Providing employees with the right tools that enable them to acquire new knowledge quickly and continuously.
1. DEFINITION OF LEARNING CULTURE
In the past, most companies regarded learning within human resources development as a task that had to be offered. Continuing education was on the agenda more through a sense of obligation than one of considered strategic benefit.
In reality, however, it was a means to an end: by participating in a seminar in a nice conference centre, the employee was given a break from everyday working life with its recurring routines. This was supposed increased employee satisfaction. No less, no more. The courses were usually not necessary for organisational success. Until a few years ago, it was sufficient to complete an apprenticeship or a course of study at the beginning of a career. The acquired knowledge was sufficient for the whole life career.
Today is different. Knowledge changes quickly. This applies to technical content as well as IT applications. And in both areas it is imperative that employees stay up-to-date. Otherwise there is a risk that they will execute their job responsibilities with insufficient know-how. Sooner or later this will have an impact on the quality of the results and in the long term the company’s success will suffer.
Learning culture is term being discussed in organisations large and small around the world . But what exactly is a learning culture? The basic idea is to provide employees with the right tools that enable them to acquire new knowledge quickly and continuously. And always when they need it. There are a wide range of choices now available to companies. It ranges from more classical learning methods with a high‘presence‘ to more dynamic ones methods, which represent a mixture of presence or online formats, to microlearning events in nano format.
Acquiring existing knowledge, however, is only one side of the coin. A learning culture is more than that. It is also about supporting employees in developing new ideas and solutions alone or together.
To achieve this, environments must be created in which employees can network and exchange information with each other. Offline, but also online. Many companies now operate across global borders. Accordingly, employees must also be able to exchange information via virtual paths. And so that the new knowledge cannot be wasted and passed on directly and profitably to other employees, opportunities should be created to document and share it. Sharing is caring – this principle will also shape vocational and company learning in the future!
It would be best if company learning could be seamlessly integrated into everyday working life. The acquisition of new knowledge and ideas can be called up or developed whenever it is necessary. All this falls under the concept of learning culture: learning becomes a cultural component of an organisation, its no longer a time to time occurrence – but a constant. Alone and together.
It is important that each type of learner is provided with the specific tools they need for professional learning. Be it in the form of coaching, online courses, blended learning or a knowledge app or a combination. In the digital age, companies are faced with the challenge of composing the right learning mix – that secures their competitiveness and helps establish a learning culture.
Well-trained professionals differentiate successful companies from less successful ones. In an increasingly data-driven future, this difference will become even more pronounced. Because job requirements are shifting ever faster and will become more complex in the foreseeable future.
This is due to the fact that routine tasks are increasingly performed by machines ensuring the employee is increasingly becoming a knowledge worker. Routine human resource jobs that are easy to process will sooner or later die out. New, highly specialized job profiles are created elsewhere for this purpose.
According to the World Economic Forum, at least 133 million new roles will be created worldwide by 2022 as a result of the increasing division of labor between people, machines and algorithms. Above all, there will be a strong demand for technical skills such as programming and app development, as well as skills that computers cannot master: Creative thinking, problem solving and negotiation skills.
The point is, that when knowledge bottlenecks exist, companies can no longer simply hire new employees to lead their organization into a secure future. Because the size of the pool of available talent is shrinking rapidly.
Corporate leaders have only one option to counter this change: They must create in their organisation a culture of lifelong learning in which skills gaps are addressed before they arise and manifest themselves. Only those who ensure that their own employees always operate at the cutting edge of knowledge have a chance to counteract the competition in times of increasing pressure to innovate and global competition. These are the results of the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report 2018”. This makes the establishment of a learning culture indispensable.
However, a successful learning culture does not only require the introduction of learning courses and the right tools. It also depends on the individual employee to accept and use them. To achieve this, learning must move out of the niche of frustration and hard work. Accordingly, employees must be self-motivated to constantly acquire new knowledge. Only then will the idea of a learning culture work.
