“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
– William Pollard
Why Continuous Learning is the Foundation of Organizational Growth
Perhaps you’ve noticed a buzz around continual, constant, or continuous learning. But what is it, exactly? A good place to start is with a continuous learning definition.
Continuous learning is a concept – and in some companies, a motto – that speaks to the importance of expanding employees’ knowledge and skill sets on an ongoing basis.
This occurs when the Human Resources (HR) department and Learning & Development (L&D) trainers encourage and help facilitate ongoing learning among their employees. Importantly, this ongoing learning is tied to and aligned with key company objectives. This means, on a regular basis, proactively providing employees with the tools and technology they need to expand their knowledge and skills.
What does continuous learning look like when it’s being implemented? It can encompass different approaches – including more formal, trainer-centered courses; group and social learning opportunities; as well as autonomous and self-directed learning. Continuous learning is also about empowering your employees to take an interest in and responsibility for their own learning and development, while HR and L&D specialists provide support, guidance, and assessment.
Continuous Learning Examples
There are different ways for employees to engage in continuous learning. Formal learning, for example, includes internal training programs, traditional e-Learning courses, and conferences and workshops. Formal learning is focused around developing specific skills and relevant knowledge.
Social learning involves learning informally from peers and colleagues at work, as well as collaborating online via social media.
Self-directed learning occurs when employees spend time reading industry websites, watching instructional videos, or listening to podcasts to gain deeper knowledge of a topic that’s central to performing their job.
When marketing managers participate in online discussions on LinkedIn or scan a post on how to increase ROI, they are engaging in continuous learning, as is an employee who spends time gaining pointers and insights from more experienced team members.
Why Continuous Learning is Important
Very simply, it helps companies optimize the productivity and value of their employees. When an organization has highly skilled employees who are intellectually and emotionally engaged in their work and feel valued by their employer, then – and only then – can it fire on all cylinders and maximize profit.
For companies that are positioning themselves in the marketplace as a leader in innovation, continuous learning is particularly important. True innovation can’t happen without highly trained employees who are equipped with the skills, technology, and tools to make the leaps in creativity that lead to real innovation. Organizations that don’t address their employees’ skills gap won’t achieve their revenue and profit goals, or at least not as quickly. Maintaining your competitive position in a marketplace that is increasingly global and interconnected requires an ongoing commitment to develop your employees’ knowledge, skills, and workplace competencies.
Benefits of Continuous Learning in the Workplace
A serious commitment to continuous learning brings many benefits at the organizational and employee level.
Nurturing a continuous learning culture prepares employees for future opportunities in your organization. Increasing their knowledge, skills, and abilities enables them to contribute at a higher and more meaningful level.
Developing a workplace culture based on continuous learning can increase employee engagement and, as word spreads throughout your industry, strengthen your ability to recruit and retain employees. Investing in your employees’ development is less expensive than the costs companies incur due to the endless cycle of recruiting, rehiring, and retraining new staff members.
Improvements in learning can also enhance marketing, sales, and customer service – leading over time to a significant increase in revenues. Reducing costs and increasing revenue and productivity will ultimately also increase your company’s profit margins.
When employees have little time or opportunity to develop new skills, they may start to feel that their future marketability is being diminished or that they have no momentum or direction in their career. On the other hand, when companies equip their employees with new tools, technologies, skills, and abilities, they increase their employees’ value internally and in the marketplace. When companies create progression opportunities and career pathways for their employees, they feel valued and become more engaged in their jobs.
Offering employees opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills that are relevant to their job description builds engagement and motivation, while also optimizing productivity and their value to the organization. At the macro level, continuous learning can be a catalyst for developing and sustaining an organization-wide, learning-based culture that fuels innovation and future growth.
How to Embed Continuous Learning in your Company
Are you ready to build a continuous learning culture at your organization? Use these five steps to drive your process:
- Conduct Research
To begin, you need benchmark data. How are your employees currently learning? Talk to staff and document how formal and informal learning occurs. What’s working and what can be improved? Where are the greatest needs?
How will you execute a continuous learning strategy and what form will your activities take? Will it be administered through a learning management system, or LMS?
- Normalize and Prioritize
Continuous learning has the potential, over time, to transform your organization, but the key is to make it the expectation so that a continuous learning ethos becomes ingrained in your organizational culture. The commitment to continuous learning needs to come from the top and must be accompanied by sufficient resources to sustain it over the long term.
Introduce rewards and prizes to reinforce the desired action. If you have a learning management system, you can use its gamification features to introduce some friendly competition.
- Create a personalized learning map for every employee
This can be a simple one-page plan you ask every People Manager to develop with their direct reports. Ask them to start by reviewing their employees’ job description and annual work plan, then work with them to identify knowledge and skills gaps. They should create learning objectives, strategies to narrow the gap, action steps, budget, and a timeline.
Learning opportunities should not only be continuous, but they should also be convenient for your employees. With an LMS, companies can deliver engaging and empowering training that employees can access remotely anywhere, anyplace, and anytime.