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ATD Blog

How to Create a Culture of Learning, Whether You’re Remote or Not

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Humans are wired to learn. Learning keeps us engaged and motivated. But let’s face it: Most companies have an engagement problem.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, only 33 percent of US employees are engaged at work. That’s a failing grade by any measure. The report also estimates that organizations could realize a 16 percent increase in productivity by offering employees opportunities to learn and grow.

Creating a culture of learning has clear and concrete business benefits. For example, companies with highly engaged workforces outperform their peers by a whopping 147 percent in earnings per share. But how to create that culture is more elusive, particularly for organizations operating remotely for the first time. While these organizations may be holding their breath until the pandemic is over, that’s not a winning strategy, as more than half of employees want to continue working remotely post-pandemic.

While creating a culture of learning goes beyond training, training is central to it. Here are three tips for developing effective training experiences whether your employees work remotely, at the office, or a combination of both.

Remember That the Basics of Learning Are the Same, Whether or Not You’re Remote

Real change takes time and repetition. If you expect people to watch a video or attend one presentation then magically change their behavior, you’ll be disappointed. Long-term behavioral change requires ongoing guidance, follow-up, and practice. That applies whether you’re training online or in person.

It’s easy to provide learners with the repetition and variation they need, even in a remote learning environment. For example, you could create self-paced learning paths that learners can digest information in multiple ways.

Let’s say you want to teach a salesperson how to handle a customer’s objections to a specific product. The first course in their learning path may consist of text and images explaining the objection-handling approach. The second may include a series of videos that summarize the approach and provide examples of what it looks like in action. The third course may include a low-stakes interactive scenario that gives the salesperson a chance to apply what they’ve learned. And the final step could be a live practice session with the whole sales team conducted in person or over Zoom.


If you’re training remotely, remember to translate the tactics you know work well for your learners in a face-to-face environment into the digital environment. If you know practicing in small groups is critical to success, for example, use breakout rooms in Zoom to replicate that face-to-face environment.

Put Employees in the Driver’s Seat to Boost Engagement (Making Training Fun Helps!)

Most in-person training is passive. Someone stands up in the front of the room and lectures while gesturing at a PowerPoint presentation. This type of training typically involves someone besides the learner driving the learning process.

The best trainers flip this model on its head, coaching learners to take ownership of mastering a skill or material. For example, The Cheesecake Factory has created an internal YouTube-like network for employees to share video content with one another. As part of the onboarding process, new employees engage in a contest where they upload a video showing how they’d greet customers. To win, employees have to take the initiative to learn and practice their greeting skills. Knowing other people will see their performance, these employees are more invested in mastering the skills and producing a great video.

You can apply this type of approach easily with your learners. For example, you may ask employees to pair up and record a video demonstrating a particular skill. Or have them research a new skill and develop a slideshow demonstrating it to their co-workers. They could also create a contest on applying principles they’ve recently learned. The key is to have learners take the reins.


Create an Ecosystem of Learning and Teaching That Includes Everyone

Many organizations have a top-down approach to learning, which assumes that only a select few experts are qualified to develop training materials. That’s an old mindset driven by compliance-focused learning departments.

But we all know from the success (and helpfulness) of YouTube that every person knows something worth teaching. People get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from sharing their know-how. There’s a lot of important institutional knowledge you could also retain if you gave all your employees the power to easily create and share courses.

Anyone at my company, Articulate, can create a course on our Rise platform, and it goes right into a browsable library for other employees to discover. In just the last eight months since we launched Rise, our employees across every department have created 92 courses about a broad range of topics. Because it’s so easy, fast, and fun to create content, people are eager to do it. Our folks have developed courses on everything from Black History Month and understanding SSO to driving your career and quality assurance practices.

Developing a culture of learning isn’t hard if you invest in creating a safe learning environment that’s accessible to everyone, puts employees in the driver’s seat, and lets people practice what they’ve learned in a low-stakes way. The return on investment is well worth it. You’ll improve employee engagement and satisfaction, reduce turnover costs, and boost productivity. Plus, your employees will love it, and that’s the greatest satisfaction of all.

About the Author

Lucy Suros is the president of Articulate, the company that is changing the way the world learns. She runs every aspect of Articulate, a SaaS business with two product lines, Articulate 360, and, an all-in-one training system. Lucy also regularly writes and speaks on the topic of virtual training and remote work, sharing much of what she has learned from leading Articulate - one of the first and largest fully remote companies in America.

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