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Event Note:

Professional Learning Europe,

Global Learning Track

Tuesday, 12 Oktober, 9.30 am - 12.30 am

"Strategic Focus on Innovations in Learning"

Tuesday, 12 Oktober, 3.15 pm - 15.00 pm

"Innovative Learning Design"

Moderation: Prof. Dr. S. Seufert scil, University St. Gallen

Wednesday, 13 Oktober, 9.30 am - 12.30 am,

"Change focus on Innovations in Learning"

Moderation: Dr. Tanja Fandel scil, University St. Gallen

Venue: Koelnmesse

The introduction of new technologies in organizations like the use of blogs or wikis in educational initiatives is not just a variation on a methodological level. This change also refers to the use of knowledge in different hierarchies or the acceptance level that employees show towards new technologies.

Why is it important to analyze and promote learning cultures in organizations?

The fast and multi-faceted developments in society, working environments, and the result of more recent insights in learning theory (e.g. the idea of an active and self-directed learner, or the importance of an efficient integration of informal and formal learning activities) all call for changes in learning cultures or the creation of new learning cultures. Especially in view of today's rapidly changing work conditions there is a demand for a better understanding on how to develop a learning culture within organizations than ever before.

This demand is based on the assumption that a learning culture, which is facilitating learning at the workplace, contributes to a company’s success. Therefore, it becomes a strategic goal of many companies to create a sustainable learning culture, which means removing barriers to learning and understanding what it means to be a learning organization.

A dynamic approach to the concept of culture acknowledges that before a learning culture can be influenced purposefully, a thorough understanding of the meanings a culture conveys for its members is necessary. Therefore, before intervening to change existing learning cultures, HR people need to analyze the cultural mechanisms at work.

How to analyze existing learning cultures in organizations?

For this analysis organizations can use various instruments, such as a SWOT analysis or “The scil-Learning Culture Analysis (LCA)" (see Seufert, Hasanbegovic & Euler, 2007). The LCA instrument has been developed within a design based research approach and provides a generic framework for such an analysis. It has been developed in close cooperation with 12 companies that were organized in a network. Thus, the framework for the LCA resulted from both desktop research and a succession of validating workshops with human resources specialists, scientists and managers. The diagnosis instrument is based on 5 dimensions and has been validated in different pilot projects (see figure 1):

Figure 1: Learning Culture Analysis

1. Employee Empowerment: This dimension describes the extent of employee-oriented support activities. For example, the extent to which self-organized learning and cooperation between the employees are supported.

2. Supervisor Support: This dimension describes the way organizations support their supervisors. For example, whether they are perceived as a role model in learning or can assure the framing conditions for learning.

3. Transfer Design/Methods: This dimension describes the methods which are used in training for competency development. For example, whether the trainings are practical oriented.

4. Infrastructure/Environment: This dimension describes the framing conditions of learning. For example, if the employees have enough time for learning.

5. Transfer Evaluation/Quality: This dimension refers to the review of learning and transfer success. For example, how to measure the training quality.

This framework for analyzing learning cultures has been used to develop instruments and tools that measure the relevant aspects of the corporate learning culture by asking all stakeholders (employees, executives, educational staff, top management, staff association) of the company how they perceive the conditions for learning at the workplace.

Two questionnaires have been used to evaluate the existing learning culture in the company: One questionnaire has been developed for employees, focusing on their individual experience of the workplace. Another version has been designed for leaders who have to assess the learning experiences of their employees. In most cases, the results of the survey state a significant contradiction between the self-perception of leaders and the perception by the employees, in concern to the leadership support for learning.

Often, leaders consider themselves as the primary contact person for their employees with regard to learning. In contrast, employees frequently criticize leaders for not supporting them on a more concrete level in their competency development. e.g. a leader may allow an employee to attend a specific training, but lacks in reflecting with the employee after the training on his/her learning outcome.

The identified fields of actions in the analysis phase offers learning professionals a variety of design options for change projects. Exemplary, the analysis can lead

  • to the development and implementation of a new learning design,
  • to a new definition of the leadership role in learning,
  • to a new time-model for learning activities on the job,
  • or to an extension of informal learning activities in the organisation.

What role do leaders play in changing a learning culture?

A feasible way to design and develop a sustainable learning culture within an organization is to include leaders in the training activities where they act as "learning promoters". According to the findings of numerous studies (cf. Amy, 2008; Seufert, Hasanbegovic & Euler, 2008), leaders significantly influence their employees' learning behavior as well as their attitudes towards learning. It can be assumed, that there is a constant interplay between culture and leadership: “Leaders create mechanisms for cultural development and the reinforcement of norms and behaviors expressed within the boundaries of the culture” (Bass & Avolio, 1993).

Therefore, leaders are key success factors for promoting a sustainable learning culture. In the light of their model function and the new demands regarding their role, leaders increasingly face the challenge of reconsidering their role in learning. Within this challenge, HR and L&D have a strong support role to play in changing the leaders role. This implies to act as a "learning consultant", which means to communicate the importance of the new role, to help the leaders to reflect on their own experience, and assist them in their new tasks and responsibilities.

Changing an existing learning culture is not accomplished by organizing some workshops or by a single announcement by an organizational leader, rather it is a long-term process undergone by individuals and organizations. Therefore, it is highly important to build the change process as a long-term learning and change architecture.

References and further reading

Amy, A.H. (2008): Leaders as facilitators of individual and organizational learning. In: Leadership & Organization Development Journal. Vol. 29, No. 3, S. 212 – 234.

Bass, B. & Avolio, B.J. (1993): Transformational Leadership and organizational culture. International Journal of Public Administration, Spring 2003, 112-121.

cipd (2009). Annual survey report. (2010-02-15).

Cunningham, P., & Illes, P. (2002). Managing learning climates in a financial services organisation. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21(6), 477 492.

Friebe, J. (2005): Merkmale unternehmensbezogener Lernkulturen und ihr Einfluss auf die Kompetenzen der Mitarbeiter. Ruprecht- Karls- Universität Heidelberg.

Jenert, T., Zellweger Moser, F., Dommen, J., Gebhardt, A. (2009): Learning Cultures at Higher Education Institutions. IWP Working Paper, 2009.

Schein, E.(2004): Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco, 2004.

Seufert, S./Hasanbegovic, J./Euler, D. (Hrsg.) (2008): Next Generation Leadership. Die neue Rolle der Führungskraft in nachhaltigen Lernkulturen, Arbeitsbericht 19 des Swiss Centre for Innovations in Learning (scil), St. Gallen, 2008.

Seufert, S., Hasanbegovic, J. & Euler, D. (2007): Mehrwert für das Bildungsmanagement durch nachhaltige Lernkulturen. Arbeitsbericht 11 des Swiss Centre for Innovations in Learning (scil), St. Gallen, 2007.