typically, people spend less than 25 minutes each week to stop and learn…
  • Give them the right tools! Now, wouldn’t it be useful for people to learn as they work? Otherwise, can we really call it continuous learning? When they encounter a challenge, they should be able to find the knowledge they need, rather than setting aside time to find it later. We’re glad you agree (we’re presuming so, anyway) because that’s part of HowNow’s mission – to bring all your external and internal resources together at the end of a single search. This means people can find them independently when they need that information most.
  • Allow them to control their learning budget. What happens when your company learning budget gets spent on a course library and hardly anyone ends up using it? Something that seemed like it was offering good value turns out to be a poor return on your investment. That’s why you’ll find more and more companies providing an annual learning budget or stipend. This gives employees the freedom to pick the best option for them, provides flexibility, can give a greater sense of ownership and motivation and overall leads to happier employees who are more motivated to learn. As you might expect, it can be a huge catalyst for continuous learning!At HowNow, we’ve seen just how effective it can be, with forward-thinking companies like Depop using our Learning Budget tool to give their people more choice and control. Slack, for example, also offer an annual allowance for professional development alongside a stipend “that you can use for anything”.
  • Assign each team member the responsibility of exploring new technology, consumer trends, or industry updates — but let them pick their area of interest, of course.
  • Build out practice scenarios and low-pressure situations. Not too long ago, KFC realised that if people couldn’t handle the heat, maybe they just need a kitchen with fewer pressure cookers! So, they created The Hard Way – a KFC Virtual Training Escape Room, where budding chefs could prepare their famous chicken in a VR kitchen. A low-pressure environment, where people can practice independently and build their confidence as well as skills. The only downside is that there’s no chicken for you to eat at the end, but virtual training isn’t quite the hungry work a real shift might be.

Celebrate every milestone, close every skill gap

Everest explorers don’t go from ground to summit in just one go. There’s an element of pushing ahead and then re-acclimating and reflecting on where you are now. The same can be said for L&D – that’s why we call it continuous learning! We never truly reach a summit, we find a new starting point for knowledge.

Company goals are set, you figure out the skills you need to get there and repeat the process, and it’s the last part that helps you build a continuous learning culture. That and the principle of measuring skills, not whether training is completed!

Traditionally, companies have been too focused on whether training’s been completed and not the impact it has. There’s simply a one-off exercise of ticking a box. By shifting your focus to skills and celebrating when they have an impact on goals, you help people build a sense of purpose and feel like they’re contributing to company success.

Measuring that progress also helps you paint a real-time picture of learning’s impact and make changes where you see issues arising. Continuous learning requires continuous reflect, where we stop and understand if course correction is needed to reach our goals.

Communicate learning opportunities — and incentivise employees to take part

When an employee is bored or disengaged at work, a lack of learning opportunities is often to blame. But there’s a difference between a genuine lack of L&D and a lack of exposure to the opportunities that exist. Awareness could be your biggest barrier to professional development!

First, clearly communicate what’s available, then motivate employees to get involved. Better yet, give people input into how you’re shaping the learning strategy and make sure their voice is heard. That way, you’re not only creating something people will be receptive to, you’re ensuring that awareness is there from the start and providing a sense that their voice is being heard.

Which incentives work?

Well, it depends, each employee might have a different answer and motivation. Hence why it’s so crucial that you speak with them. Getting involved in wider projects, representing the company and/or speaking at external events, acting as a mentor, simply offering the recognition they crave or competing for rewards  — these are all great ways of incentivising a commitment to L&D.

PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi has even had quantifiable results from writing letters of gratitude and recognition to her employees’ parents!

Keep it personal

Cookie cutters are only good when you’re actually cutting cookies. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that one program or one learning format will fit your whole company. Especially if you’re hoping to create learning pathways that people actually want to complete and follow through with. Enjoyable and beneficial experiences inspire continuous learning!

Individual Development Plans, mentorship and coaching, challenging employees to set their own goals — there’s no shortage of ways you can make continuous learning adaptable between one individual to the next. What’s important is that you do.

There really needs to be a goal exchange for this to happen effectively! You need to clearly communicate the company goals while understanding what individual employees want to achieve. You can’t drive impactful learning or progress without that discussion and both are key to a culture of continuous learning.

Be an advocate of continuous learning — starting today!

Now that we know the importance of continuous learning in the workplace, we need to get other people to believe in it too. Here’s how you can begin to spread the word:

  • Talk to your team and ask them what they think is missing. Find out what they would like to see, where they feel they need more support, and what opportunities would be the most beneficial. If you don’t understand their pain points, you’ll struggle to communicate the value of lifelong learning. This could be achieved with a suggestion box, an informal meeting, or even a digital survey, but involving everyone from the get-go is crucial to get buy-in. By the same token, continuous learning means collecting continuous feedback!
  • Celebrate transparency. No one should feel guilty or embarrassed about gaps in their understanding. If someone needs assistance with a task, they need to know that they can ask for help. And that they will receive it — without judgment or repercussion. Without this psychological safety, your employees will never feel comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone.
  • Start with yourself. Most importantly, though, you need to practice what you preach and model the behaviours you want to see. Where can you develop? Who do you need to work with to make that happen? Leading by example could be your best asset when it comes to winning over others, something you will have to do in order to create a continuous learning culture.

It doesn’t hurt to have the best tools, either. Check out how HowNow can support a culture of continuous learning at work with our all-in-one learning platform!

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