How to create a positive learning culture

How to create a positive learning culture

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A positive learning culture.

Some businesses have them… others don’t. But all would like to have one.

But what makes a good learning culture? Is it something that comes from the L&D team, or is it defined by the whole organisation?

Many would argue that a learning culture cannot exist in isolation.

Well-respected L&D expert Laura Overton emphasises that establishing a learning culture isn’t just about learners and learning professionals, but about “how we get the rest of the organisation to connect, to value, to share and to collaborate with the things we’re doing.”

So while an environment of learning may stem from the L&D team, or from top-level management, it can’t be truly successful unless it is part of a much bigger corporate culture. One that relates to the values and principles of an organisation and its leaders.


What exactly is a ‘culture of learning?’

In its most basic terms, learning culture can be described as the way in which an organisation treats and embeds learning within its values.

For any business, it’s not a case of having or not having a learning culture. Every business and organisation has a learning culture – but the real question is whether that culture is negative, positive, or somewhere in the middle.

In an organisation without strong values and a lack of teamwork and collaboration, it’s likely to be difficult to embed a successful culture of learning.

“A learning culture is where learning and work have become intertwined: where staff take it on themselves not just to learn but to share and respond and turn learning into action.”

These are the words written by Nigel Paine in his book Workplace Learning: How to build a culture of continuous employee development.

These comments are echoed by Peter Senge, author of “The Fifth Discipline”, who says: “A learning organisation is a group of people working together collectively to enhance their capabilities to create results they really care about”.

It’s easy to spot the common theme. To create a truly exceptional learning culture, organisations need to drive these values across the entire team.

You can’t have a strong learning culture without everyone onboard.


How to implement a deep and impactful learning culture

Implementing a strong learning culture takes time. It’s likely that most organisations offer some kind of learning and development programme – but what to extent is it having a deep enough impact to improve personal and business performance?

Two key terms here are: ‘transactional learning’ and ‘transformational learning’.

If an organisation provides basic compliance training to operate legally but does little more to further employee and team development – this is defined as transactional learning.

This learning is essentially a tick box exercise, that ultimately has no impact on long-term development and business performance.

Transformational learning, on the other hand, can lead to measurable improvements in personal and business performance. This learning is defined as pro-active, with both the employer and employee committed to long-term development.

To achieve a high-performing, transformational learning culture, Overton identifies the following five critical attributes:

  1. An environment where a holistic people experience exists, and people feel they can develop their careers and grow as individuals.
  2. A thriving ecosystem where technology can enhance engagement. This is particularly true with the increasing delivery of learning and training online rather than face-to-face.
  3. Continual engagement where individuals, managers and business leaders can exchange ideas freely.
  4. Intelligent decision-making, where feedback and data are used to make informed decisions.
  5. An agile, adaptable infrastructure that can cope with sudden and rapid change. The ability of organisations to adapt to remote working in the pandemic is a case in point. Those who could quickly pivot their value proposition and enable their employees to work effectively remotely survived and, in many cases, thrived.

At the heart of this is a clarity of purpose that learning professionals and business leaders share.

The above list is the holy grail for learning professionals. Very few organisations reach this level of what is referred to as “learning maturity.”

Most of us in the learning and development industry are working towards this end and are at various stages along the journey.

The journey to a better learning culture

The journey to a better learning culture is one where the destination is always changing. As learning and employee expectations evolve, so must an organisation’s approach to its learning culture.

The latest 2022 Leaning and Development Benchmark Report provides a good model for measuring where an organisation is in this mission.

It measures the extent of an organisation’s learning culture by identifying four stages of learning maturity along the journey. It acts as a guide whereby you can benchmark your progress against others.

The data is based on a detailed survey of 772 L&D leaders and their teams and is, in our opinion, one of the most robust and comprehensive barometers of the state of learning and development in the UK today.

The four stages of learning maturity.

StageImpactEffectiveness LevelOutcomes
1TransactionalSurfaceLearning interventions
2TransactionalLowLearning programs
3TransformationalModerateProactive talent & performance programs
4TransformationalDeepHigh-impact learning culture

Here are the key findings:

  • 78% of those surveyed are at the “transactional” stage of learning maturity. In other words, training is based around a tactical program of L&D that responds to specific needs at the time. There’s an element of the learning culture that is about “we have to do it” rather than we want to do it” for the long-term benefit of our people and our organisation.
  • Of these, 56% are stuck at Stage 1. Their L&D programs are transactional, having a “surface” level impact, delivering only short-term gains. Worse still, this percentage has increased from 54% in 2021.
  • 22% are at stage 2, benefiting from low impact effectiveness.
  • Only 23% have a learning culture and maturity that is “transformational”. This means that L&D programs are continuous and embedded in an organisation’s values and fabric, helping it to transform and grow its performance levels.
  • 12% are at stage 3 – running talent and performance programs with moderate impact.
  • 11% are at stage 4, where they enjoy the full benefits from their learning and development programs thanks to a high-impact learning culture.


The results make for sobering reading for L&D professionals. Most organisations are at the very start of their L&D journey with evidence that the pandemic has slowed down progress, despite the move towards online learning.

Our view is that this may reflect the need for organisations to survive in such challenging times by reducing investment in L&D at a time when it’s never been more critical.

One of the biggest challenges companies face is attracting and retaining talent. A high-performance culture of learning is a significant attraction to individuals who evaluate the quality of their employer not only on the salary offered but also on the potential for self-development and career growth.

Can a high-performing learning culture impact business performance?

There is plenty of evidence to link organisational performance to learning culture.

The Learning Performance Benchmark report best sums this up:

“Top-performing L&D leaders are two to three times more likely to report a reduction in employee turnover, an increase in organisational productivity, and an increase in organisational revenue.”

Laura Overton points out that 52% of organisations at stage 4 – a high-impact learning culture – in their learning and development journey achieve their performance goals, compared with 26% at stage 1.

She also points out how an organisation’s agility is improved. 60% of stage 4 organisations saw improvements compared with 8% for stage 1.

McKinsey identifies a direct link between performance and investing in their future leaders:

“Companies that make investments in the next generation of leaders are seeing an impressive return. Research indicates that companies in the top quartile of leadership outperform other organisations by nearly two times on earnings before EBITDA. Moreover, companies that invest in developing leaders during significant transformations are 2.4 times more likely to hit their performance targets.”


Support learning culture with the right eLearning tools

We firmly believe that it’s “people before technology” regarding successful L&D delivery.

However, without the right technology in place, ambitions of improving a failing learning culture could fall flat.

For those unsure if they need to invest in better technology, consider the points below:

  1. A dedicated learning management system (LMS) should sit at the heart of your L&D offering. Investing in a good LMS is vital for effective management, measurement and delivery of your learning, as well as improving accessibility and engagement for learners.
  2. Do you have the capability to create course content that keeps your learners truly engaged? Having the right software, whether it’s a traditional authoring tool like Articulate 360, or bespoke video software like Vyond, can make the difference between dry and dull training and content that learners can actually enjoy.
  3. First impressions are important when it comes to learning. Having a digital adoption solution to support onboarding and initial training could be the difference between software frustration and a seamless start to life in your organisation.
  4. Do you have the capability and capacity to deliver in-house? If not, it might be worth partnering with an external organisation to help deliver the level of tools and training you’re after.

Looking to change the learning culture in your organisation? Omniplex Learning works with businesses around the world on all aspects of L&D, whether it’s tools, training or course content. To find out more, please get in touch.

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