A major characteristic of a learning culture is that individuals, teams, and whole organizations are constantly learning how to learn. They are learning how to acquire the knowledge and skills that they need to help the organization be successful. The teacher-centered, classroom-focused, right-and-wrong answer, static instructional environment that was the primary modality in the schools they attended does not fit the rapidly changing, technology mediated, on-demand knowledge and skills that are needed in today’s organizations. In this environment, people need to be continually figuring out different ways to learn, whether that be individually using new technology, in teams that are trying to become more effective, or as the whole organization learns how to communicate, how to use resources more efficiently, and how to make better decisions.

In their book, A New Culture of Learning, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown describe this dynamic world and what it means to learn how to learn in this kind of environment.  They write:

… Imagine an environment that is constantly changing. Imagine an environment where the participants are building, creating, and participating in a massive network of dozens of databases, CultureofLearning Book hundreds of wikis and websites, and thousands of message forums, literally creating a large-scale knowledge economy. Imagine an environment where participants are constantly measuring and evaluating their own performances, even if that requires them to build new tools to do it. Imagine an environment where user interface dashboards are individually and personally constructed by users to help them make sense of the world and their own performance in it. Imagine an environment where evaluation is based on after-action reviews not to determine rewards but to continually enhance performance. Imagine an environment where learning happens on a continuous basis because the participants are internally motivated to find, share, and filter new information on a near-constant basis.

The environment that Thomas and Seely Brown are describing is one in which people have learned how to learn collectively. This collective learning is already happening in a number of different types of organizations. However, this is not how most of us learned how to learn in school. There we were evaluated on the basis of our individual retention of knowledge. We learned how to acquire information and analyze and synthesize that information on our own. Learning collectively is something that individuals, teams, and organizations today need to learn how to do. This is the work of twenty-first century organizations.