Approaches for developing learning culture

Last year, as part of the introductory course on education management at the University of St. Gallen, I was invited to give a guest lecture on the topic of „learning culture development“. After an introduction to what learning culture is and why we should deal with it (cf. also my other blog post on this topic), it was about how learning culture can be captured and developed. As the students themselves were to develop concrete proposals for measures following the lecture as a partial examination, I addressed the general difficulties in developing learning cultures in my lecture. One of my major concerns was to convey a principle that may sound trivial, but which is still characteristic of cultural work in practice: there are no „right“ or „wrong“ measures. There are only those who are effective and accepted, or not. In order for measures to be accepted, participants and affected parties must be convinced of their effectiveness.

This supposedly everyday wisdom points out the important fact that finding a possible measure is only a first step, while a marathon has to be run for the implementation afterwards. For this reason, cultural development means less proclaiming design proposals that are written somewhere in an abstract form in a textbook. Rather, people and entire social systems must be persuaded to accept and implement such design proposals. This results in another truism for the development of learning cultures, which is also more difficult to live than to formulate: What we do is more important than what we say, what we do.

Against this background, generic catalogues of measures for the development of learning cultures are not much more than a source of inspiration, which could ultimately be done in practice. Nevertheless, the proposals of the students of the University of St. Gallen were so substantial that I decided to combine the ideas of the 13 teams and to complement them with my own ideas/associations. As a result, a generic catalogue of measures was created, which can be a first but important step in this marathon for the development of learning cultures. Of course, these design ideas must first of all be transferred to a specific context, which is why an analysis of the learning culture is recommended beforehand. However, this catalogue can always serve as a source of inspiration:

Social Learning Institutionalisation (possible solutions)

  • „Tandem coaching“ in which a person with professional experience and a novice regularly reflect together (e. g. over lunch). Here, the experienced professional profits from the novice’s „naivety“ by asking him questions that he no longer asks himself (showing blind spots). The novice benefits from the experience of the other. In this case, it must be guaranteed somehow that they both benefit from each other and that the person with professional experience does not assume the role of mentor (which would be another possible solution). A link to the learning journal would be possible (see ePost-it App below). Alternatively, the „tandem partners“ can also be assigned voluntarily or randomly.
  • Networking lunches, where MAs and/or executives meet in a group or in pairs for lunch, where they talk about concrete challenges in an informal setting (possibly also about learning and further education). For this purpose, for example a platform to bring interested parties together (e. g. also on the ePost-it app). A random generator can also be used to bring the group or „couples“ together for lunch („Anonymous Lunch“).
  • Ritualization of informal exchanges (coffee break, lunch, etc.). So that it takes place regularly at the same time and can be visited spontaneously by everyone.
  • Moving together!Establishment of sports events or a sports facility to improve not only work-life balance, but also to provide an informal interaction platform on which MAs can network and exchange information across departments. Similarly, the ideas would be to cook together or to build a choir.
  • Organize events or initiate programs that promote networking and social learning. e. g. (Discussions-)Arena, panel discussions, BrainBrunches, Lunch Roulette, InnoSnacks, BrainGym (regular meetings with keynote speeches by external experts on topics that are currently being discussed), cross-departmental buddy system, etc.).

Integration of learning and working (possible solutions)

  • Promote reflection by allowing MA and FK a reasonable period of reflection per week. This reflection can be entered in a learning journal (digital or analogue) and should be based on relevant questions of orientation (e. g.:…). „what did I do?“,“what worked?“;“what didn’t work?“;“what do I do differently?“. Another potential input source for reflection could be the ePost-it app (see below). To strengthen the exchange of knowledge between FK and MA and the commitment: Monthly exchange of information, where this weekly reflection is discussed and reflected upon together.
  • Integration of the ePost-it app into your daily work, e. g. by integrating ePost-it apps into your daily work. the digitalised learning journal is used there to promote reflection. In this journal, concrete „learnings“ could also be written down and indexed, which are then shared in the app.
  • Put educational measures in the context of concrete projects or tasks. Consider beforehand, during and after, how learning and work should be (should) be integrated. Formulate a collective, binding vision („We want to move in this direction, so we must grow together in these areas“). However, not only formulating this vision, but also continuously checking whether and to what extent work has been done or „learnt“ to achieve it.

Digitisation of learning (possible solutions)

  • ePost-it App: Provide learning nuggets and motivate with gambling tools. Possible functions of this app: collection and sharing of „knowledge reading“ (e. g. from getAbstract), quizzes, search function or question chats. Smart data and peer feedback/recommendations can be used to personalize learning nuggets or other learning potential.
  • Experience digitalisation (as a megatrend) by learning with mobile devices. This is not the same for everyone, but depending on the preconditions and possibilities (depending on which devices are already used in the daily work).
  • Important, relevant and/or new (e-)learning modules could be sent with push signals to increase MA’s attention.

