The only constant in life (besides death and taxes) is the fact that everything will change. It’s why learning might be one of the most important skills any person could ever acquire — without it, you won’t stay relevant for long.
This is especially true for businesses, where the inability to adapt to market changes (international health crisis anyone?) could mean closing your doors for good. A learning culture is key to remaining flexible in the face of rapid change — for both brands and their staff — and the stats back this up:
- Businesses that invest in training report 24% higher profit margins.
- Employees are 37% more productive at organisations that value learning.
- Businesses that take learning seriously are 32% more likely to bring an innovative solution to the market first.
- 68% of employees say that training and development is a company’s most important policy.
What is a learning culture?
There isn’t one definition. But a good starting point is an environment in which learners are engaged and actively go out of their way to learn. Ultimately, a positive learning culture comes down to learner engagement, and is effectively defined by all of the different ways in which the environment supports active and engaged learning.
How long will it take?
There are some quick wins we will discuss here that could make a difference immediately. Realistically, the specifics are always going to vary. Your size, existing culture and industry all matter. We’ve seen companies make significant transformations in as little as six months. Even if it takes longer, the first six months are a critical period, and you should be able to see real outcomes by the end — even if there is still work to be done.
At Video Arts, we’ve spent years helping businesses of all kinds revitalise their learning programmes. What we can guarantee is that creating a learning culture is possible for any organisation. It might take a bit longer, it might take far less time than you think. Either way, we’ve distilled a few core steps that should help you build a better culture and learn more effectively over time.
Suggested reading: If you already have a learning platform (more on that later), we’ve developed a free, downloadable handbook just for you — So, You Need a More Effective Learning Platform?
Step 1: Get leadership buy-in
Culture emanates from the top — if it doesn’t, it probably says something bad about your leadership. So, if you want to create a true learning culture, it goes without saying that leadership has to be brought in.
However, driving real cultural change is more than “post-it notes” and “talking the talk”… it takes action. Leadership has to actively model the behaviour they want to see. That’s what real buy-in looks like.
Need some firepower for earning emotional/intellectual leadership support? Research by Bersin & Associates shows that companies with a strong learning culture:
- Are 58% more likely to be able to meet talent needs as the market changes.
- Are 32% more likely to be first to market with an innovative solution.
- Have a 26% better track record of delivering quality products/services.
- Are 34% more likely to respond faster to and satisfactorily address customer needs.
- See 37% more productivity from their employees.
Have the conversations necessary to get management support, and secure the funding and cultural support you need to shift the rest of your plan into high gear.
Step 2: Source the right content
Assuming your leadership is showing your team how important learning is, the next most important thing is content.
If your content is engaging and relevant, people will go out of their way to engage. But if it’s not, it doesn’t matter how much leadership cares about it — no one is going to engage with it. In fact, this might be “step 1b” — the right content can help with leadership buy-in, and is ultimately the most critical factor for successfully engaging learners.
Here are the key things that make content engaging.
1. Choose the right topics
It’s absolutely critical that the topics you include in your learning programme are relevant to your employees. This will help with engagement and ensure that your learning programme drives important business outcomes.
For example, if you invest in teaching a bunch of sales professionals how to “code”, you might as well be teaching them about deep sea fishing — it’s relevant to someone, just not your audience.
However, there is a lot more to this than simply choosing topics that teach them job skills — it’s also about timing. An important topic can be irrelevant if you teach it at the wrong time (or if the person you’re trying to teach already knows what they are doing).
Additionally, it’s important to think beyond technical or hard skills. Experts consider soft skills (like leadership or collaboration) to be even more important for success than hard skills. And Research from MIT found that teaching them can have a big impact on productivity, even in situations where you might think they wouldn’t matter.
2. Inject humour
Studies have shown that humour actually helps people learn — up to 15% more than they would if what they’re learning didn’t incorporate it. That’s because humour engages the part of our brain needed for critical thinking and attentiveness.
Think about all of your favourite lines from 90’s sitcoms you still remember, or your best stories from nights out — it’s always the funny stuff that sticks long-term. However, the key to using humour well is similar to that of choosing the right topics: it needs to be relevant to your audience (they need to actually think it’s funny). So, ensure whatever humour you do incorporate is audience-appropriate.
