How to Create a Learning Culture

Many organizations aspire to become learning organizations. I know you’ve heard of it before somewhere right? A learning organization, or a growing one. As John Wooden once said “If am through learning, I am through.” As an organization, you need to be continuously growing, learning, and getting better.

As industries, and the business world grow - which in a capitalistic society, will happen; you need to ensure that, you as an organization are growing as well. We will get another technology revolution, soon enough we will have an energy revolution, and then the GENETIC revolution. The Flynn effect has already demonstrated the evolution of the human species throughout the years. As technology continues to get more advanced, as well as energy, we are navigating into a more skills-based economy that will require humans to keep up—or albeit, be able to understand the complexities around them.

If you refuse to follow the laws of evolution & business, you will be left behind. Training, developing, and growing people in your organization is critical. You can’t rely on recruiting high-level talent from outside the organization to increase your talent pool. You have to develop the people on the inside too, the people who are a right culture fit— the people who’ve been here, done that, and can lead the charge and set direction for the fresh new talent on the block. So we know growing people is essential to sustained success now right?

A learning organization sounds appealing in theory, which it is. I agree.

Getting better is great too, the practice of kaizen, is critical if you want to remain competitive with the growing market and talent pool. Every business leader should know kaizen by now. If you don’t, click the hyperlink of the word kaizen above. In order to effectively grow, we must understand the actual science of growth and how we can actually foster real growth. Growth comes from learning and practice.

We must get to the roots of learning to implement a learning strategy effectively, and thus truly develop a learning culture. Getting there, entails we require general knowledge of human cognitive science. In other words, how we ACTUALLY learn things.



One of the most popular models of learning is the learning cone developed by Edgar Dale around the late 1960’s. The methods behind the model seem obvious at first glance, even more obvious once you understand what each layer stands for.

As the model goes:

After 2 weeks, we remember 10% of what we read (1 out of every 10 sentences, great). We will remember 20% of what we hear, this is due to a different sensory stimulus in the brain. We will remember 30% of what we see, generally through visual representations, and informational videos. After this, we reach the 50% mark, and this is where a majority of all learning is based around, through university lectures and standard training & development programs in organizations. At this mark is when we are able to see and hear things, this is often through the form of presentation or lectures.

At this point, you may be able to demonstrate what you’re learning, and be able to practice the exact thing you witnessed, but you are not the expert of the methods yet. Meaning, if you run into an unanticipated roadblock that requires critical thinking & innovation with the material, you’ll likewise be stuck. You see the strongest form of learning; isn’t how you’re taking the information in, it’s how you’re reinforcing that information after it’s already been absorbed. How you are applying it. This is where collaborative discussions become important; because, true learning requires our conceptual processing muscle. This is where we take in sources of content and regurgitate it in our head in ways that make sense to us. After this, we are able to then apply this information in our own authentic way that actually makes sense to us.

A simple strategy for doing this is to simply ask the group “So who can tell me an example of a problem we might face today, or this week, where this information will help us? And how would we directly apply this information to solve that problem?”

If you don’t get answers for that one you can create a problem yourself and ask “So how could this information be used to solve this problem?”

You have to put the learners in that moment, and help them create a sensory experience of them actually applying that information they are learning creatively.

By utilizing conceptual processing we’re really able to take this information, explain it in different ways to others, and even identify which scenarios we can apply this information to and how. Instead of being able to ace an exam, we can actually apply this information to real-world problems that we may have never seen before. Furthermore, we can even brainstorm innovative solutions to imagined problems and how this information applies to the specific situation. This is because we have developed that analytical level of understanding (according to the cone), this allows us to really understand the intricacies behind both the content and the problem, and then connect the dots.

This is different to applying the information at the 50% level of understanding on the learning cone. The reason for this is because at the 50% level, we really only understand the information in black & white matters. In essence, we understand how to solve problems to the exact questions we were originally shown through a lecture, or at least of similar difficulty.

So how do we develop this level of understanding and problem-solving ability?

According to the cone this involves actual practice of the material in a creative capacity, not just in ways that are very black & white that might have been explained in the lecture.

A simple way is actually encouraging open dialogue and intellectual conversation regarding the material itself. Not just at the time of the lesson though, but throughout the working day as well. By intellectually discussing the content, you are creating continuous reinforcement of that knowledge which is the most essential ingredient of storing it in long-term memory and really developing those skillsets!

Repetition will always be the most important ingredient to skill development!

Continuously discussing the information learned, and even trying to teach it to others is one of the easiest things you can implement into your day. We’ve heard it before, right?

By telling people about what we’re learning and attempting to teach it to them, we’re reinforcing that knowledge. So now we know that we can increase our level of understanding by not only encouraging creative discussions and contribution, we also can encourage intellectual conversations AFTER the lectures themselves to create continuous reinforcement.

Besides these two factors, you could also have people in your organization be in charge of giving presentations to the groups. You could even do this by delegating something you recently learned as well. Let’s say you’re the director of sales at a very large company - simply saying to one of your sales supervisors - “Hey, you think you can lead the training class this week?”

Empowerment + teaching + learning? That’s a critical domino effect for fostering a learning environment, while even empowering your subordinates to grow as well.

Seems like pretty effective stuff, right? Fostering a learning environment is what allows you to continuously ask “how can we do this better?” Thus, you can explore innovative solutions tailored to ever-changing market situations and factors.

Moreover, you give yourself a chance to evolve and be ahead of the market, while everyone else is stuck in the quick sand trying to dig themselves out. The next step is collecting DATA to see how people actually learn, are they visual learners? Do they prefer novelty?

Tune in for part 2 next week to discover how to effectively collect data and determine your workers needs to develop effective learning strategies for them.  

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