Learning Communities of Practices (possible solutions)

  • To promote the exchange of experiences and concrete problem solving.
    Platforms on which MAs can exchange information to share good practices and learnings. Promoting them as a networking event, so that different areas and functions meet.
  • Questions that need to be answered: How is the agenda set, which people meet there and why? Should the agenda be based on the needs of the participants? What is the motto for the MA?
  • The cohesion of such communities can be promoted by „team-building“ measures (common cooking, team events, etc.).

Measuring the effectiveness of learning (possible solutions)

  • To strengthen the legitimacy of learning and to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness of learning: Evaluation of learning success.
  • Not only summatively in the context of formal training and further education, but also formatively in the context of concrete changes in operative activities („it was better with Project X because I reflected on my daily behaviour and noticed that A, B and C did not work, which made me very successful with Solution D.“). With project Y I could start directly with approach D, but then I noticed in the coaching discussion with my FK that I had to proceed slightly modified here, which is why I then opted for solution D2.“).
  • Strengthens the motivation to learn for the MA because they can comprehend the learning success, while at the same time the management sees the added value of the learning programs. In addition, the effectiveness of the measures can be examined and adapted accordingly. For example, you can use the educational programmes are regularly reflected on their added value. Education programmes without added value are dropped so that resources can be used for education programmes with added value (courage to select).
  • These evaluated added values can be shared in the communities or in the ePost-it app.

Self-organization of people and system (possible solutions)

  • Enable the MAs to determine where and how they learn independently.
  • MA set themselves learning goals, the achievement of which they reflect with the manager.
  • Implementation of a selective „holacracy“by reflecting on major change processes or projects with the employees. On the one hand, decisions are then more readily accepted and on the other hand, the MAs can then contribute their competencies to the process. Because the MAs are such a part of change or can actively participate in shaping it, they „experience“ the change and „live“ it more likely afterwards. This can also strengthen the willingness of the MA to change.

Physical room design (possible solutions)

  • New interior design. Assign rooms clearly and design and name them according to their purpose. e. g. Creative spaces, study rooms, workrooms etc. This means that the room allocation is no longer determined by the team, but by the type of work. The individual thus has rather the environment he needs (creative exchange vs. quiet, concentrated work). At the same time, this promotes team-spanning exchange because the MAs keep coming into contact with other people.
  • Setting up a creative space or learning space where people can meet spontaneously to exchange ideas or learn from each other (e. g. in connection with the communities). In order to avoid a break room, learning should be recorded. Here you can use e. g. use the ePost-it app (or the learning journal)
  • Coffee corner with Starbucks atmosphere

Managers as coaches (possible solutions)

  • Managers no longer act as gatekeepers for formal continuing education, but instead support the reflection of the MA as a coach.
  • In doing so, he/she discusses e. g. in a 1:1 with the MAs, which goals they would like to pursue in formal further training (preparation) or have achieved (postprocessing, transfer support).
  • At the same time, the coach should also take regular time to reflect with the employee on what they have learned in further training, on-the-job or in exchange with others. In doing so, he can reflect through questions such as „what has been done?““what worked?““What didn’t work?““What will be done differently in the future?“ stimulate.
  • In such coaching discussions, the FK do not function as subject experts who show the MA what could be done, but rather as a reflection aid and feedback giver. In this way, they can also be used as a support to raise awareness of learning progress.
  • Managers give impulses and make suggestions for learning needs, which they balance together with the MAs in the area of conflict between HR vs. personality development and align with the strategic goals of the entire organization.

Integration of learning and innovation (possible solutions)

  • Collaboration with the innovation department to link idea and innovation management with continuous learning. For example, by publishing rejected or unsuccessful innovations in an annual journal and celebrating them (innovation cemetery). This supports the much-cited culture of error and at the same time others learn what they need to pay attention to in order for their ideas to be successful. Here the question has to be answered, what added value such a cemetery offers and how the collective can learn from it. This means, for example, that above all innovations that already have a certain substance and may have been piloted. The development of the learning culture not only focuses on innovation, but also on the learning out of innovation.
  • Integration of the ePost-it app into innovation work by putting ideas and prototypes on the platform at an early stage, enabling the community to provide feedback before the innovation department or management has to work on it.

Ensure framework conditions for learning (possible solutions)

  • Give time for learning
  • Coordination with operational needs and requirements
  • Schedule or allow fixed learning time (e. g. also a kind of 80/20 rule like Google and other Silicon Valley organizations)
  • Regulation with deputy (so that people in shift work can also learn during working hours)
  • Provide IT infrastructure for learning (tablet, smartphone, platforms, etc.)
  • Promoting social networks (virtual and physical) in order to increase the willingness to exchange information (e. g. through social events)


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