Demonstrable corporate success through a digital learning culture
Developing personnel, securing skilled workers, strengthening competitive advantages, ensuring future viability
Germany’s population is getting ever older. With retirement, you not only lose valuable skilled workers, but also key knowledge within the company. The same thing happens when modern, hybrid working models and working from home create increasing distance between employees. What companies now need is a functioning (digital) learning culture, in which it is customary to further develop under one’s own initiative and thus ensure not only the transfer of knowledge, but also the associated corporate success. But how can such a culture develop—especially if people see each other face to face with increasing rarity?
In this article, you will find out why a (digital) learning culture is so important for your company, and how you can establish it for the long term.
So what exactly is a learning culture?
It is one of the most dazzling terms in the educational landscape: “learning culture”. As part of modern corporate culture or society, it means all ways of acting, values, patterns of thinking, and framework conditions that influence, promote, and nurture learning in the company. In your case, therefore, it means any aspects that influence the continued development of all company members and have a positive effect on the corporate culture. These include
- the behaviors of executives and employees
- the processes, tools, and methods for supporting learning and measuring progress
- the language and rituals used to strengthen the culture
- and the storytelling used to convey and communicate the learning culture.
Offering training is therefore only one aspect—albeit a key one—that alone is not enough to create a learning culture!
“A learning culture is the totality of learning forms and teaching styles typical for a certain time, as well as the anthropological, psychological, social, and pedagogical guidelines on which they are based.” (Weinert 1997)
“A learning culture is the totality of learning and development potentials that are contrived through the combined actions of those involved in the interaction and communication processes at the teaching, collegial, and organizational levels. Learning cultures are thus frameworks that are constantly created anew, in and through teaching, learning, cooperation and communication processes, and that offer their group members specific development opportunities, but withhold others.” (Arnold & Schüssler 1998)
“A learning culture is a certain setting, with certain rules, that has been established for learning and in which one learns” (Kleber & Stein 2001)
“[…] a network of shared meanings and activities of the stakeholders, which has its origin in the prevailing ideas and opinions about how school should be designed.” (Brück-Hübner 2020)
One of the most important characteristics of a learning culture is that it is just as transformable as the setting in which it arises. A learning culture may have grown historically, but changes actively with new forms of learning, goals, technologies, employees, managers, and how they communicate.
So it is not so easy to define the term “learning culture”. The question of learning culture entails an even more important question: When is a learning culture actually positive?
Digital vs. classical learning culture
Digital and classical learning cultures are quite similar at heart, but differ fundamentally in the methods, tools, and learning styles applied. Classic face-to-face events are old news. Trainers today become coaches and mentors, accompanying the individual learning process of employees. While traditional learning cultures in companies have so far tended to be externally controlled, digital tools and methods provide the opportunity to draw on the many and varied potentials of self-direction, whether spatial and temporal freedoms that arise from digital tools, or learning when knowledge is needed.
“There is only one thing in the long run more expensive than education: no education.” John F. Kennedy
Instead of organizing training as before and sending employees to a course at a certain time, a digital learning culture requires more intensive dissemination and promotion of knowledge. With one crucial advantage: If a positive digital learning culture is successfully established, companies and learners alike benefit from an unprecedented intrinsic motivation that makes learning outcomes synonymous with corporate success.
Elements of a digital learning culture
When are we most motivated to learn? When we are forced to learn, even if it doesn’t fit into our everyday lives? Or if we are allowed to decide for ourselves what, when and where we want to learn? The basis of a functioning digital learning culture is therefore to create training programs that are adaptable to the individual needs of your employees in terms of both content and organization.
However, because you can hardly be expected to know the needs of each individual employee (especially when working models are becoming more and more flexible), digital learning software supports you in creating the necessary freedoms. It allows employees to design learning in a self-directed process to best fit their needs. Does employee Katja spends an hour on the train every morning and afternoon? Why not enable her to learn in this “idle time”? The result: Higher intrinsic motivation and thus better learning outcomes.
Nowadays, the demands on our abilities are changing almost every day. The faster companies and technologies evolve, the faster we need to adapt. Lengthy stockpiling of knowledge is hardly possible anymore. This is why employees need the opportunity to learn immediately and directly where problems and questions arise—similarly to how we use Google in a private context to obtain information when we need it.
A digital learning culture therefore includes not only time- and location-independent learning, but also provides small units of knowledge that employees can access at any time without having to scroll through complex courses. The keyword is “microlearning”. While it means employees can immediately find a solution without losing motivation, it also allows companies to save valuable resources.
