The Association for Talent Development (ATD) and Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) collaborated on a study of a “culture of learning” in organizations and the impact of that culture on  performance. They define a culture in this way:

A culture of learning, or learning culture, is one in which employees continuously seek, share, and apply new knowledge and skills to improve individual and organizational performance. The importance of the pursuit and application of learning is expressed in organizational values and permeates all aspects of organizational life.

The investigators collected surveys from 832 “talent development leaders” in a wide range of organizations and also interviewed a number of “talent development leaders” from organizations “…recognized for both market performance and excellence in learning and talent development.”

The study’s authors concluded that…

Having a culture of learning is a hallmark of high-performance organizations.Culture of learning infographic

In high-performance organizations, employees share knowledge with their colleagues at a rate four times greater than that of workers in lower-performing firms.

Learning cultures are rooted in the hiring process.

Three learning-culture-supportive practices related to employees are performance standouts:

  • regularly updated personalized development plans for every employee
  • worker accountability for the learning specified in those plans
  • nonfinancial rewards and recognition for employee learning.

 

Less than a third (31%) of survey respondents indicated that they have a culture of learning either at a “high extent” or “very high extent”. Although it is not entirely clear what this means in practice, it’s probably safe to conclude that most organizations do not have a learning culture.

As with all survey research, some caveats should be considered when interpreting the findings. For one thing, there might be a problem of definition. Many training leaders in companies who say they have a learning culture are mistakenly equating amount of training activity with a learning culture. A training culture is not the same as a learning culture.

Secondly, this is a correlational study (as is typical of most studies of organizations) and, therefore, the evidence is not proof of a causal link between a learning culture and high performance. It might be that the reverse is true. That is, a learning culture exists because the company is very successful. Regardless, the study does confirm that many high perform companies have (or aspire to) a learning culture.

And third, it is doubtful that the respondents are representative of all corporations. The findings are based on relatively small samples of the various sectors of “talent development leaders” in national and global organizations. We can assume that there is significant statistical bias in the sample and significant opinion bias in the respondents.

However, even with these caveats, the findings and conclusions are worth noting. Simply the fact that “a culture of learning” has become a legitimate area of interest and study is encouraging. It’s not that companies have a learning culture; what’s important is that they aspire to create a learning culture. And many of the conclusions of the study lend further credibility to the content of the workshop I’ve been facilitating for ATD for the past two years: Essentials of Developing an Organizational Learning Culture. Sharing knowledge across the organization, individual development plans, accountability for learning, recognition and reward for learning, are all topics we discuss in the workshop. It boils down to this: for organizations to be successful in the global, highly competitive, multigenerational, knowledge economy, they must strive to create and sustain a learning culture.

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