3. Use video and tell a story
Studies have found that 75% of employees prefer video as their primary medium for learning. So, an easy way to make your content more engaging instantly is to give the people what they want. Just use video!
Similarly, storytelling is a powerful way to engage — and facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they’re part of a story. Video is great for delivering stories, and combining storytelling with video is maybe the most effective way to engage and support learning retention.
4. Use microlearning
One of the biggest challenges we see L&D managers struggling with is getting people started with their programme in the first place. Typically, this is because their content doesn’t fit into the average worker’s attention span (which is about 3 minutes).
Microlearning breaks content into small bite-sized chunks that can be accessed anytime they’re needed. Since each piece of microcontent serves a specific purpose (help someone complete a task or achieve a goal) and is short, they can consume it in real-time, right when they need answers or guidance on that task — or simply productively fill a moment of procrastination.
Simply put, microlearning makes your content less intimidating and allows for immediate application, increasing the likelihood your team will use it. Remember, microlearning doesn’t always mean shorter versions of your traditional e-learning course. In fact, the “resources not courses” approach suggests that providing learners with material that they can quickly reference when needed, such as one-page guides and checklists, is often far more useful to help employees get the job done. Couple that with short, engaging video content and you’re getting closer to an engaging learning experience fit for today’s workplace.
5. Consider external help
Many underestimate the role that content plays in creating an effective learning culture and approach content sourcing with a “check the box” approach. Don’t be that person.
It’s worth spending extra time and money to find or create the right content. And getting professional help creating bespoke content is money well spent in this regard. It helps you get exactly what you need to drive learning outcomes with the least amount of money and effort on your part.
If you want help, get in touch. At Video Arts, we’ve spent years producing high quality bespoke and off-the-shelf content and know-how to create engagement.
Step 3: Make time for learning and incentivise engagement
While creating engaging content and leadership buy-in will do a lot of the heavy lifting for building a positive learning environment, it only works if your employees actually have time in their day to utilise it.
This is where the rubber meets the road for the leadership team. It’s up to them to help their teams set aside time each day/week/month for learning (and to model that behaviour themselves). Otherwise, competing priorities will consume everyone’s days.
Additionally, incentivising or rewarding staff for learning is an important strategy for driving a learning culture as well. Go up and tell people they did a good job, and get leadership to do it as well — it might even make Sarah from Accounts smile. You’d be surprised how much that social incentive helps people see the importance of learning. This is also where microlearning is so effective, since it provides an immediate, intrinsic reward of a completed task.
Step 4: Make it easy to engage
You need to make sure that learners can access content simply and easily. In the modern economy (specifically during the era of social distancing) that means an online learning platform. Simply online access is a requirement, but how that access is delivered can also make a difference. In general, there are two major types of learning platforms that we see companies use:
- LMS (Learning Management System): an LMS is a slightly older system and creates a more prescriptive, linear experience using file/folder systems. Think online courses and more formalised training.
- LXP (Learning Experience Platform): an LXP operates like Netflix and lets users choose their own content on-demand. It offers them an increase in flexibility, allowing them to be self-led. And some come with gamification features that incentivise further participation.
One of the reasons Netflix is so successful is that their platform is designed to make content easy to access and consume. Think about it — personalised recommendations, on-demand content — they even make it easier to keep watching than stop (and before you know it, it’s 1am!). These factors all add up to an engaging viewing experience.
For today’s environment, we typically recommend an LXP since they offer greater flexibility (and support real-time learning opportunities through micro-learning better). However, your content will ultimately have the greatest effect on engagement. So an LMS (if that is what you have) will still work well with some finessing if your content is good.
Content is the heart of a learning culture
We say this a lot because it really is true — content is king when it comes to your learning culture. That’s because it’s the one thing that can actually make your employees want to learn. It’s also what ensures that learning is actually taking place.
As you likely know, it’s very hard to quantify the impact of learning & development — there are so many variables that say “this learning module is what led to our 10% bump in sales last quarter” is almost never definitive. But you can easily track how engaged learners are with your programme by looking at KPIs like course completion rates, how much optional content is consumed, etc.
Remember, “engagement” is a metric and a mindset. Quality content helps create an engaged mindset and learning environment, it also ensures that engagement metrics demonstrate actual learning.