“Continual learning” is a buzzword in the training and development world right now. It’s easy to write off as just another way of describing the training you already do.
But continual learning is more than that.
It’s a shift in the culture of your company that helps employees improve their performance. And that, in turn, helps your company grow.
Let’s take a look at what continual learning is, how it helps your company, and how you can use it right now to improve performance.
(Note: from here on out, I’ll be using “continuous learning” and “continual learning” interchangeably.)
What Is Continual Learning?
As you might expect, continual learning is exactly what it sounds like—ongoing learning and development.
That means people undergo all sorts of training (on- and off-the-job, formal and informal) to build new skills on a consistent basis.
But isn’t that what all learning and development programs do?
Not exactly. Companies that place an emphasis on continual learning have a strong learning culture. Employees are encouraged to learn and grow at all times. Not only during training events.
There are lots of ways to do this; setting up social learning platforms, encouraging informal training, starting coaching programs, and providing the resources employees need to learn are just a few of those methods.
But none of these things are enough on their own. A continuous learning culture is what motivates employees to continually improve themselves.
Sound difficult?It can be, especially if your company doesn’t currently emphasize training and development for employees.
But it’s absolutely worth taking the time to put in place. There are significant benefits.
Benefits of Continuous Learning
First and foremost, continual learning helps improve employees’ job performance.
Rowold, Hochholdinger, and Schilling (2008) found that career-related continuous learning programs “are highly useful for both employees and organizations.” Employees build skills. And that’s important.
Continual improvement of skills is crucial in the modern workplace where change is constant. New technologies and best practices mean employees need to be able to change their behavior quickly.
But that’s not all. Your employees will see higher job satisfaction, decreased turnover intention, and non-job-related skills (like social competencies).
Less turnover is a huge benefit for your company, as recruiting and training new employees is significantly more expensive than retaining veterans. Your investment pays off in the long term.
And there are benefits beyond individuals, too. Continuous learning helps foster a learning culture in your organization.
The combination of a learning culture and more competent employees helps your company become more innovative, adaptable, and responsive.
That’s what investing in your employees is all about.
There’s no downside to continuous learning in your organization. You may have to make some cultural shifts. And getting set up to foster this sort of environment requires up-front investments.
Let’s take a look at a few of the things you can do right now to foster continuous learning in your organization.
1. Reward Continuous Learning
Continuous learning doesn’t happen on its own. You need to show your employees that you value it.
That means providing real rewards for people who learn new skills, value learning, and help others gain new knowledge.
But you’ll need to go beyond that, too. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Josh Bersin say that “rewarding curiosity is not just about praising and promoting those who display an effort to learn and develop; it’s also about creating a climate that nurtures critical thinking, where challenging authority and speaking up are encouraged, even if it means creating discord.”
And it’s important to offer multiple types of rewards, says DeakinCo. Intrinsic rewards like a sense of accomplishment or positive feedback should be combined with financial or other extrinsic rewards for successfully applying new skills.
This means managers need to be on the lookout for employees who are learning and applying new skills. And you may need to give them the authority to decide on rewards quickly so they can respond when they see learning in action.
What you can do today: think of one employee that you know has sought out learning and knowledge. Recognize them in an email or a meeting to show your appreciation. Then think about a long-term reward system (either intrinsic or extrinsic).
2. Offer More Formal Learning Opportunities
Social and informal learning are important for making development a constant at your company. But offering lots of formal learning opportunities has two important benefits:
First, employees are given more opportunities to learn. That’s obviously important when you’re building a culture of continual learning. It also helps you direct their learning if you have some specific KPIs that you’d like to improve.
Second, and maybe more importantly, it shows employees that you value learning.
And that’s crucial for building a culture of learning. When employees feel supported and valued in their learning, they’ll go out of their way to continue building their skill sets. And that’s exactly what you’re aiming for.
What you can do today: ask your employees if they’d take advantage of additional formal trainings and which areas they’d like to see more trainings in. Get in touch with your training team or an outside group to find out what you need to make it happen.