Creating an Effective Learning Culture: How to Make Knowledge Actionable

An illustration of people looking at a stack of books.

Many of us have at one time or another completed a professional course and felt motivated to apply newfound knowledge to make a positive impact at work. However, those fresh ideas and skills often fade away as other responsibilities take precedence. Investing time and budget into employee development means asking the question: How do you ensure newly learned insights get integrated into work after the learning is done?

While it may seem obvious, it’s critical for managers to create a long-range plan to ensure that teams are set up to succeed in applying newly acquired skills, both to support professional development and the organization’s overarching goals. Developing a strategy requires three foundational pillars: Creating a safe space to learn, devising engagement that extends beyond the course, and providing recognition that will provide the springboard to elevate learners’ skills and knowledge.

Fostering a “Culture of Learning”

Organizations that reinforce the value of continuous learning will be better equipped to thrive as well as survive during times of disruption. The question is - what does a learning culture look like? 

A successful culture of learning provides opportunities to meet learners where they are and the space in which to learn. One Harvard Business Review article notes this translates into giving talent the chance to pursue interests that will translate into skills as well as a psychologically safe atmosphere to make mistakes and ask questions during the learning process. Most importantly, employees benefit from creating their own learning path focused on skills that will support their specific role and team, in addition to their particular passions. 

The benefit of these environments extends to the organization itself. Encouraging Independent Learners in the Workplace reports, professional learners who are given the independence to identify and fill their knowledge gaps will see enhanced job performance, “and a culture of excellence that sets the organization apart from the crowd.”

Take Engagement to New Heights 

It is essential to sustain the learning momentum after a course is complete. One way of doing that is to organize cohort learning as an extension to any online program. Managers may want to consider integrating a mentoring circle or peer discussion into learning opportunities. For example, organizing small groups and inviting an expert to share knowledge and experience related to the concepts taught. 

Another option is to have a team pick a specific business-related problem or a particular case and discuss options for handling it. Boston University Center for Teaching and Learning reports that analyzing case studies in a professional setting ensures that learners not only better understand the concepts taught but also sharpens their skills in critical thinking, learning to cope with ambiguity, and plain old problem-solving. 

Finally, a discussion utilizing a facilitation guide can help connect the dots between the lesson and making the content applicable to a learner’s role and their team goals. Lars Sorenson, a director of instructional design and learner experience at Harvard Medical School (HMS), explains the thinking behind developing a facilitation guide to support HealthXcelerate: Insider’s Guide to Health Care, a soon-to-be-released program from HMS Corporate Learning.

“To extend self-paced, online learning into practical application, we developed a facilitation guide that prompts learners to reflect on the connections between a patient's experience as presented in the course and what their organization can offer to that patient,” he noted. “Once that initial reflection is established, it can take on a new life in a cohort setting. The ideas become more tangible when they collide with organizational goals and the input of colleagues.”

HealthXcelerate, which covers foundational topics of the US health care system in a global context, was developed to provide both rigorous in lesson learning as well as the tools employees and managers need to continue learning after the course ends.

The Power of Validation

When an employer provides talent with a high-quality learning opportunity, employees feel supported and encouraged. Encouraging Independent Learners in the Workplace notes that recognition comes in the form of both organizational acknowledgment when an employee successfully completes a course, as well as a meaningful from an academic institution or organization allowing learners to socialize their success. 

Authentic recognition reinforces a growth mindset. Quantum Workplace reports that the simple act of “acknowledging achievement is a major boost for both morale and performance”. And the stats back that up: “organizations with formal employee recognition programs have 31% less voluntary turnover than organizations that don't have any program at all.” 

The advantages of learning don’t need to end when a course does. By building bolder learning cultures that help employees gain new knowledge and harness those ideas for on-the-job application, the individual and the company stand to benefit in significant ways. 

The Corporate Learning team at HMS (Harvard Medical School) is invested in creating solutions for the corporate learning community. Learn more about HealthXcelerate: An Insider’s Guide to Health Care and other learning opportunities.