The paper “The Rise of the Learning Culture” by the consulting company SpencerStuart revolves around this core idea. The authors do not gloss over this in any way: Achieving this goal is a challenge.
Because lifelong learning is not necessarily inate. On the contrary, many of us prefer the comfort of proven routines. So if you want to establish a learning culture, you have to get employees to leave their comfort zone, regularly. Nurturing the curiosity to learn can be key.
According to SpencerStuart, every organisation that wants to establish a functioning learning culture must first question which factors motivate its own employees to learn and offer them exactly the conditions they need to do so. The following questions need to be answered:
- Which forms of learning appeal to their senses?
- Which motivators stimulate the individual’s desire to acquire new knowledge?
The path to the goal leads via consistent change management. First of all, the status quo must be acknowledged:
- To what extent can a company already be described as a learning organisation?
- What’s going well, what can be improved?
The next step is to establish measures needed to raise the profile of learning and improve learning conditions. In order to find the right answers to these questions, companies should engage in close dialogue with their employees and ask them which adjustment they see as necessary. They’ll see it soon enough: In addition to the right tools, a learning culture also requires the right learning conditions.
Employers need to know about this:
- Do employees have the necessary time at all to integrate learning into their daily work? If this is not the case, the distribution of tasks should be reconsidered.
- Or: Are there the right premises that make it possible to concentrate knowledge acquisition?
- Or: Are there adequate technical possibilities?
The examples show: There are many factors that have to play into each other to create a functioning learning culture. From these findings, it is necessary to derive the required structural decisions to support the cultural shift towards lifelong learning.
3. WHY A LEARNING CULTURE IS GAINING IMPORTANCE?
The demotivation cycle
Employees whose knowledge becomes increasingly outdated lose motivation for their work at some point. Due to their lack of knowledge, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to produce results of consistent quality. And since knowledge is becoming increasingly outdated in our fast-moving times, motivation also drops off quickly. Employers break through this vicious circle with a learning culture.
If you want to keep up with a constantly changing working world, you have to train your brain like a muscle. This is the idea behind the notion of Employability. Workers who never stop learning do not unlearn, but they do increase their mental fitness in small doses. Accordingly, they never have to acquire large, indigestible pieces of knowledge, but learn successively and continuously. This makes them “stronger” from a technical point of view.
But they must never stop. And to stay with the fitness analogy: If you build up muscles in the gym, you will quickly lose them again as soon as you stop exercising. If, on the other hand, one trains consistently without overtaxing himself, successes are not only quickly recognizable, but also measurable in the long term. The same applies to learning. If employees never stop, they are better prepared for the challenges of a rapidly changing labour market. Prepared in this way, they will be more likely to avoid the problems of adapting to new work place realities.
The term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to a series of basic rules that an organisation feels obliged to observe towards the environment or society. The corresponding rules of conduct go hand in hand with duties for each individual. Corporate Social Responsibility focuses on the idea that companies should not only be profit-oriented, but should also build a positive relationship with the society in which and for which they operate. More and more companies are making social responsibility an integral part of their business activities.
What does this have to do with a learning culture? A lot! Plato already assumed that the society in which he lived was fundamentally corrupt. In his eyes, education was the only way to create an ideal society. Recent research also indicates that regular employee training and the background knowledge it provides help to measurably strengthen a company’s CSR activities.
Knowledge has become an economic factor in organizations. This is because the competitive pressure in globalized competition is growing, product lifecycles are decreasing and innovations must be brought to market faster and faster. The prerequisite for innovation is knowledge.
This includes knowledge about new market developments, new specialist topics and digital userknow-how. Only employees who combine this triad can ensure the long-term competitiveness of their company and create innovations that do not lag behind the market but lead it. A learning culture helps to make the resource of knowledge available to one’s own employees.
