Tip #694:  What is Your Learning Culture?

three office workers

“A learning culture is a strategic tool for organizational growth and advancement.” Nikos Andriotis

Many years ago, I was helping a startup organization plan their recruitment strategy. It was clear to me that their job announcements needed to alert potential applicants to the fact that there were no systems or procedures in place. The new hire would have to be comfortable with the uncertainties (and exciting challenges) typical of a brand-new organization.

At that time, I was focused on the organizational culture of the new business. Now, it appears, we could have defined organizational culture more broadly to include its learning culture.

A learning culture is a set of organizational values, conventions, processes, and practices that encourage individuals—and the organization as a whole—to increase knowledge, competence, and performance. http://www.oracle.com/us/chro-docs/june-2013-chro-deck4-1961622.pdf

According to a white paper published by ej4 (a provider of online video training solutions), there are four common types of learning cultures: traditional, immersive, pioneering and free-form. http://info.ej4.com/common-types-of-learning-cultures-whitepaper-0

These cultures are differentiated by the degree that learning is either driven top-down by management or driven bottom-up by employees.

Traditional learning cultures want their employees to get up to speed on the organization’s policies, procedures and performance expectations as quickly as possible. Management sets the learning agenda and provides the training, which is narrowly focused on the skills the employees will need.

Immersive learning cultures want their employees to get the whole picture of what the organization stands for, its history and values, and how it operates in the world. Management still sets the learning agenda and provides the training, but it is focused more broadly on what it means to be part of the organization.

Pioneering learning cultures want their employees to take the initiative on obtaining the skills they need. Management leaves the learning agenda to the employees, who are responsible for seeking out sources for their own training.

Free-form learning cultures want their employees to learn a variety of skills and even teach them to others in the organization. Management leaves the learning agenda to the employees, who may be encouraged or expected to take advantage of a wide variety of learning opportunities offered by the organization.

This provides at least one reason why new hires may complain about the lack of orientation and training they receive. All organizations, regardless of their learning culture, should provide effective orientation and on-boarding for their new hires. However, what form that takes may be very different in each learning culture. If the new employees come from a traditional learning culture and find themselves in a pioneering learning culture, their expectations for formal training programs will probably not be met.

As with any systematic classifications, all organizations may not fall into one of these four learning culture categories. Some organizations may incorporate aspects of different learning cultures at the same time, or change as changes occur in the organization.

In retrospect, my belief that a new hire needs to share the organization’s culture and values was correct. I just didn’t realize that the organization’s culture includes how, what, when and why learning occurs.

So, can you identify your organization’s learning culture?

May your learning be sweet,



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