The main focus of institutions of higher education, is to educate students, so we sometimes forget the importance of professional development for our faculty, staff, and administrators. It’s similar to the old saying, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.” Employee Learning Week provides a perfect opportunity for us to highlight the important connection between learning and achieving organizational results.

At Georgia State University, we began celebrating Employee Learning Week in 2011, when I arrived as the director of organizational development and consulting services. Our one-day event was held on December 6. We recognized employees who had completed one of the following in-house certificates: Managers Duty of Care, Office Professional, and Supervisory. We also served cake, and each participant received Employee Learning Week ribbons.

In 2012, we added a speaker to our Employee Learning Week event and introduced an employee learning plan to help prepare for the upcoming performance management cycle.

We were enthusiastic about our 2013 event and planned a week’s worth of activities. On Monday, we held a training expo and introduced our campuswide organizational learning plan, which consisted of:

  • diversity and inclusion
  • executive roundtable
  • lecture series
  • lifelong learning
  • work-life balance and wellness
  • compliance
  • business systems and processes
  • academies.

Employees could visit tables with information on each area. Each participant received a brochure that described the eight areas and provided a section for them to write down their professional development interests.

On Tuesday we recognized our learners, and had a guest speaker from the Robinson College of Business host a session on innovation in higher education. On Wednesday, we encouraged employees to take advantage of in-house learning opportunities created by our campus departments, or to take a lynda.com or Skillsoft course at their desks. On Thursday we held our first Taste of Learning event, in which the off-campus instructors gave 10-minute presentations on our most popular classes. On the final day, the employee development and wellness department provided yoga and meditation classes.

Our campus employees have begun to look forward to our annual celebration; last year, our fourth, was a big hit! It was held on December 2-5, 2014, and the theme was learning and innovation. On Tuesday, December 2, we held an employee learning expo. Its theme was “gaming is here,” and featured five learning games:

  • the “soul train”
  • a scramble board with learning terms, bingo, and an interactive put-together innovation game
  • a word search
  • spin the wheel
  • learning bingo.

We also offered prizes, popcorn, and the opportunity to win a professional development scholarship.

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Wednesday, December 3, was Recognition of Learners Day, and the theme was honoring lifelong learners. At this event, we recognized employees who had received certifications or internal or external certificates, as well as those who were enrolled in our tuition assistance program. Employees who had completed one of our internal certificate programs received a plaque. We also gave “lifelong learner” certificates to our tuition assistance participants and employees who had completed an external certification such as Six Sigma, project management, or change management. On Thursday, December 4, we hosted our inaugural lecture series, and the theme was innovation and learning. The lecturer was our chief innovation officer, Phil Ventimiglia.

On Friday, December 5, we again held our Taste of Learning event. As in 2013, a group of our outside consultants gave 10-minute presentations on some of our most popular programs.

Employee Learning Week is one of our campus’s most highly anticipated events because it truly engages our employees. We give away professional development scholarships in the amounts of $50 to $150 as door prizes, which can be used to cover the cost of one of our internal training classes. In 2014, as an extra incentive, the department that had the highest number of attendees during the week was given a voucher for a half-day retreat conducted by one of our internal facilitators.

I encourage all colleges to give Employee Learning Week a try; your employees will love it! Here are some tips to keep in mind as you plan:

  • Start off small by making it a one-day event initially.
  • Get buy-in from administrators, staff groups, and human resources.
  • Never start on Monday. Employee Learning Week normally falls shortly after Thanksgiving, so it reduces the time you have to send out reminders about your events.
  • Ask your departments for door prizes and consider giving a scholarship for one of your classes.
  • Good communication is key.
  • Make it fun!