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Implementing and instilling a culture of learning

Implementing and instilling a culture of learning

When, as a learning and development professional, you need to embed a learning culture in an organisation that has no previous track record of making learning a priority, you need a strategy. However, you need to bear in mind that, in any human context, ‘culture’ is more important than strategy. In a corporate context, these cultures exist on several levels, including ‘representations and symbols’, norms and behaviours’, and, at the core of the organisation, ‘beliefs and assumptions’.

If an organisation’s beliefs and assumptions don’t support learning – let alone encourage ‘fun’, engaging learning – it won’t produce or use it, regardless of what it says. Before you can invent and instil a culture of learning in the organisation, you must ensure that its beliefs and assumptions will support one. Changing these beliefs and assumptions may turn out to be a long-term project.

If you want to be successful in developing and embedding learning in your organisation, you can follow a process typified by Rudyard Kipling in Elephant Child, when he wrote, ‘I keep six honest serving-men/ (they taught me all I knew); ‘Their names are What and Why and When/ And How and Where and Who.’

What’ refers to learning content; ‘why’ to the business need; ‘when’ is self-evident; ‘how’ is about the media selected to deliver the learning; ‘where’ is the location of the learning delivery, while ‘who’ are the people in the organisation.

What and Why

One of the best ways to get learning accepted in a ‘non-learning orientated’ organisation is to tie it to a business need – and to do so in such a way that you can demonstrate that people learning something achieves a tangible business benefit. This is easier said than done but among the most ‘helpful’ business needs in this respect are compliance and regulatory training – where employees need to be judged ‘competent’ or else the business closes.

How and Where

These days learning can be delivered in many ways, including via mobile devices. This makes performance support as well as learning (especially informal learning) available wherever there’s access to the Internet.

Learning designers now have access to a wide range of contemporary tools. It’s important to understand which tools are most effective for particular groups of learners.

When it comes to getting the learning to the learners, projects can fail not because of sub-standard learning materials but because the learners never find out that they exist. You need a high-profile launch for a learning program – and you must continue to ‘sell’ the learning effectively throughout the organisation.

Afterwards, you should attempt to evaluate the program to find out the return on investment in it. A key question here is, ‘Did the people who did the training get rewarded for achieving the success they achieved?’ You should also ask, ‘Did this improve people’s attitudes to learning?’, ‘Did they enjoy learning?’ and ‘Do they want more learning?’

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, you’re not being successful in instilling a culture of learning in the organization.


Much has been written over the years about gaining senior management support for learning programs and enlisting the help of high-profile, non-L&D ‘champions’ to promote them. At a more basic level, there’s a five-stage process for developing loyal customers for learning: awareness, trial, ad hoc use, regular use, and ‘champion’. Intervention is needed at ‘points of drop-off’’ to prevent losing the learner. This entails becoming ‘learner-centric’ and involves John Keller’s four key characteristics of Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction (ARCS).

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