Granted: The establishment of a learning culture is associated with effort and costs. In this context, however, employers should bear in mind that investing in one’s own employees is always an investment in one’s own company. In the competition for the Next big Thing, it makes the decisive difference whether a company has the right people with the right expertise to realize it. All the more reason for organisations to be concerned not only with attracting and retaining the best talents. They must also ensure that they are continuously developed.
It is a fact that changes in the world of work are increasing the need for further training. Just like established employees, new employees expect employers to offer them tailor-made learning opportunities. Therefore, a functioning learning culture is jointly responsible for how attractive an employer appears to applicants.
Many talented young people even discuss the further training opportunities on offer during their job interviews. This is the result of the study Continuing Education Trends in Germany 2018 (article in german). Ergo: Employers who do not invest in a learning culture today will no longer be able to close the gap between the increasing demand for talent and the declining supply of skilled workers: Smart companies recognise this and consistently focus on the further training of their employees, especially in order to bind existing employees to the company.
Employees in companies with higher training budgets are significantly more satisfied. This was the result of an investigation by Kursfinder (article in german). The surveyed representatives from companies with increasing training budgets stated that 76 percent of their employees are satisfied to very satisfied according to the current employee survey. The average of all respondents is only 61 percent. Satisfaction affects the fluctuation rate: In companies with increasing training budgets, the majority of employees stay 10 to 15 years (29 percent). On average, only 1 in 5 of all survey participants stays on board that long.
A well-balanced learning culture contributes positively to the corporate culture. Because an employer who supports its employees in their progress and further development radiates appreciation. He shows that he is interested in the individual and invests in him. At the same time, he supports him in achieving success. This motivates, increases the mood and improves the working atmosphere.
An essential factor that also has a positive impact on the corporate culture is the recognition of new skills and the opportunity to pass on the new knowledge to others. This shows that the employer appreciates the individual as a competent employee. This also encourages employees to broaden their horizons.
So much for the ideal. However, many companies are still a long way from achieving this goal. At work, the acquisition of knowledge often encounters obstacles such as stress, time pressure and fear of failure. This, in turn, is detrimental to a good corporate culture and should definitely be avoided.
For a learning culture to fully develop its positive impact on the corporate culture, it must be balanced. In other words, learning must not be squeezed between other to do’s as an additional stressor. Staff must be given room. It should also be fun to acquire and maintain new knowledge.
For example, gamification elements such as quizzes contribute to this, with which you can refresh your knowledge in a playful way. This is of considerable importance within a learning culture. After all, according to Ebbinghaus’s oblivion curve, newly acquired knowledge is quickly erased from memory. After only 20 minutes, only 60 percent of the recorded content can be played back. After another 40 minutes the forgetting curve rises again. Then the release quantity is only 45 percent of what was learned. And after 24 hours only 34 percent of the recorded know-how is still present. And that goes on like this: After six days, the learner remembers only 23 percent until at some point only 15 percent of what he has learned remains stored. Unless the learner actively counteracts and visualises the subject matter at regular intervals.
Ergo: Quizzes are not only the optimal means to break through the forgetting curve. With them, learning is not perceived as a burden, but as a gain.
4. SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTING A LEARNING CULTURE
An important first step to implement a learning culture is: The willingness to learn and to constantly adapt to new conditions must be championed by the management. From our earliest childhood on, we learn from the model, i.e. the role model. This is no different with employees. They too need role models on which they can orient themselves. This makes it all the easier for them to get involved in new things. That’s the way humans tick.
What does learning on the model require?
- Firstly, the need for a functioning learning culture must always be communicated clearly and with conviction by the management team and in particular the CEO.
- Second, leaders must radiate the openness and curiosity to new things that they want to see at all levels of the organization.
- Thirdly, existing barriers between functions and departments that inhibit the exchange of knowledge must be dismantled. This is the only way to achieve the goal of seeking new solutions together and across departmental boundaries and to learn from each other. This requires IT systems to be standardized so that employees can always access and work with the same data pool. Communication processes must also become more integrated so that new knowledge can pulsate in the company.
