When it comes to learning and development (L&D), a positive learning environment can make all the difference. But just like many aspects of the modern workplace, the world of L&D is rapidly changing.
A tumultuous labor market, the effects of an ongoing pandemic and rapid technological advancements all pose a challenge to time-tested ideas about what a successful L&D strategy looks like, where it happens and who it reaches.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at how the quality of your learning environment influences the success of your overarching L&D goals and the steps you can take to improve it.
What does a learning and development environment mean?
An L&D environment consists of all of the elements that influence an employee’s ability to learn and grow in the workplace. This can include physical settings, such as an office space, as well as resources, programs and processes that make workplace L&D possible.
A positive learning environment may encompass:
- Easily accessible education opportunities that are delivered in a flexible format, allowing employees to take advantage of L&D on their own schedule
- People managers who are encouraged and empowered to facilitate regular conversations with their direct reports about career aspirations and professional development goals
- A workplace culture of learning that’s observed at all levels of an organization, from entry-level all the way to the executive team
- L&D programs that provide clear pathways to career advancement
Successful learning environments don’t just happen. They’re built with intention, with each component contributing to a more positive learning experience.
When companies fail to offer a supportive learning environment, employees have to take the lead in their workplace development. Finding relevant training and education falls on them, requiring an investment of time and money into advancing their career, with little support from their employers. Understandably, those same workers feel little sense of loyalty or engagement — and why should they? Contrast this with organizations that make a positive learning environment an integral part of their culture.
Where learning and development can fall short
Today’s L&D requires a complex strategy for addressing skills gaps and filling talent pipelines. Many fall short, disrupting employee engagement and motivation in the process. Some examples include:
- Failing to uphold L&D as a cultural value
Companies whose learning culture is not driven and upheld by leadership can dissuade employee participation by making L&D seem irrelevant or not worth the time, rather than an opportunity for advancement.
- Rigid, outdated or inaccessible learning methods
Organizations that fail to make learning accessible to employees with different learning styles, work schedules or financial backgrounds run the risk of alienating key groups within their workforce.
For example, many organizations have tuition reimbursement programs that require employee learners to pay upfront and wait months for reimbursement. This approach alienates employees from low-income backgrounds who may not have the funds to pre-pay tuition — yet often benefit the most from L&D opportunities.
- Lack of consideration for DEI
For a learning environment to work across an organization, it needs to take into account the needs of a varied workplace, including workers of different ages, races, genders, sexual orientations or neurotypes. The most successful L&D programs offer options tailored to each learner’s specific needs, addressing inequity head-on with thoughtful programming.
The result is a win for all. Companies who prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) outperform their counterparts, and L&D is one of the strongest tools for strengthening any DEI program.
9 steps to fostering a better workplace learning environment
You can enhance your workplace learning environment and improve outcomes across these three key areas: DEI, career advancement/internal mobility and overall business performance.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
A learning environment doesn’t work if your employees can’t take advantage of it in the first place. Adult learners face more barriers to learning than traditional students, their schedules are often packed as they juggle work, home and family. This makes it even more challenging to commit to learning, especially if it requires showing up somewhere in person.
Plus, many L&D programs are complicated to navigate — when it comes to figuring out enrollment, course selection and payment, employees are left on their own. That’s why it’s important to offer flexible training and education solutions that can work with varying schedules and eliminate barriers to learning.
Meet diverse learning needs
It’s helpful to develop learning programs that meet employees wherever they are in their learning journey — whether they just need training or something more robust like a certification or degree program. Also, take into consideration employees from different education backgrounds, be it a high school diploma, some college, no college, etc. Programs should enable employees to pick up where they left off.
In addition, prioritize getting to know the learning styles of your employees so that you can adequately accommodate them in a learning environment. Make sure you include a range of accessible materials in your L&D environment.
Focus on continuous learning
Continuous employee development (as opposed to brief, intermittent training) enables long-term retention and skill building opportunities that propel employees onto better career trajectories. Employees will be able to more easily connect their education with their professional development and, in doing so, motivate themselves towards learning.
Make learning a part of the company identity
For a truly effective learning environment, the idea of learning and growth has to be integrated into company values and culture — fueled from the top down, from day one. An executive team who views education as fundamental to the company’s health will provide the necessary vision and resources. When given the opportunity for L&D that supports career advancement, employees feel valued and empowered. Without this high-level support from the c-suite, pursuing a learning path can feel pointless for employees, with no real upside or opportunity for growth.
Career advancement and internal mobility
Align learning to career paths with tangible outcomes
Research shows that employees want to understand potential career outcomes before they commit to learning. In other words, people want to know that the time and effort put into taking that training course or going back to school is going to actually pay off.
This means it’s necessary to go the extra mile and take the time to strategically align learning options to the unique career paths within your organization. This exercise not only allows you to understand how your learning programs align to skills needs (and where there may be gaps) but also helps the employee see a clear path to advancement.
Additionally, don’t forget to highlight and celebrate learning milestones and successes. This fosters a positive work environment and helps others within the organization visualize what’s possible if they take advantage of learning.
Leverage real-life scenarios to complement formal learning
Unlike traditional students, adult learners don’t have to wait until they complete a course or degree to apply what they’ve learned to their jobs. From the office to the frontline, collaborate with people managers to strategize how they can work with their teams to tap into their new skills and bring their knowledge to real scenarios in the workplace.
Integrate learning goals with company performance goals
Learning shouldn’t exist in a silo. After all, a learning environment can only flourish if the greater working environment and organization are on the right trajectory. That’s why it’s so critical to plan learning and people objectives side-by-side with greater business objectives. With this approach, you can begin to identify skills gaps or missing workforce requirements that need to be addressed to reach those goals.
Reframe skills gaps as skills opportunities
It’s no secret that skills gaps are a growing concern for businesses — and employees agree. In a recent survey, 46% of employees surveyed believed their current skill set will become irrelevant by 2024. Aim to foster a supportive learning environment by acknowledging this reality, and clearly showcasing to your workforce that the company sees employee growth and upskilling/reskilling as a priority. There’s no harm in over-communicating about the learning resources that are available to workers.
Create learning objectives that drive efficiency
Train managers to work with their direct reports to set individual development goals that support consistent and lasting upward mobility. The aim is to support long-term growth and retention of critical skills that are updated frequently and in step with the career aspirations of the individual. When employees grow and advance, so does the business.
Crafting the environment you need for L&D success
The quality of an L&D program doesn’t start with its curriculum. It begins with your learning environment, which sets the whole tone for the L&D experience, be it encouraging and accessible or frustrating and irrelevant. In fact, the quality of your learning environment is arguably as important as your L&D programming itself — because it’s the gateway for getting employees engaged and then motivating them to stay the course.
Building a culture of learning and a positive learning environment does not happen overnight. It requires top leadership who recognizes the value of L&D and empowers people leaders to support employees in their education and career growth.
Without the right learning environment, even the best L&D programming is swimming upstream. But with an environment of encouragement and accessibility, L&D and workforce education opens doors for employee advancement and drives growth for the organization.
Get more out of your L&D efforts: Download this comprehensive guide to learn how a strategic workforce education program can help you rapidly upskill and reskill your workforce for maximum impact.