A “learning culture” is a community of workers continuously and collectively seeking performance improvement through new knowledge, new skills, and new applications of knowledge and skills to achieve the goals of the organization. A learning culture is a culture of inquiry; an environment in which employees feel safe asking tough questions about the purpose and quality of what they are doing for customers, themselves, and other stakeholders. In a learning culture, the pursuit of learning is woven into the fabric of organizational life.
This kind of culture puts a value on using a variety of learning methods, including workshops, seminars, online courses, DVDs or online video, games and simulations, coaching, mentoring, action-learning, job-rotation, internships, or any of a dozen other ways to structure learning experiences. The method used depends on what individuals, teams, and whole organizations need to learn.
In addition to these methods of learning and performance improvement, the following social elements are critical to a learning culture:
- Building trust– We need to believe that we can rely on leaders to keep their word, that they will do the right thing, and that they will not do anything that is intentionally harmful to us and the organization.
- Encouraging risk-taking - If we are going to create new businesses and meet the challenges of mature companies, we must continue to try things that could fail and then we must learn from those failures.
- Communicating - Critical communication among leaders, between management and employees, and among departments/units, must be continuous.
- Engaging stakeholders – We have to find out what managers want to know and why. Ask them for their thoughts about learning methods. Ask them to help pilot these methods to determine if the methods will produce the learning that is needed. Continue to keep them involved.
- Allowing for feedback and reflection – We need an organizational routine of feedback from evaluative inquiry (surveys, interviews, group discussions, etc.) and reflection in which you consider the meaning of the data for learning and performance improvement.
- Supporting social learning – We need to create opportunities for people to share information with each other and talk with others about what they have learned and how they intend to apply that learning and how the group can support them in doing so.
What else do you think is key to developing a learning culture in organizations?