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What is a successful learning organization?


In a successful learning organization, employees are in charge of their own learning and development; with their colleagues, environment, customers and their network. The organization prioritizes risk-taking and innovation and together creates new capabilities, products, services and working methods. It is easy to share knowledge and transfer into capabilities among employees.

The organization’s culture drives curiosity, experimentation and allows employees to learn from their mistakes. The ability and desire for continuous learning is seen as an important skill of the employees. The managers primary task is to enable the employees to develop and grow; through experience, collaboration and daily learning.

The work itself is designed to allow for feedback and development. Formal learning is built into processes and systems, e.g. in the form of microlearning, collaboration or video instructions.

The organization make full use of digitalization in learning and has implemented an ecosystem of modern tools and systems such as LXP, microlearning, social platforms etc. Technology make it possible for employees to quickly find relevant content, personalize, integrate into work and easily share with colleagues.

Those who previously worked with learning in the business, in the “training function” or elsewhere have changed their responsibilities and focus. Their task is to enable employees’ continuous learning, to encourage managers and to help the business to perform work for learning and development. Previous roles such as course developer, teacher and course administrator are largely replaced by roles such as “curator”, “experience designer”, change manager and “performance consult”.

Several organizations research the impact and effectiveness of learning in larger companies and organizations. The most mentioned is Deloitte Bersin research around the “High Impact Learning Organization”. The research has been ongoing since 2001 and has resulted in a number of models and tools.

I myself use Bersin’s models and tools in my projects. Especially when it comes to changing and improving the L&D organization itself. An example is Bersin’s “Maturity Model”, which enables organizations to assess their current maturity in learning. The research behind the model highlights the organizational capabilities needed to become a successful learning organization. The research also shows that top-level organisations are 3 times more profitable than their competitors.

Steps towards an effective learning organization

The maturity model highlights 4 levels, or focus for the Learning organisation. Each level has successively higher impact on business result. Moving upwards is a multiyear journey that requires C-level support, mandate, resources, new L&D skills, employee learnability, a culture of learning, technology and successively moving learning to work itself.

Let’s look at the characteristics of each level.

Level 1: Formal learning

  • The organization considers learning primarily as taking courses and programs.
  • The resources and capabilities of the L&D department are to develop, administer and deliver courses and programs.
  • Typical learning methods include classrooms, virtual classrooms and eLearning.
  • Processes are focused on efficiently designing courses, delivering and evaluating. ADDIE is a typical method.
  • Digital technologies used are LMS, authoring tools and virtual classrooms.
  • The organization’s LMS is used for administration of courses and programs.
  • The L&D department has organizational responsibility for learning. The responsibility for developing the employee, the manager and other businesses is unclear.

Level 2: Employee centric learning

  • Learning is adapted to the individual using shorter modules (microlearning), connection to jobs and skill and platforms with intelligent recommendations.
  • The L&D department curates content from a large number of external sources (MOOCs, YouTube, TED etc.) to meet the individual needs.
  • The business takes greater responsibility to ensure skills requirements and content within e.g. functional and product areas.
  • The digital environment is being expanded, e.g. by Learning Experience Platforms to make curated personalized content available.
  • The L&D Department builds capabilities in areas such as Design Thinking, Curing, Experience Design, Analytics and Technology Integration.

Level 3: Continuous learning

  • Learning is run by employees themselves rather than through programs developed by L&D.
  • The culture encourages and support a growth mindset and continuous learning.
  • The manager plans and encourage the employee to learn from new experiences at work.
  • The employee participates in the creation of learning activities by collaborating and sharing knowledge on social platforms.
  • Focus is on encouraging and developing performance at work. Solutions include motivation, rewards, information support, simplification of processes and systems, built-in support, etc.
  • Digital solutions encourage informal learning with curated content such as websites, articles, videos, cheat sheets, etc.
  • L&D enables employees’ learning and performance at work. New roles are performance consultants, social coaches, change managers, etc.

Level 4: Work designed for learning

  • Work is designed to enable experimentation and feedback.
  • Risk-taking, innovation and continuous improvement are part of the culture.
  • Learning is built into the work/collaboration platforms that the company uses, e.g. Slack, Teams, or feature-specific platforms such as SalesForce.
  • A large amount of data (from tasks, use of learning resources, peer evaluations, social platforms, etc.) is used to anticipate needs.
  • The organisation’s continuous learning and innovation capability is part of the company’s strategy.
  • The employee’s long-term development and career is the focus of learning, as well as the company’s future needs.
  • Learning workers collaborate with other functions to design tasks and the employee experience.

Next: Develop a successful learning organization

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