Many companies have started to pay much more attention to how important learning is to their business, and how it can be a huge competitive advantage to attract and retain great talent. Bersin wrote recently in “Watch Out Corporate Learning: Here Comes Disruption” that “reinventing careers and learning is the No. 2 issue in business.”

With that in mind, companies are wondering how they can create a learning culture. But the truth is, all companies already have some sort of a learning culture. The question is, what type of learning culture do you have versus what type of learning culture do you want.

First, let’s look at the different types of learning cultures that exist. I’ve put them into broad categories, but I’m sure we could identify variations and combinations of all of these:

  1. A culture of compliance training.
  2. A culture of necessary training.
  3. A culture of learning.
  4. A culture of continuous learning.
  1. A culture of compliance training: A culture of compliance training is usually a company that doesn’t value learning as much as it values making sure it is covering the regulations and requirements necessary to do business. For example, in California where I live, all managers are required to go through a two-hour sexual harassment training by law. So, if you have nothing else about learning or training at your company, you likely will have some sort of compliance training.
  1. A culture of necessary training: A necessary training culture focuses on training to teach employees about tools and processes that are very job or company specific. This training generally happens during the onboarding process or when a new tool or process roll-out is happening in the company.
  1. A culture of learning: A culture of learning gets to higher levels of learning and goes beyond compliance and necessary training. This type of culture focuses on building employees’ skills through targeted programs and initiatives. Sometimes these programs are tied to business initiatives, other times to developing leaders and managers. At its core, though, a culture of learning focuses on building skills as imperative to the company’s success. In this type of culture, learning is valued and people are encouraged to take time out to get the development the company believes is critical. Many times, this type of learning culture is event-driven, meaning people are taken out of their jobs to learn new skills.
  1. A culture of continuous learning: In a culture of continuous learning, learning becomes part of people’s everyday work, part of how they spend their day. In this way, learning becomes a daily habit. People might spend 15 minutes watching a video to complete a task, or read an article to help them think about solving a problem. Or, they might listen to a podcast on their way to work that will help them do their job better or start preparing them for a future role. In work cultures that value continuous learning, managers encourage this learning, and employees feel free to access YouTube or Ted Talks or online courses at work knowing that it is part of the way they work and learn.

Most CLOs would like to have a culture of continuous learning — a culture where learning is part of everyday work, where learning is more than compliance or required training. A culture of continuous learning is generally modeled by leaders and highly encouraged. It includes all types of learning — formal and informal, videos, articles, podcasts, books and events.

But more than just the myriad learning that surrounds us every day, helping us build skills now and for the future, learning in a continuous learning culture becomes something that people love and want to do, rather than something that is imposed on them. You will find that in this type of learning culture, employees feel valued and know that the company is investing in them, and that is great for the company’s success as well.

Kelly Palmer is chief learning and talent officer for Degreed. Comment below or email


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