6 steps to creating a culture of engaged learning

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Engagement, which can be encouraged by producing consumer-like experiences, is a vital ingredient of successful learning writes Steve Dineen, but so often the head ignores the heart when it comes to designing courses.

Learning is led by the heart, not the head.

Despite the obvious truth to this statement, learning has for years been designed with a “head-first” approach. The problem here is that learning is fundamentally social in nature, so to lead with courses – or even content – alone, is tantamount to designing a new model of car without an engine. The vital ingredient is missing and it can’t achieve its full potential. In L&D the key ingredient is of course engagement – which by its very definition means to have a relationship.

It’s a point that highlights the vital importance of human connections in corporate learning design. These connections are not only essential to creating active engagement in learning (we’ll come back to that in a moment), they’re also the bedrock of a continuous learning culture. So what are the characteristics of an engaged learning culture, and how do we actually create one?

Show that learning is valued (and start at onboarding)

First and foremost, let it be known that learning is valued in your organisation. This is the biggest prerequisite for creating an engaged learning culture because it denotes both a permission for employees to prioritise their learning, and an expectation that they do so on a continual basis.

It’s a message that needs to be consistently reinforced to the entire workforce – but by starting at onboarding, new joiners will understand that learning is valued, and that their employer is invested in creating a safe space for their everyday learning. In this way, onboarding presents a key opportunity to instil learning culture from day one.

Different people learn in different ways so managers should also use the onboarding process to understand what motivates individual employees so they can then be equipped with the right tools to support their preferred learning style.

Create active engagement in learning

To understand the next step in creating an engaged learning culture, it’s important to revisit the social nature of learning and ask: what actually drives people to engage in learning at work? Yes, employees want to perform better in their job role or fix a problem, but these – at least in isolation – are not the things that prompt people to actively engage.

It is human relationships that spark active engagement in learning – as characterised by search, tacit knowledge, application, feedback and practice. But why is this? Simply put, learners place high value on engaging with trusted subject matter experts (SMEs) because doing so helps them to solve a problem.

Over time, this access to SMEs and their tacit knowledge – something that Albert Einstein himself remarked on as being more important to learning than facts or figures – delivers yet more value, and the all-important habit for learning becomes ingrained in company culture.

This is where the real magic starts and it’s the point at which people feel intrinsically and habitually motivated to keep learning for the benefit of work.

Build leadership buy-in

So, you’ve started to lay the requisite groundwork but culture isn’t created overnight and you want to hit fast forward. What you need to do now is generate interest and excitement – and your own leaders can really help here. Why? Because evidence shows that one of the most reliable predictors of employee learning success relates to how engaged a manager is in their own learning.

Beauty cosmetics giant Avon was recently able to prove the validity of this correlation between leader and learner engagement. In countries where Avon leaders were bought in, so were the beauty sales reps in those locations.

The data was undeniable and it highlights why leadership buy-in is so important in cultivating an engaged learning culture. It also provides yet more proof that people are the biggest driver of engagement.

Deliver consumer-like experiences

Pointless experiences are not to be repeated, right? Right.

If learners can’t find the answer they need when they’re stuck, or if they’re enrolled on a training course that doesn’t help them to perform better in their day-to-day work, there’s usually only one outcome: the employee disengages because the experience is frustrating and doesn’t deliver value.

In order to support a true culture of continuous learning, organisations must adopt the right tools and technologies to facilitate a frictionless, consumer-like experience so that learners can tap into tacit knowledge with ease, in context and in the flow of work. Imagine spending all that time and investment on building the foundations for an active learning culture only to have your efforts thwarted by a clunky, course-centric platform?

It’s an all-too-common pitfall and when it happens, it creates considerable setbacks.

Drive deeper engagement over time

This goes beyond engaging to solve a problem. Deeper engagement extends to sharing a valuable piece of content with a colleague or commenting on their experience to encourage others to partake. Essentially what this represents is the learner becoming not only a consumer, but an advocate, and it marks another key milestone on the journey to actively engaged learning.

Once deeper engagement is happening at scale, it can be justifiably said that a culture of actively engaged learning, underpinned by regular participation, knowledge sharing, and application, has been achieved.

Create a ‘consumer to contributor’ cycle

The best bit about learning culture? It’s a self-feeding cycle. Consumers who regularly and actively engage with, and share, valuable learning content will gradually develop their own knowledge and expertise to a point where they themselves become contributors and trusted subject matter experts. For the learning geeks among us, that’s pretty mind-blowing stuff and it can provide businesses with a very powerful engine for growth.

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Steve Dineen

About Steve Dineen

Steve Dineen, founder & president, Fuse Learning
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