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Foster a continuous learning culture: 3 practical strategies for tech teams

Alice Meredith shares benefits and practical strategies for businesses to implement a continuous learning culture and unlock their tech team's full potential.

Sep 08, 2023 • 6 Minute Read

A blue butterfly against an orange background.
  • Business
  • Team Development
  • Learning & Development

We live in a world where change is the only constant. Accelerated customer expectations, evolving regulations, ever-expanding advancements in technology, and changing workplace dynamics are just a few of the changes we all experience. 

And let's not forget the recent pandemic of 2020 and the seismic shift it created, catapulting organizations and individuals into a new reality of remote and virtual work environments. In truth, change is not just happening around us. It’s more like a sculptor chiseling away, constantly refining how we live, work, and interact with others across the globe.

This ceaseless transformation has businesses and individuals scrambling to stay relevant as competitive workplace landscapes evolve. Adaptation to continual change is no longer a trend but a new global reality for organizations—and a continuous learning culture is key to keeping up.

Table of contents

The challenge: Balancing current skills gaps with future-focused tech

Recently, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel of Chief HR Officers from a range of companies. The conversation centered around the urgent need for future-ready skills to ensure their organizations could adapt to the changes they were experiencing. 

Each participant expressed a similar struggle: juggling the urgent need to bridge existing skills gaps while acknowledging the critical importance of developing future-ready skills within their teams.

Changing work environments also show that the demand for new skills is rising as quickly as other skills become obsolete. This has redefined employability, making it less about what we know and more about our capacity to learn.

In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation recently published a report that aligns with these concerns. They discovered that 74% of hiring managers recognize a current skills gap in their workforce. This realization has sparked a significant shift in hiring strategies, moving the focus from formal education credentials to practical skills and competencies.

All people leaders and individual contributors need to continually up their game, expand their knowledge, and learn new skills. At the same time, organizations of all sizes face an urgent call to action to transform their hiring practices and create a culture of learning.

As Aaron Skonnard, Pluralsight's CEO and Co-founder, said, "Companies that win in the digital era will be those that see their skills inventory as a competitive advantage and make skill development a priority."

Investing in a learning culture: The triple advantage

In an ever-evolving business landscape, continuous learning in the workplace is not only a smart move but also a strategic one. When companies emphasize and value learning, they create an environment where individuals can grow, innovate, and perform at their best. Let's explore three distinct benefits of providing a culture of learning for your team members.

1. Enhanced employee engagement

Fostering a learning culture directly influences employee engagement, which is a critical driver of business success. Engaged employees demonstrate higher productivity and greater customer satisfaction, and they ultimately contribute to improved business results.

2. Improved employee retention

Various studies offer compelling insights into the role of a learning culture in employee retention. Research conducted by IBM revealed that 84% of employees in high-performing organizations are receiving the development they need, compared with 16% in lower-performing companies. 

The same study found that 94% of employees who received offers from other organizations but stayed with their current company credited their company's commitment to training and development as a significant reason for their decision.

3. More effective recruitment and retention across generations

A learning culture is becoming increasingly essential to attracting and retaining top talent. Millennials, who are predicted to make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, consider a company's culture a key driver of their decision to join or leave an organization. 

And according to one report, having opportunities to learn and grow is now the number one factor that defines an exceptional work environment. Employees without learning opportunities will seek them elsewhere: 47% of technologists consider leaving their current employer to grow their role or skill set.

How to establish a continuous learning culture: A journey from intent to action

The primary goals of nurturing a learning culture span several dimensions. They include helping teams acquire new skills, filling current skills gaps, and developing future-ready capabilities vital for sustained organizational success. You can use these strategies to get started.

Understand leadership's role in shaping a learning culture

Like all cultural transformations, the shift towards a learning culture must originate from the top. Leaders play an essential role in embodying and promoting continuous learning as a unique, core organizational value. This process initiates personal mindset shifts among leaders and influences similar mindset shifts within their teams. 

When teaching leadership attributes to companies I support, I often refer to this as “inspiring a desire.” This speaks to a leader's responsibility to inspire their team members to embrace their individual learning journey. It's easy to understand that while others can inspire continual learning and development, a successful journey will only come when the individual puts in the work to seize the professional growth opportunities available to them.

Fostering a learning culture goes beyond simply providing opportunities for ongoing training, though. It requires organizations to ensure teams can effectively apply newly acquired knowledge and skills to real-world tasks and challenges.

Integrate hard and soft skills through personalized learning plans

A pivotal aspect of successful learning involves blending hard and soft skills. Ask almost any executive—they’ll agree they value both skill sets equally.

In my experience, I've found that personalized learning plans prove most effective as they offer a balanced development of hard and soft skills tailored to each individual. Personalized approaches tend to increase employee engagement and transform the learning process from mere compliance to a tool for career growth. Moreover, personalized learning plans lay the groundwork for individual career coaching, which directs self-learning, bolsters accountability, and encourages continued training. 

Encouraging employees to initiate personalized learning plans in partnership with their managers significantly enhances the plan's effectiveness.  By empowering employees to take ownership of their learning journey, they show up more invested in the work and overall process.

Tips to create personalized learning plans

Companies that do well with this process provide resources, plan templates, and other tools to assist their employees in creating personalized learning plans. This may include resources such as comprehensive guides on goal setting, skill assessments, and recommended learning paths. Additionally, managers and company leaders should encourage employees to identify and provide their own resources that complement their overall learning objectives. 

Career development conversations between an employee and their direct supervisor are also an essential part of creating and executing personalized learning plans. They present an opportunity to understand any reluctance towards ongoing training and devise strategies to address any resistance. 

Fostering a collaborative environment where employees actively participate in shaping their own continuous learning plans will transform the process from a compliance-driven exercise to a more impactful opportunity for career development.

Acknowledge and reward learning achievements

Another key element in cultivating a learning culture involves recognizing and rewarding learning efforts and accomplishments. Whether through public recognition or tangible incentives, like financial rewards, these acknowledgments play a substantial role in encouraging learning at work. 

Rewards need not be costly, but they must be consistent, fair, and aligned with individual progress. Many learning platforms offer badges and other virtual tokens of achievement. These may not motivate all learners, but they do appeal to those who enjoy tracking their personal progress. Rewarding learning is an indispensable aspect of fostering a learning culture.

Navigating the roadblocks to establishing a learning culture

In my role as a culture strategist, I frequently interact with leaders who express a strong desire to foster a culture of learning within their organizations. However, they often face common challenges, such as restricted resources, time constraints, and a lack of overarching organizational support. 

If these obstacles resonate with your situation, I recommend reading my article Leadership Approaches to Cultivate Continuous Learning with Limited Resources. It offers in-depth insights and practical strategies to help you navigate these hurdles and effectively instill a learning culture in your team.

The journey to creating a continuous learning culture will present challenges. But overcoming these obstacles can usher in a transformation that fuels individual growth and the collective success and resilience of the organization. Remember, the journey towards a learning culture is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay committed and your dedication will soon yield significant returns, paving the way for a future-ready, adaptive, and thriving organization. 

For more in-depth knowledge and practical guidance on similar topics, check out my Pluralsight courses. I've curated a collection of courses specifically designed to deepen your understanding and develop the necessary skills to excel in areas such as culture transformation, effective change management, and leadership strategies.

Alice Meredith

Alice M.

Alice has vast experience as a multi-level senior leader with retail operations and human resources as specialties. Experience includes 27 years of leadership supporting technology companies holding positions of Regional Director, District Manager, Senior HR Market Manager, and Senior Manager Labor & Employee Relations.

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