ATD Blog

Signs of a Learning Culture

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How do you know your organization has a learning culture? What do you see people doing? How are people learning?

While a learning culture is an environment that’s always in development, certain signs indicate that you are making progress.

  • Leaders are communicating the importance of learning (acquiring new knowledge, skills, and capabilities) and holding managers accountable for learning and applying that learning to making a difference for the organization.

  • Managers are helping direct reports create an individualized learning plan linked to strategic goals of organization. They are monitoring learning progress and providing feedback, structuring opportunities to apply learning on the job, and holding direct reports accountable for results.
  • Managers are coaching. They are partnering with direct reports to develop their capacity to achieve organizational goals.

  • Leaders are mentoring. They are using their experience to advise new and less experienced employees on how to fulfill the functions of their jobs.

  • Learning will play a part in the recruitment, hiring, and onboarding of new employees. Learning is conveyed as a value of the organization, and expectations for employee learning and development are discussed during recruitment phase.

  • Employees can see how their learning aligns with the strategic goals of the organization. They understand how acquiring certain knowledge and skills will help the organization be successful; the direct link from learning to results is made clear.

  • A wide range of formal and informal, hi-tech and hi-touch methods are being used to facilitate learning; the method used is determined by the intended outcomes for the organization.

  • Expectations for employee learning are discussed with employees. Employees know what they need to learn and why they need to learn it, as well as what criteria will be used to monitor progress and assess results. High expectations are communicated.

  • Learning is applied throughout the organization to continuously improve performance and achieve strategic goals.

  • Employees and their managers are held accountable for learning; measures for evaluating impact of learning on the organization are used and the data is used to make improvements in learning methods and processes.

  • Each learner and learning team in the organization is recognized and rewarded when the application of learning results in solving problems and achieving goals.

  • Learning is integral to decision making. Before any significant decision, information is gathered to inform that decision and team members are learning how to make effective decisions and apply that ability to a workplace problem.

  • Employees are encouraged to take risks as a way of learning. They are applying action learning methods to try out solutions and assessing the effectiveness of those solutions for their teams and the organization. If an action is not successful, the focus is on learning, not blame.

  • Employees are constantly experimenting with new ideas and programs for the purpose of finding out what works and what doesn’t and learning what they need to do to be successful. Experimentation is valued by leadership.

  • Explicit knowledge is documented in a way that makes knowledge easily accessible throughout the organization. Tacit knowledge is surfaced through facilitated experiences with employees; knowledge (experiments, best practices, new information) is openly shared among organizational units, departments, and divisions.

  • Stories that make up the lore of the organization are about successes and failures that resulted in individual, team, and whole organization learning. These stories communicate the value that the organization places on risk taking and experimentation.

Like road signs that tell you if you are on the right highway, these signs of a learning culture tell you if your organization is headed in the right direction. Remember, though, that you never arrive. There is always more to do on the journey to creating a learning culture.
To further explore this topic, join Stephen Gill in his online workshop, Essentials of Developing an Organizational Learning Culture.

Editor's Note: This article is reposted from The Performance Improvement Blog.



About the Author

Stephen is the co-owner of, a marketplace for organizational learning tools, and also owner and principal of Stephen J. Gill Consulting. Steve's expertise is in creating learning cultures in organizations and measuring the impact of learning and performance improvement interventions. He has done this work for more than 25 years, since leaving the faculty of the University of Michigan, School of Education. He has written extensively about these topics. His most recent books are Getting More From Your Investment in Training: The 5As Framework, published by RealTime Performance in 2009, Developing a Learning Culture in Nonprofit Organizations, published by Sage Publications in 2010, and Communication in High Performance Organizations: Principles and Best Practices, published as Kindle ebook in 2011. Steve also posts regularly on The Performance Improvement Blog. He serves his community as an elected trustee of Washtenaw Community College.  

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