After the enthusiastic question-and-answer session, the loud applause from the packed conference room indicates the case study has gone down a storm.
A competitor in your sector has just completed a slick presentation on how the learning culture they recently established is transforming the company's performance.
Using digital tools that were already in place- you forget the exact details - everybody is now so motivated by deploying the same apps they use in their personal lives that they are falling over themselves to not only complete their required training, but actively learn on a regular basis. And the leadership team is full of praise with a snappy presentation from a happy CEO on how the L&D is now completely aligned to the needs of the business.
The presenter's well-received, self-deprecating joke about the CEO suddenly claiming all the credit for learning that works - as the final slide flashes on the screen showing a chart detailing admirably improving key performance indicators - that doesn't fool you. The Learning Technologies Award is a racing certainty.
Envisioning a culture of learning and development
For you, your competitor's success is a half-echo in a parallel L&D universe. Blowing your L&D team's training budget for the year, you've come to the conference as a last throw of the dice. How do you create a sustainable, value-for-money learning culture when you can almost envisage the emails headed "learning opportunity" being deleted en masse almost before they've hit anyone's inboxes?
Clearly no one in the generous-to-a-fault L&D industry would ever begrudge another's success but trying to create a learning culture is a widespread challenge. One recent statistic is illuminating. In research released at the end of November 2017, "How Can L&D Help Managers 'Learn to Learn?,'" learning analyst firm Towards Maturity found that while 91 percent of managers want to learn, only 61 percent claim they have the time to do so. An organisation that can't find the time to learn doesn't have a learning culture. If this problem is widespread, it is not a new one.
Why a learning culture is important
Bersin by Deloitte has been grappling with learning culture for the best part of a decade. Back in 2010 it wrote a report, "How to Build a High-Impact Learning Culture," identifying which practices, processes, structures and systems drive the greatest business impact. The report concluded: "The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organisation's learning culture." And the message remains the same today. In its Global Human Capital Trends 2017 report, "Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age," Bersin says that "high-impact learning culture" is one of the characteristics that contribute to a positive employee experience.
What kind of learning culture do you have?
To create a learning culture, you first must know where you are now. The well-known learning consultant Nigel Paine suggests that if the L&D team doesn't know or can't describe the organisation's learning culture, then the first step is a learning-culture self-audit.
But what is a non-learning culture? Look out for characteristics such as information being shared only on a need-to-know basis, little attention being paid to reflection or learning lessons, people being treated as resources, the default position being scapegoating and defensiveness and that even if customers' views are sought, they are often ignored.
In contrast, a learning culture is one where people are listened to, whatever their role, and they are invited to ask questions, tell stories, share successes - and failures. It is where the capacity for learning is one reason for hiring and promoting, where senior management will participate in learning and where customers' input and feedback is routinely sought.
It can be done - Ask Specsavers
Individual companies are proving that creating this learning culture using digital tools is possible. Take Specsavers, for example. At the 2017 Learning Technologies Awards, the Learning Technologies Team of the Year award was won by the digital learning team at the optical retail chain.
The team won because it has driven a culture of learning at the 27,000-employee business by using innovative digital learning materials. Providing more than 100 bespoke materials in a year, it created the learning culture through insight, feedback and testing.
The team had helped to drive two distinct changes: first, it significantly supported sales growth; and second, it created learning to support Specsavers' charity partners - including Dementia Friends, Changing Faces and the National Autistic Society - in making stores more accessible to all.
Specsavers had to overcome a series of challenges, such as setting up a team to deliver the new offer and offering training that suited younger colleagues, moving to a solution that worked for mobile, finding the space and time in-store to do learning and shifting the culture away from the classroom. The recipe for Specsavers' Digital Learning Design Team's success includes listening to learners and other stakeholders, collaborating with other teams in the business and innovating, not least by using learning technology well when in the classroom.
Tools to enable digital learning
As shown by Specsavers, digital is now essential to creating a learning culture, in particular using digital tools to facilitate communication and collaboration. But digital learning should be seen as part of the wider concept of creating a digital workforce.
The main advantage of digital is empowering learners - giving them choice of where, when and how they learn, and part of this change in culture requires a radical mind shift by the organisation. Good learning is about giving learners the same experiences they have in their everyday lives, which means using the same tools - smartphones and tablets, as well as laptops. It also means the look and feel of the learning should increasingly align itself with the consumer-style user experience (UX) digital users have every time they are online shopping, searching for information or getting immediate help with directions to their next meeting.
And behind the UX is artificial intelligence (AI), which, in one context, has learned what genre of movie you are most likely to buy and, in another, can recommend what learning may be best for you next based on the study and the work you have undertaken recently.
As part of a successful learning culture, L&Ds are seeing their role as creating and curating, hence the expression "resources and courses."
Resources include support tools, which allow for training that can be requested at any time. In these cases, training is produced in bite-sized chunks that make it easy to find the exact information you need when you need it.
The applications are wide, reaching into every L&D experience - and this is not exclusively about online learning, as digital tools have a crucial part to play in blended learning, in supporting coaching and mentoring, for example.
Providing a real deal learning culture
L&D at its best is innovative, creative and deeply practical. When it achieves those three characteristics, it creates the sort of learning that fits in with the reality of working lives in the 21st-century economy. The classroom course is being replaced by a worker-centric approach to learning: whether they are in an office, a call centre or a retail space, workers are short of time, with short attention spans, and they want to collaborate - but they also crave just-in-time, independent learning.