What a good learning culture looks, sounds and feels like

Good learning culture (1)

Learning culture is fast becoming one of the hottest topics in L&D. For too long, training teams have found themselves distracted by technology and finding the right systems. Over the years, we’ve seen gamification, mobile learning, microlearning, virtual reality and now AI touted as must-haves for learning.

But regardless of the tech and trends, one thing’s for sure: learning culture has always been there, and will always be there, no matter what changes.

Learning culture as a concept isn’t exactly tangible, so it can be tricky to sell the C-suite on making it a priority. But evidence shows that businesses demonstrating a strong learning culture enjoy increased productivity, profitability and employee retention – now surely that’s enough to make the C-suite sit up and pay attention!

However, that still doesn’t make learning culture any more tangible. If you’re trying to assess and improve your own learning culture, let’s take a look at how you can engage your senses to understand what a learning culture looks, sounds and feels like.


What does a good learning culture look like?


Whether you work on-site, remotely or in a hybrid model, learning culture leaves visible signs to look out for.

You may see posters, emails or banners about your learning – in other words, marketing. A good learning culture ensures that everyone knows what’s available, who it’s for and where they can find it, which means making it more visible in the physical or digital environment.

It will also be evident in the quality of learning resources. Do you have a random selection of elearning courses and PDFs slapped on a plain, unbranded LMS, or has the learning team taken care over the look and feel of the offering? This could be everything from high-quality thumbnails and stock imagery to consistent branding and intuitive navigation – an appealing experience is one visible indicator of a good learning culture.

Another tell-tale sign of a good learning culture is seeing leaders and senior management demonstrate learning behaviours. Are they signposting development opportunities? Are they working on their own skills? Are they championing team members who take the time to upskill and reskill? These are all ways you can see if your learning culture is on the right track.


What does a good learning culture sound like?


How do people in your business talk about learning? Is learning talk met with an eye roll (‘Ugh! I’m in a training workshop all day tomorrow – wish me luck!’) or with excitement? If people aren’t enthusiastic about learning, it’s time to find out why it’s not resonating with them. Perhaps they see the learning on offer as irrelevant, or don’t know what’s available, or don’t see the value to them in their roles.

Also keep an ear out for feedback and coaching. In a continuous learning culture, feedback will be a key part of your daily conversations. People will feel comfortable sharing feedback with colleagues and even their own managers in the form of continuous performance management. After all, why wait until a formal performance review if there’s an opportunity to adjust a behaviour or plug a knowledge gap in the moment?

It’s also worth listening out for the ‘language of learning’. Do your leaders use positive or negative language to describe learning? Do they talk in terms of opportunity, mastery, achievement, growth and empowerment, or do they drive a narrative where learning is seen as boring, a necessary evil or a tick-box exercise? If your leaders believe in the power of learning, they’re much more likely to help everyone else see the benefits too.

To go one step further, listen out for examples of your leaders talking about the learning they’re engaging with themselves. They could be involved in a leadership programme, they could meet with a mentor or they could be seeking out courses to help them keep up with new technologies impacting your industry (AI, anyone?). The best learning cultures acknowledge that learning is for everyone at every level – and that includes the people at the top of your organisation.


What does a good learning culture feel like?


This is the trickiest one to spot. As we’ve already established, learning culture is intangible… but it’s also nebulous. It feels different for everyone. The feel is really the human element of the learning culture.

There are two questions to ask here:

  1. What does learning feel like?
  2. How do you create a feeling of learning?

Typically, a good learning culture will feel:

  • Fulfilling – people will feel a sense of accomplishment from engaging with learning opportunities
  • Purposeful – people will understand why they’re engaging with learning – it’s not just learning for learning’s sake
  • Empowering – people will feel that they have more control in situations that would typically make them feel uncomfortable

The second question, though, is interesting. How do you create a ‘feeling’ of learning?

A big part of this is to do with psychological safety. Do people feel safe to learn, try new things, experiment and make mistakes? Is your environment supportive, open to innovation and celebratory of achievements? Is there budget and resource ring fenced for learning? It’s a combination of all these things that will create a feeling of learning – but it takes time, trust and patience to make it happen.

In the words of 5app’s Chief Learning Officer Steve Thompson:

“It can also feel as though you are part of something - feeling as though you want to be the best you you can be for the success of the team, department or company. A good learning culture recognises, values and rewards development.”


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