„It’s highly likely that leaders will have to shed their authority-based, top-down, directive approach and show humility, even vulnerability, in acknowledging that they are not fully in control of circumstances and do not have all the answers. Their job is to release the power of collective learning through collaboration and shaping the organizational context, while modeling the behaviors they wish to see in others.”
This challenge can be mitigated by first training managers themselves to deal with the new reality: It is important for management teams to understand the learning culture as a kind of business process that needs to be understood and actively managed and shaped in order to achieve their business goals. To do this, managers must recognize that most organizations consist of a multitude of subcultures with very different motivations. Strong learning cultures value and make use of their diversity.
Accordingly, managers need completely new management skills to get the most out of their employees, to steer their creativity and thoughts in the right direction. For example, individual approaches need to be weighed up and moderated between the teams. Otherwise, there is a great danger of cultural fragmentation, resulting in inefficiencies and misunderstandings. Then ideas are no longer optimally exchanged and the creative effects for the further development of the company fizzle out. To achieve this, managers need analytical skills, empathy and creativity.
With these talents it will be possible to establish a functioning learning culture in which thoughts no longer flow from top to bottom as they used to, but also in the opposite direction and crosswise. Mission accomplished.
So let us keep in mind that a learning culture requires a new understanding of leadership. Gone are the days of a top-down mentality. The rituals of giving instructions and carrying them out must give way to a culture of listening, promoting ideas and valuing every new idea. No matter at what level it was produced.
How can executives be prepared for these new demands of the digital age? The solution: These management skills can be strengthened very effectively and specifically through the use of learning software. A mobile Academy solution helps leaders adequately prepare for what’s coming.
For example, with a training course in the field of leadership that comprises six modules. It gives managers the tools they need to optimise their communication, but also to lead their teams authentically, visionarily, understandingly and efficiently – all in the spirit of a modern learning culture.
- Self-knowledge: Leaders learn to question themselves critically and take the necessary corrective measures to change their behaviour permanently.
- Communication: Leaders learn to communicate appropriately with their team members and to adapt their behaviour to the situation and context.
- Presentation: Leaders learn to make visual presentations using targeted media.
- Self-management: Leaders learn to apply situational methods and techniques to optimize their organization and work efficiently.
- Team Leadership: Leaders learn to use situational methods and techniques in team leadership to promote collaboration and the achievement of goals.
- Conflict management: Leaders learn to prevent or manage conflicts in their own team with the appropriate instruments.
In these areas, the Swiss Connect Academy is at your side with help and practical advice. We offer courses, learning materials and pedagogical methods tailored to the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s world of work. We help you to create up-to-date digital teaching materials and provide you with our Swiss Made technology.
Technology builds on the basic idea of social learning. It is based on the principle of group work in a virtual space. Via the Swiss Connect Academy, the learner networks with a community of like-minded people with whom he exchanges technical information within a moderated process.
This has decisive advantages over classical e-learning. E-Learning is often perceived as impersonal. For example, if learners have specific questions, they do not have the opportunity to ask them in the relevant formats. Because: The contents are presented continuously – without direct contact to the teacher. This can also lead to misinterpretation of the content, which impairs learning success.
This is why e-learning is often associated with high dropout rates and a lack of motivation. From the point of view of learning psychology, we know that human contact in learning scenarios creates attachment and thus higher motivation, relevance and stamina. This is also possible in the mobile online environment.
If learners are provided with time-shifted or real-time exchange opportunities in online scenarios, these are often used profitably. The common social exchange helps to overcome existing mental hurdles. At the same time it shows that the individual is not alone with his or her ideas, approaches or difficulties. This sense of community strengthens the stamina immensely. All in all, this is perceived as a more human-centric form of learning, even if it happens online. At the same time, learners benefit from the advantages associated with e-learning: Learning at any time and in any place – and very goal-oriented. No travel, no loss of time on the job. Try it out!