How To Develop A ‘Learning Culture’

Louise McElvaney Headshot
Photo courtesy of Louise McElvaney
Cultivating a culture of learning into your organization can bring higher productivity, more creativity and a passion to continue advancing.

Encouraging employees to tap into their creativity and learn new skills can boost your organization’s overall health and play a major role in recruitment and retention. But it’s about more than the occasional professional development program—learning needs to be embedded into the fabric of the company.

A learning culture, according to Louise McElvaney, CHRO of Learning Pool based in Derry, North Ireland, positions knowledge-seeking as a core tenant, all the way up to executive leadership. She shares her best practices for developing a learning culture that benefits everyone.

What is a learning culture and why is it important to develop one?

A learning culture is an environment that prioritizes and values continuous education and development at both an individual and collective level. It means an ongoing commitment to learning and growth, where acquiring new skills and knowledge is embedded into the fabric of the organization’s daily operations. In such a culture, learning is not seen as a separate or isolated activity but as an integral part of everyday work life. I’m proud to say we have that at Learning Pool.

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t have learning at the center. According to UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 98 percent of L&D practitioners wish to develop a learning culture, but only 36 percent feel like they have one. There’s a direct tie between learning at the individual level and the health of the business. Beyond professional development, a culture of learning brings higher productivity, more creativity and a passion to continue advancing.

Can you share tips and best practices for developing a learning culture? 

A learning culture is an environment where every employee feels empowered to continuously grow. It’s up to organizations to understand the skills needed for team members to thrive and then how they can embed learning programs to develop those skills in the most efficient way.

To start, this environment depends on strategic steps. Firstly, it’s crucial to gain the buy-in of senior leaders and line managers, as their participation is essential in driving and reinforcing the learning ethos throughout the organization. Leaders should lead by example, actively engaging in their own learning and development.

Secondly, learning must fit into the flow of work—act as a complement to their day-to-day, not a separate add-on. This means moving away from traditional episodic training sessions to a more fluid model where micro-learning resources are available across various platforms and devices. This approach integrates learning seamlessly into daily workflows.

Additionally, a learning culture thrives on collaboration and knowledge sharing, encouraging employees to learn from each other and share their experiences.

Finally, acknowledging and rewarding learning efforts is important to maintain motivation and engagement, which can be done through recognition programs, certifications, or career advancement opportunities.

By implementing these strategies, an organization can successfully establish a dynamic, sustainable learning culture.

Looking ahead, what emerging trends or innovations do you believe will significantly shape the employee experience in the next few years?

Without question, artificial intelligence is redefining the employee experience, and can subsequently promote a learning culture in nearly every industry. Age-old problems such as scaling individualized learning and engaging our people in continuous learning suddenly have new solutions.

AI introduces new dimensions of personalization and interactive learning. It allows for the creation of personalized learning pathways, adapting content to individual learners’ goals, behaviors and needs. AI can also function as a personal tutor or coach.

For example, Learning Pool recently launched AI Conversations, an offering that allows employees to practice challenging workplace conversations with an AI-generated character and strengthen that muscle. This type of innovation using AI will only continue in the years to come.

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