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Lifelong learning

Fostering a lifelong learning culture and mentality

Published on Friday, January 13th 2023

Relying on one hard-earned degree for an entire career is a thing of the past. The world is constantly changing, and organizations and their employees need to change with it. This requires mental resilience, a healthy dose of curiosity, and motivation to develop yourself. A stimulating learning culture is also essential for the future of any organization. However, only one in five adults attended a training course in 2021 (according to Statbel). What does lifelong learning mean, and how do you use it to empower your employees and your organization? Read this blog post and find out!


Looking for the right mindset

Even if you get a degree or complete a training course, learning never stops. Lifelong learning goes hand in hand with the realization that, as a human being and as an expert, you’ll never be completely finished. It’s about the journey you’re on, and that journey doesn’t stop after getting a certain certificate. You want to keep evolving, and for that you need to question yourself, your way of working and your knowledge. Some people are always looking to improve and have a growth mindset. Others tend to have a static mindset and think their skills and knowledge are fixed values.

As an organization, you should support and encourage a growth mindset. Employees with this mindset view challenging issues in their jobs positively and see failure not as a showstopper, but as a springboard for growth and stretching their capabilities. Such a mindset helps organizations accelerate and avoid blind spots.

But how do you, as an organization, ensure that your people stay curious and always look for the best solution at a given time?

  • By offering different learning content, learning forms and learning moments. After all, everyone learns in their own way and at their own pace. For example, create a good balance between e-learning and social learning. Or ask your employees if they want to share their knowledge with others through a buddy system.
  • Recognize that learning can feel unsafe. When an employee enrolls in in five courses, it can feel like an admission that there are five things they have not yet mastered. So work around vulnerability and go for psychological safety. Create an atmosphere where employees can openly discuss their wishes, goals and interests. The leaders in your organization also play an important role in this. When they ask open-ended questions and look for solutions jointly, they indicate that they don’t have ready-made answers to everything either.
  • Many people don’t know exactly where they want to go. Provide time to reflect, give managers tools to support their team members in this, and commit to a culture of constructive feedback.
  • Constant learning takes less effort than catching up with a mega evolution, so you should build in regular learning incentives.
  • Position yourself as a learning organization, not only internally but also to the outside world, to attract people with the right growth mindset.
  • Develop a broad view of competencies and talents. Motivate people to look outside their four walls. This may make them curious about other things within your company where their talents would add even more value.
  • Dare to let employees go; their development opportunities sometimes extend beyond your company walls. Who knows, they may come back one day with new insights and skills.
  • An inspiring Learning & Development vision provides the foundation, but it’s not enough on its own. Don’t forget to embed this vision in the daily activities of your organization by communicating about it, aligning processes such as bonus schemes, mentoring leaders, etc.
  • Respect it when an employee is not (yet) open to a growth path. Engage in a dialog to understand their “no” or “not yet.” For example, brand-new parents may have less mental space to deal with new things.
  • The HR department is often a driving force in this narrative, but the vision is best supported and developed organization-wide. So to build your vision, you should put together a multidisciplinary working group made up of members from different parts and layers of your organization.
  • Beware of instant sappers of your vision such as a complicated administrative process to request training, training limited to the happy few, or coercion (rewards and punishments).

The organization and the employee both have responsibilities

An organization can create an exciting learning culture, but the full potential of lifelong learning can only be developed together with its employees. The responsibility lies with both, but in different areas. As an organization, you must encourage, offer relevant offerings and ensure that what is learned can be applied. Otherwise, employee may get the feeling that their learning effort has been for nothing.

As an employee, you have to look inside and consciously think about your personal development. Where do you want to evolve? This is sometimes not easy because it requires a lot of self-insight. Honesty is also important. You want employees to only say “yes” to training opportunities they want to effectively engage with.

As an organization, you can pave the way, but each employee is at the wheel themselves. Look together for learning opportunities that add value to the organization, the team, and the individual. A course in Italian out of personal interest without application in your job, for instance, is not appropriate. But if you’re a Sales Manager, taking a course in Italian to win a major Italian client is another story.

Motivation plays a crucial role in a lifelong learning culture. ABC theory provides a framework for constructively and sustainably addressing motivation. Want to dive deeper into the ABCs of personal development? Watch or listen to the #ZigZagHR podcast now, in collaboration with one of our HR colleagues.


Make the returns visible

You gain extra clout for your vision by making the returns visible. In the short term, the effects may not be so obvious, but you can try to make the return on value concrete, both for the organization and the employee.

To identify the returns to the organization, you should take into account the cost of training, the cost of the employee being not billable during training, the time when the skills learned are going to be used, and the “what if you don’t do it” cost – in other words, the risk of being left with dated knowledge and skills.

Above all, employees want to understand how their time investment will pay off in their day-to-day work. What are the benefits? How will it help them move forward? It must be meaningful and purposeful. Getting those things clear will also help convince employees who don’t have an intrinsic growth incentive.

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