How to Create a Culture of Ongoing Learning

Digital Strategy Article
20 mins

We’re here today to talk about how you can imbue your team with a culture of ongoing learning, both in and out of the office. This isn’t about creating off-the-cuff measures to get your staff up-to-speed when the need arises – it’s about building learning into the processes, the ethos, the hearts and minds of your team. To paraphrase Socrates, we’re not trying to fill a vessel here, we’re trying to light a fire.

Let’s not spend too much time talking up the benefits of ongoing learning. You know it keeps your team happy and stimulated. You know it’s prized by all sorts of luminaries, from Albert Einstein to Julia Child. You understand that in spite of any costs incurred, it will almost surely help your bottom line. You get it, so let’s begin.

Use a variety of training types

In his new book, “Building Digital Culture”, Target Internet’s CEO, Daniel Rowles, identifies a wide range of training techniques which can facilitate a team’s ongoing learning. These include:

Formal learning

  • Classroom training
  • Formal qualifications
  • E-learning/online interactive
  • Webinar/real-time online
  • Conference
  • Seminar

Informal learning

  • Podcasts
  • Video
  • Blogs/reports
  • eBooks

Each of the above training methods has its pros and cons, and will be more suitable for certain teams, individuals and subject matter than others. For this and other reasons, we recommend creating an experimental and varied learning offering for your team.

Implementing or providing access to as many of these methods as possible will help you to cater for a wide range of learner types within your team, which will encourage enthusiasm, learning success, and ultimately, a healthy culture of ongoing learning.

Providing a vibrant mix of learning opportunities is a great start, but you can go much further – and get much smarter – by identifying and exploiting valuable links between different forms of learning, particularly across the divide of formal and informal learning. If we had to identify the crux of building a culture of ongoing learning, this could well be it.

Whenever a team member engages in a learning activity, you need to make sure two key considerations have been accounted for. Firstly, there needs to be an immediate pay-off – an improvement achieved that can demonstrably benefit the team member’s day-to-day work and career development. More on that later. Secondly, upon finishing a learning activity, the team member should be clearly directed to further learning opportunities.

For example, a team member who has attended a seminar should be directed towards informal learning opportunities like blogs, videos and eBooks, or perhaps towards further formal learning opportunities – an official qualification, for instance. Whether by adding links to content, publicising opportunities at the end of face-to-face learning sessions, or by holding face-to-face discussions focused on ongoing learning, you must ensure your team members are never left thinking “What next?” after finishing a learning session or task. This tactic adds an invaluable continuity to your team’s ongoing learning – one of the facets that defines a culture.

Highlight the link between learning and progression

There are few industries in which ongoing learning is more crucial to career progression than digital marketing. Not only will most digital marketers need to expand from a primarily tactical skillset (i.e. focused on hard skills like PPC and web publishing) to encompass more managerial, strategic skills as they progress up the career ladder; they also need to learn new technologies, new channels and new tactics as the industry continues to evolve.

However naturally predisposed towards learning a digital marketer may be, most will recognise the importance of learning to their professional development. This is great news for team leaders, as it means that in most cases there will be little need to evangelise reluctant learners. What you can do, however, is work hard to highlight the value of ongoing learning. Let’s not settle for having team members who merely accept their educational commitments; let’s create driven, passionate learners who chase every opportunity to progress.

There’s lots you can do to highlight the link between learning and career progression. An easy starting point would be to create a “Learner of the Month” award scheme – whoever makes the best effort or the most progress in their ongoing learning wins a bottle of wine! This simple initiative sends a clear message to team members: management are paying attention to your ongoing learning, and it’s important to them (it’s not really about the wine or the pat on the back).

You should also be a propagandist for learning in your corporate communications. If you run an internal newsletter or mailout, give column inches to team members who have gained impressive new qualifications, refer to learning and qualifications in any new hire or promotion announcements, and be sure to mention any voluntary educational opportunities coming up in the near future. Not to worry if you don’t do mailouts – simply apply this thinking wherever you can.

Bring in outside voices

Please don’t take this the wrong way, and your company is undoubtedly great to work for – but it’s only human to seek interest in the world outside one’s place of work. Hiring third party speakers, trainers and academic institutions to provide educational opportunities within your organisation is a great way to appeal to this natural desire for new information, perspectives and opportunities. You’re quite literally bringing new ideas and know-how into the heart of your workplace.

Most teams can’t afford to hire in a different expert to provide a new learning opportunity every day, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bring fresh ideas into their physical space. Books and industry journals are an excellent resource to leave around the office (while you’re at it, why not put together a lending library?), and you can even go so far as to use projectors or TV screens to present the latest industry news. Or, if you have a chill-out area for staff, why not kit it out with mp3 players loaded with episodes of the Digital Marketing Podcast?

Your digital marketers need to do things your way – but it’s also crucial that they feel a part of a vibrant and dynamic global profession. As long as they keep pace, you keep pace.

Appoint a Learning Champion

So far we’ve spoken at length about team-wide strategies to promote a culture of ongoing learning. Now let’s zoom in and focus on how individuals can contribute.

Voluntary side-projects for staff members are near-ubiquitous in the digital marketing industry. From spearheading a team’s charitable activities to catering for in-office recreation, these roles offer workers the chance to cultivate new specialisms, to impress their peers and to make a real difference to their working environment. Ongoing learning fits perfectly into the picture.

Put the word out that you’re going to be appointing one member of staff as the team’s Learning Champion. The successful candidate will dedicate a small amount of their normal working time to making learning opportunities available and well publicised within the organisation. It’s not their job to nag their peers about attending classes or courses; instead they should be focused on the creative and organisational challenges of devising, promoting and hosting unmissable learning opportunities. Is it just us or does that sound like CV gold dust?

Keep each worker’s training focused

We’ll start this section with a proviso: within the scope of subject matter that applies to your organisation, every team member should always have the opportunity to learn just about anything. This is crucial to building a positive culture of online learning.

Team members should have the chance to learn whatever takes their fancy, but we must also consider the need for a portion of each person’s learning time to be focused on the pressing requirements of the team as a whole. Every digital marketer has some degree of specialism in certain areas, and these strengths need to be kept sharp at all times.

For many leaders, the perfect opportunity to discuss and balance the desires of the learner with the needs of the team will arrive in the form of the team member’s regular progress meetings (how often these take place will vary from company-to-company). Schedule in personal development as an essential fixture of these meetings, ascertain the individual’s interests, and devise a personal learning programme that works for both parties.

Now we’re going to make like a power cable and end with a plug…

We’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a free-to-use Target Internet resource that may help you to assess each team member’s learning progress and identify new opportunities and requirements: the Digital Marketing Skills Benchmark.

Benchmark uses a web-based quiz to assess the user’s proficiency in various digital marketing areas, such as content marketing, PPC, SEO and digital strategy. The questions featured in the quiz are based on best practice standards from authoritative institutions such as Google and the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

After the user completes the quiz, Benchmark produces results in the form of a spider chart illustrating proficiency in each digital marketing area, a short written analysis and a suggested content section which provides link to a variety of educational resources including blog articles and podcast episodes – all of which may prove extremely useful in planning a learner’s next moves.

Using Benchmark or a similar method can bring clarity to the process of planning a team member’s ongoing learning. For the learner it will flag up the subject areas in which they still have much to learn; for managers it gives a measure of the learner’s progress over time.
Ongoing learning is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your team members, and, in turn, to your organisation. Whatever methods you use to build a culture of learning, just be sure to make the effort.

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