Letter game pieces scattered around a blue backdrop and the word 'learning' spelt with the pieces in the middle.

The (learning) culture catch: why achieving L&Ds top priority is such a challenge

Embedding learning culture at an organisational level

The list of the “Top 5 challenges for L&D leaders” for 2022, was just published by the LPI. Compiling feedback from learning leaders and examining over 10,000 individual challenges the sector faces, this year the report identified the second major difficulty as ‘creating an organisational learning culture’.

Additionally, recent research from the CIPD established that 98% of L&D practitioners want to create a supportive learning culture, but only 36% think they have actually done so. So, it’s clear we all want it, but why is it so hard to achieve?

We do recognise that implementing a learning culture is a difficult task for organisations; it never feels like there is enough time in the day or enough resources within the company. But perhaps the more fundamental issue is that whilst, as L&D professionals, we may know we want a learning culture, how many of us can clearly articulate what that means in a way that inspires the rest of the business?

Let’s start with what a learning culture is not…

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Whilst that may be an old, outdated proverb – it rings true in this context. Having all the data, technology and infrastructure in the world does not magically make people want to learn. Though we may want to deny it, for many employees, ‘learning’ is something they are made to do on occasions. It may not be something they voluntarily choose to do on a day-to-day basis.

The realities of this in practice, can be displayed by exploring two different employers and their experience with delivering digital learning. The first, is Company A. They identified the need for their learning to go digital, chose an LMS provider with over 20,000 courses and modules and let the employees loose. No plan or guidance was installed, and – by no surprise – the employees were overwhelmed with the number of courses. Because of the poor implementation, only 0.28% of the courses were accessed and less than 5% of the workforce took advantage of the learning opportunities available.

Top view down on woman watching a video on a laptop. There is a mug of coffee, note pads, sticky notes and pens scattered around her on the desk

Now let’s contrast that with Company B. They were making an active decision to learn company-wide, and chose suitable content to make available. Company B had a clearly defined vision that was communicated to all employees. That vision was that learning was a day-to-day activity and the responsibility of the individual. But rather than making it a chore to be done, instead it was positioned as something that makes their job easier, more rewarding and leads to their personal and career development over the long-term. As a result, 76% of Company B’s workforce engaged with the available learning opportunities – as opposed to Company A’s mere 5%!

You are not alone

To achieve the example set by Company B is a big ask and one that you cannot do alone. Although an individual employee may be inspired and take responsibility for their own development within a learning culture, that inspiration can quickly wither if it is not nurtured. The change needs to be company-wide. Line managers are the engine driving a learning culture. However, according to LPI, just 36% of line managers reported modelling behaviour to promote learning goals.

Managers need to inspire their teams with self-directed and continual learning. One easy way to do that is by leading by example and sharing their progress with their teams continuously. And let’s not forget, managers are also employees with their own needs and ambitions. As such, they can also ‘buy-in’ into this for themselves as well as their staff – feeding into the visceral, living and breathing learning culture.


So, we have the vision. We have communicated that vision and we have buy-in from managers and staff alike. But how do we nurture that vision to develop a sustained learning culture?

The world has gone digital and so has learning. Books, manuals, and face-to-face teaching are fantastic but they are costly and may not be easily accessible on a day-to-day basis.

Side view of three people working side by side in a very bright room. All of them are wearing headphones.

That has driven the rise of digital alternatives with which we are all familiar to a greater or lesser extent. But we – the L&D professional – have one big problem. We’ve created a learning culture, full of self-determined learners: how do we satisfy every individuals ever-changing learning needs?

The short answer is we can’t. Yes, there are some core pieces of learning that we are still going to create. But, in a true learning culture, our job is to provide tools and techniques that help individuals solve problems for themselves. Our role is more of a coach or mentor, rather than a trainer. Or more accurately – and remembering that we are not alone – our role is a mentor to the real mentors, who may usually be a line manager or other champions.

And technology can help. Nowadays it is possible to have video-based coaches with AI capabilities that can supplement and support human mentors. They use voice recognition and natural language processing to make the learners’ experience as seamless as possible. An example of this technology is AIDA, it creates a holistic self-driven environment, empowering users to create their own journey and providing exponential data to feed back into the business.

Feedback is king

And if we are to be adaptable, we need feedback. Feedback is incredibly important for organisational learning and often gets overlooked due to its simplicity. Team and peer feedback must be nurtured because it promotes team building, reduces bias, and removes the fear factor. And this includes client feedback, if appropriate. Such feedback is imperative for a learning culture, whether it is positive or negative. Hearing back from your clients – or even prospective clients in a sales environment – why a sale or project did not go through, or a process failed, is of extreme importance. It helps you better understand the company and values so you improve next time. But there are also lessons to be learnt for your own organisation from this self-reflection.

Two women are sat at a desk, looking at a laptop. The one o the right seems to be speaking. The background is a huge corkboard with loads of papers hung on it with different graphs.

And by way of example, we at Saffron do just that – we conduct a “Lessons Learnt” session after we conclude every project. The whole company – including senior management and individuals not directly involved on the specific project – joins forces to share thoughts and give feedback. It is a chance for the whole company to reflect, share what happened and keep everyone up to date on what the organisation is producing. Whilst also serving as a ‘pat on the back’ for successful delivery of a project. This loops back into management inspiring by example and facilitates the continuous feedback that should be done within a culture of learning.

Is a learning culture worth your time?

Ultimately, a learning culture is worth the effort if you are willing to put in the work to make it happen. Simply having the resources available won’t take the organisation anywhere if the team is not set up for success. A clear vision, clearly communicated across the company is the foundation. Leading by example, adapting the ways people learn aided by appropriate technology and incentivising every kind of feedback are the day-to-day building blocks.

But there is one group we’ve ignored; I hear you say. Senior management. And often, they ‘don’t get it’. They lead the charge and without their support how do we achieve a learning culture? Well, to answer that question I’m going to point you to my colleague’s blog ‘Solving the data puzzle: delivering performance impact with your learning’. So check that out to explore how you can both measure and articulate the value of learning in your organisation.

We hope we’ve offered some food for thought and got you ruminating about how you can successfully achieve a culture of learning in your organisation. But if you want more insights or want to let us know what you think, get in touch.