7 Ways to Encourage Lifelong Learning in Your Business

Business Titan James Cash Penney was onto something when he said, “Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” And we agree because a culture of lifelong learning is a powerful force for growth in any business.

That’s right. Constant “upskilling” is no longer just a buzzword; it’s the new normal. As many as 87% of American employees say they need to develop new skills continually to keep pace in their careers.

The benefits of lifelong learning are plentiful. Employees who constantly evolve their skill sets are able to take advantage of the latest technologies. That translates to better productivity and innovation. When you provide continuous training for employees, you also improve their loyalty by valuing their individual growth. And that’s only scratching the surface.

So, how can lifelong learning be encouraged?

7 Ways to Encourage Lifelong Learning for Employees

Making continuous learning a natural part of work and life requires a smart approach. Let’s look at some actionable ways to encourage lifelong learning in your business.

1. Allow employees to self-direct their learning
2. Make learning goals as important as performance goals
3. Use casual learning check-ins
4. Connect employees with inspirational mentors
5. Create opportunities for social learning
6. Build a library of learning resources
7. Recognize learning as an achievement

Pretty straightforward, eh? Now let’s look at them one by one.

1. Allow employees to self-direct their learning

There are times when you have to dictate exactly what employees should learn (think compliance training). At other times, it’s better to ask employees what they actually want to learn.

Take advantage of your employees’ personal interests by encouraging them to self-direct their learning. Not only will they have a better sense of their own learning needs, but they’ll also know what kinds of training work best for them.

Now, you’re probably wondering how to promote lifelong learning while still having some control over what employees learn – even when it’s self-directed. If you want to limit learning choices, you can give employees a specified suite of courses, books, or events to choose from. You can also make sharing any actionable learnings from self-directed training a requirement during performance reviews.

Investing financially in employees’ ongoing development is one of the best ways to encourage lifelong learning. So, think about creating a budget to reimburse employees for courses they take in their own time.

2. Make learning goals as important as performance goals

We all know that employees have limited time. So naturally, learning falls into the shadows of work goals. Instead, you want employees to see learning as a critical part of achieving performance goals. Without connecting learning to work performance, your business will never unlock the benefits of lifelong learning.

Make learning goals “real” by discussing individual learning KPIs and milestones with each employee during their performance reviews. Aim to set at least two learning goals per employee per quarter.

These goals should be as direct as possible. “Complete the Level 1 project management course from the PM College” will be more effective than “improve project management skills.”

The golden rule? Make sure every employee takes the opportunity to choose training goals they’re really invested in, and that contribute toward their job performance too.

3. Use casual learning check-ins

How often are you asked what you’ve learned recently? Probably not often enough!

One of the most cost-effective ways to encourage lifelong learning among your employees is to simply take an interest. People often don’t think actively about what they’ve been learning, because they don’t have the opportunity to share their observations. These check-ins help employees appreciate how they’ve been growing through their work and training.

Try making a casual learning check into weekly department meetings, or even company-wide emails. Sure, the first week you ask an employee about their learnings they might not have much to say. So ask again the next week (and the next), and they’ll soon become excited and motivated to share what they’ve learned from their experiences.

4. Connect employees with inspirational mentors

Learning isn’t always easy. Getting (and keeping) employees motivated to take on meaningful learning challenges can be tough and lonely. So, how can you make employees feel supported in their efforts?

Formal mentorship programs are a great way to encourage workers to be lifelong learners. And they’re not difficult to implement, either.

Most mentorship programs involve connecting employees with more experienced colleagues or respected industry experts. This gives employees a platform to discuss their ambitions and challenges, and visualize their career growth.

Experienced employees also appreciate the opportunity to become mentors and share their hard-won wisdom. The chance to support a colleague’s development may even reignite mentors’ own enthusiasm for learning!

5. Create opportunities for social learning

The 70/20/10 rule tells us that 20% of learning is through “developmental relationships” (and only 10% through formal learning!). These relationships are the basis of social learning. People learn more and better when they learn together. So, don’t underestimate the power of opportunities to learn in a group.

Throwing some group learning into the mix can be as easy as establishing a bi-weekly office book club. All employees can get a chance to nominate books to read and discuss or follow a list of industry recommendations.

“Fireside” sessions where employees discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions can also be one of the simple ways to encourage lifelong learning.

Finally, consider hosting learning lunches as a regular office event. Invite inspiring industry figures to share their experiences over lunch. Keep these events casual so employees feel comfortable asking the speaker questions.

6. Build a library of learning resources

The impulse to try out a book or course is so much more convincing when employees know that these resources are readily available. So if you have space, dedicate a corner of the office to a professional development library.

Include books about general self-improvement, and building skills specific to your industry. You can even include guides written by managers or other senior figures in your business.

If physical space is limited, build an electronic bank of resources. Provide employees with (legal!) electronic copies of popular books and training manuals, videos, and audiobooks.

You can also consider online continuous training for employees by introducing a collection of eLearning courses as part of your library. Want employees to take lifelong learning activities seriously? Consider providing a subscription to online learning platforms for courses on topics outside your company training.

7. Recognize learning as an achievement

A business rewards what it values. Simple enough, right? And yet, learning is so often overlooked. Any business that wants to experience the benefits of lifelong learning needs to show a genuine appreciation for learning itself.

Yes, results are important. If completing a course increases employee productivity, that proves the course has tangible ROI. However, recognizing learning itself as an achievement is vital to employees’ motivation to learn.

So, recognize learning by rewarding employees with completion certificates in front of the department, or even the entire company. Make learning achievements public by creating an “achievement wall” on which they can share the training they’ve completed.

You can also reward learning achievements with time off, vouchers, and small gifts. It’s all about choosing the rewards that matter most to your employees.

Create an Appetite for Lifelong Learning

Ongoing growth requires curiosity and persistence on the part of the employee and support and recognition from the organization. If you get it right, a culture of lifelong learning can strengthen your business’s growth for years to come.

Apply these seven lifelong learning strategies and watch your employees develop a craving for continuous development.

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