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How to Build an Active Learning Culture


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How to Build an Active Learning Culture

Written on Nov 11, 2016 10:52:51 AM, by Ilie Ghiciuc

Learning development plans and learning programs are just the start. Building a culture of active learning takes time and effort. It takes an entire organizational shift from one way of thinking to another.

Building a social workplace is one of the shifts that needs to take place to create an innovative, working, and active learning culture.

The perks of active learning

According to Bersin & Associates, organizations with cultures of active learning are significantly better at doing business than other companies. In fact:

  • They are 32% more likely to be the first company to create new products and services.
  • They are 26% better at delivering quality products.
  • Their employees are 37% more productive.
  • Their employees are 58% more likely to have skills for the future.

Also read: What Are The Workforce Skills Of The Future?

Learning culture in action

When people think of WD-40, they probably think of one product: a spray can of oil. When Garry Ridge became the CEO of WD-40 in 1997, he recognized that the company was only known for a single product in a single market. He struggled with how to move the company beyond this point.

He did this by overhauling the company culture. He became serious about learning. So serious, that he made every employee at the company take this pledge: the WD-40 Maniac Pledge.

"I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I won’t wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I’m responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I didn’t “get this sooner.” If I’m doing something others should know about, I’m responsible for telling them."

The pledge to create learning maniacs changed the work of leaders; created a whole new learning language within the company, and emphasized learning, experimenting, and improvising.

Ridge helped the company move forward by giving people permission to trying new things, make mistakes, learn from them, and try again. This new style of freedom resulted in the company expanding to 179 countries, launching various new products, and tripling the share price since 2009. The market value of the company is now almost $2 billion.

Garry Ridge turned the company from a closed-minded, one product mindset, to a collaborative and social learning culture, one where experimentation and mistakes lead to huge results.

Also read: The Future Of Your Organization Is In Its Culture Of Learning

The social nature of the workplace learning culture 

WD-40, possibly without intention, created a culture of active learning through a more social workplace.

We often are taught social skills like respect others, listen to others, try not to complain too much, and apologize for your mistakes. But for some reason, the business world sometimes has the image of being cutthroat. To get ahead people need to be loud, brash, and opinionated, almost to a fault.

Many companies are turning to social skills to create environments where learning can take place. They place value on creating consensus in ways that strengthen group bonds and create a place of emotional safety. In this space,  people can express opinions without feeling attacked or belittled. Everyone can have their input into decision making and they know they will be heard.

Matthew Lieberman, a neuroscientist at UCLA, says that many business practices shut down social practices inhibiting learning and engagement. He states that social cultures are important for tolerating different viewpoints, expressing thoughts, and finding different ways to solving problems. These are all aspects of how WD-40 created their learning culture through social engagement. 

Creating an Active Learning Culture

Creating any culture is often a long process and for some companies, it is not easy. It is more than just writing a policy or implementing a training program. It takes analysis, planning, and enactment at all levels of the organization.

Experts have determined that there are many steps that companies can take to create a learning culture, such as:

  • Strategy

In order to make learning a part of the culture of the organization, it must be incorporated into the company strategy. That means that learning takes place in all systems and processes of the company.

  • Analyze

When moving forward, it is good to know where you are and where you have come from. For a business, you need to know what kind of culture you have and what kind of culture you would like to have.

  • Promote

Leaders and managers need to be able to go through the same process of learning and development so that they can effectively promote it at all levels of the organization.

  • Beginning

Learning starts at the very first step. That means that as soon as new employees enter the company they are aware that continuous learning is an important aspect of the company culture.

  • Incentivize

Create a program of incentives that employees know about before the new learning initiatives are in place. This should motivate them to take part in continuous learning until it becomes a habit.

  • Access

All learning materials should be easily accessible at all times. Many times employees want to know something in the moment and need to be able to find it easily in order to learn.

  • Blend

Offer a variety of different training resources that fit a variety of learning styles. Employees will be able to connect with the type of information that connects with their learning style, making learning effective for everyone.

  • Share

Sharing is an important aspect of learning. When employees are able to share information with others and learn from others they will be more motivated to learn. Using learning management systems allows for knowledge sharing and collaboration.

  • Mentor

Mentoring should be taught as a skill necessary for all managers and leaders. When leaders and managers know how to mentor they will be better able to coach and help employees improve their learning, skills, and performance.

  • Evaluate

Effective programs require measurement. Employees at all levels need be active in tracking performance, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and progressing toward goals.

  • Feedback

Employees and managers alike can offer feedback about learning systems so that they can be altered to fit employee needs.

  • Reflect

Reflection asks employees and managers to take the time to think about what they have learned and how they have learned it. Reflection can consolidate learning so that it is better retained and can help employees think about how their learning is impacting their future goals. It can also increase motivation and engagement.

There are many advantages to creating a culture of active learning, one of the main ones being a workforce ready for the future and flexible enough to adapt to changes.

It may seem strange to think about creating learning through social skills, but as research from UCLA and WD-40 has found, social workplaces are ideal for creating active learning cultures. 

eBook: Using Learning To Improve Employee Engagement Download the eBook and get practical tips on how to create learning  initiatives that foster higher engagement.     Download now

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Ilie Ghiciuc
I've been an entrepreneur for the past 10+ years building great software companies together with fantastic teams. I like to spend most of my free time reading :)