A culture cannot just be adopted. It has to grow like a tree, with its branches gradually penetrating all areas of the company. Real change therefore usually begins at the top. It can only be achieved if executives visibly exemplify the new culture by, for example, appearing in learning videos themselves and encouraging employees time and again. Especially at the beginning, executives are therefore also welcome to incentivize a willingness to learn with positive extrinsic motivation—whether with bonuses, vouchers or public awards.
Six steps to a successful learning culture
1. Analyze the status quo
Before you start implementing a digital learning culture, it’s worth taking a look at the status quo, because you might not even have to start from scratch. In order to analyze which elements of a learning culture are already present and in what form, it is helpful to look at the following four aspects:
Behaviors: Are there already established habits regarding learning? Do small learning groups maybe meet regularly to learn together? Or is training evaluated at communal lunches? Such patterns are valuable approaches that can easily be cultivated by giving them more space and recognition.
Systems: What processes, tools, and methods have you used so far to impart knowledge? How has training been structured so far? Do employees have to make an effort to gain knowledge under their own initiative, or do they already have free access?
Symbols: Are there any (linguistic) symbols or rituals that you can use to reinforce the learning culture? These can be, for example, public awards, the naming of particularly successful learners, or places that you set up specifically for learning.
Storytelling: How does your company talk about continuing development to new applicants and existing employees? What role does training play in formulating your corporate mission statement and philosophy?
2. Get executives involved
As already indicated, executives are the strongest role models that a company has to offer. If you want to win over your employees to digital learning, you need committed executives. Therefore, talk to team leaders and management in advance to ensure that everyone is committed to digital learning. Ask them to take action themselves and record training videos. Furthermore, if team leaders show up during learning, they also motivate colleagues to do the same.
3. Explain the personal benefit
Learning content only makes sense if it is also really relevant to the learners. When selecting and/or creating each individual digital training unit, ask yourself the following: What is the added value for learners? Does the course solve an acute problem? Does it help with qualification for a new task or position? Or does the content help the learner to protect themselves and others (keywords: “occupational safety” and “hygiene training”)?
Because learners cannot always immediately recognize the personal benefit, it is all the more important to explain this clearly. Therefore, always tell your learners how they will benefit from the offered training!
In addition, certificates, points, vouchers, or similar help to strengthen motivation—especially when it comes to particularly dry mandatory content.
4. Promote role models
As discussed above, it is important that executives lead by example. Motivation is increased if role models also come from within the employees’ own ranks. Therefore, consciously use the potential arising from particularly motivated employees. In almost every learning group there is at least one person who participates particularly actively. Ask them to contribute to the planning of new courses themselves or to record video messages explaining how the course has helped them. Such videos can be easily shared via the learning platform, for example. Of course, you can also award particularly motivated employees publicly. This not only motivates other learners, but also expresses appreciation for their achievements.
5. Let participants have a say
Hybrid working models, working from home, and digital tools quickly lead to a lack of personal communication. In order to prevent this in digital learning and to promote the learning culture, touchpoints are needed where learners can exchange ideas, give feedback, and ask questions. Depending on the organization, you can work with analog touchpoints such as communal lunches, but also with a variety of digital touchpoints. Examples include, for example:
- coaches who accompany the individual learning process and can be reached via Messenger, for example
- a comment or chat function within the learning platform, which learners can use to exchange ideas, or
- regular webinars where learners can ask questions.
6. Right from the start
The best way to start a learning culture is from day one: Ensure a good start by making new employees aware of the learning culture during onboarding—by designing the onboarding itself as learning content, for example—as a mixture of digital and analog formats (keyword: blended learning), for example. In this way, new employees can familiarize themselves with digital learning right from the start, but still get the necessary personal interaction to quickly find their way around the company. At the same time, employees feel that they are taken seriously and that their learning outcomes are actually important to the company.
The bottom line
A (digital) learning culture needs time and good role models, must foreground the needs of learners, and must be actively participated in by all those involved; only in this way can it meet the requirements of today’s society. This is certainly not an easy undertaking. But if the long-term implementation succeeds, a positive learning culture is worth its weight in gold: Intrinsically motivated employees not only learn independently: their learning outcomes also contribute directly to the company’s success. Professional eLearning software provides the freedom and individualization that is so urgently needed for this.
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