Creating a Culture of Learning in the Workplace: An Exploratory Study.

AuthorSrimannarayana, M.


The world's economic order is changing. Technical advancements, dynamic customer demands, increasing globalization, blurring of organizational boundaries, and increasing competition are all combining to produce organizational environments more turbulent and volatile than ever before (Parry & Proctor-Thompson, 2003). Organizational leaders and employees have to be ready to learn to cope with the changing expectations of their organizations, based on the changes taking place so that organizations can survive and grow in the changing economic environment. Learning strengthens individual performance which would help to enhance organizational performance. Employees learn new knowledge, skills and abilities on a continuous basis provided learning culture of their organizations supports it. A learning culture is one which continuously seeks, shares, and applies new knowledge and skills to improve individual and organizational performance. The importance of the pursuit and application of learning is expressed in organizational values and has permeated all aspects of organizational life. Building a culture of learning is the foundation of a successful organization. Robust cultures of learning are distinct hallmarks of organizations that consistently produce the best business results (ATD, 2016). The present paper attempts to assess learning culture prevailing in Indian organizations.

Literature Review

Meaning of Learning Culture: Learning culture is a concept that reflects organizational behavior from the perspective of learning and development. Similar to many other concepts in organizational studies such as motivation and job satisfaction, the concept of learning culture is a construct that represents an abstract variable that can be derived from either theory or observation (Yang, 2003). The terms 'culture' and 'climate' are sometimes used interchangeably in relation to learning in the workplace (Littlejohn et al., 2014). However, some studies have delineated these terms such that culture embodies values, beliefs and underlying assumptions, whereas climate describes the perceptions of the workforce in relation to the organizational 'ambiance' (Gonzalez-Roma et al, 1999; Flin et al., 2000). This means that culture is a relatively stable, overarching feature of an organization. Climate, on the other hand, is measured through workforce attitudes and perceptions that evolve and can be different when measured at any given point in time. A learning culture is identified by openness to new ideas, experimentation and openness to errors, empowerment and participation of employees in decision making and dialogue (Santa, 2015). It is identified with the learning opportunities or organizational learning interventions to facilitate learning in the workplace (Gil & Mataveli, 2017). It is a collective, dynamic system of basic assumptions, values and norms which direct the learning of people within an organization (Hester, et al, 2016).

Indicators of Learning Culture: Review of literature shows that there are certain broad indicators of learning culture such as open communication, employee empowerment, collaboration, alignment of espoused and enacted priorities, internal system alignment, and senior management's commitment. There are many open channels of communication to allow for effective communication flow. Organizations put some systems in place to store and share relevant knowledge across its members (Pedler et al., 1996; Marsick& Watkins, 2003; Cegarra-Navarro & Rodrigo-Moya, 2007; Westerberg & Hauer, 2009). They empower employees to exercise their ability to actively engage in learning and development activities (Pedler et al., 1996; Mikkelsen & Gronhaug, 1999; Marsick& Watkins, 2003; Clarke, 2005). There are opportunities in an organization for collaboration, within and outside of it, and opportunities for employees to develop their teamwork skills (Pedler et al., 1996; Marsick & Watkins, 2003; Clarke, 2005; Westerberg & Hauer, 2009). An alignment of espoused priorities for learning and development and learning behaviors of individuals exists in an organization with learning culture (Clarke, 2005; Leung, 2006; Bourne & Franco-Santos, 2010). Internal systems, policies, procedures and practices are aligned to encourage effective learning of employees (Leung, 2006; Westerberg &Hauer, 2009). Senior management staff have the commitment and competencies to support employee learning and development activities (Pearn et al., 1995; Popper and Lipshitz, 2000; Sambrook and Stewart, 2000; Clarke, 2005; Westerberg & Hauer, 2009). An organic structure, an approach to total quality principles, and highly educated employees, could act as facilitators of the development of a learning culture in organizations. On the other hand, quality certification, firm dimension and age, as well as workers' age, could act as inhibitors of this type of cultural orientation (Rebelo & Adelino, 2011). Characteristics that define learning culture can vary, but talent development leaders describe such traits as closely aligned business and learning strategies, organizational values that affirm the importance of learning, and an atmosphere in which learning is so integrated that it simply becomes 'a way of life'(ATD, 2016).

Outcomes of Learning Culture: Learning culture leads to improved financial outcomes and employee attitudes towards work, innovation, adaptation to change, motivation to transfer knowledge to others, and organizational commitment (Ellingeret al., 2002; Egan et al., 2004; Kontoghiorghes et al., 2005; Wang, 2007; Joo& Lim, 2009; Song et al., 2011). Organizations can enhance performance when they foster and promote learning (Cooper et al., 2016). But learning initiatives take time to yield positive results, and existing performance measures often lag their indicators. A learning culture enables learning transfer significantly. It is more efficient compared to transfer supporting measures such as refresher days and follow up sessions (Blume et al., 2010).0rganizational learning culture and learning transfer climate accounts for a significant variance in organizational innovation (Bates, et al., 2005). There is a very strong positive relationship between organizational learning culture and innovative culture, and an indirect relation between organizational learning culture and innovations via innovative culture (Cerne et al., 2012). The type of innovation the firm uses is influenced by its learning culture and its perception of external threat (as imminent vs non-existent/distant). Effective innovation cannot occur without higher learning abilities, and disparate learning cultures within the same organization will inhibit innovation (Tran, 2008).Learning culture has a large, statistically significant relationship with disgruntlement and medium, statistically significant relationships with job-security concerns, accommodation, informal learning, and formal learning (Reardon, 2010). There is a positive relationship between organizational learning culture and workplace spirituality, partially mediated by knowledge-sharing behaviors (Sorakraikitikul. et al, 2014).

Measuring Learning Culture: Watkins and Marsick (1997) created a measurement scale known as the Dimensions of the Learning Organization Questionnaire (DLOQ) for assessing organizational learning culture with seven dimensions such as: creating continuous learning opportunities, promoting inquiry and dialogue, encouraging collaboration and team learning, creating systems to capture and share learning, empowering people toward a collective vision, connecting the organization to its environment, and providing strategic leadership for learning. An examination conducted by Moilanen (2001) on a variety of organizational learning instruments (Mayo &Lank, 1994; Redding & Catalanello, 1994; Pearn et al., 1995; Tannenbaum, 1997; Watkins & Marsick, 1997) has revealed that the DLOQ has sufficient statistical analysis. Association for Talent Development (2016) conducted a survey using a questionnaire. It consisted of various measures of learning culture such as essential characteristics of learning culture, organizational leaders' support, employee and organizational practices' support, and learning and development function's support. The respondents of the survey have represented organizations of various sizes and industries, worldwide. The study found that 31% of the organizations have a culture of learning. Having a culture of learning is a hallmark of high-performance organizations. In high-performance organizations employees share knowledge with their colleagues at a rate four times greater than that of workers in low-performance firms. Learning culture is rooted in the hiring process. These organizations regularly update personalized learning plans for employees. Employees are accountable for the learning specified in those plans. There is a system of non-financial rewards and recognition for employee learning. Leaders in these organizations are responsible for reinforcing the importance of learning. The learning and development function's participation in talent planning activities is linked to better market performance.

The present study

The present study is a replica of ATD study (2016) in the Indian context. It is aimed at assessing the extent of learning culture prevailing in various types of organizations in India. A questionnaire was designed based on the study of ATD (2016) covering various dimensions of learning culture such as: essential characteristics of learning culture, connecting learning with business results, learning as a way of life, organizational leaders' support, talent management process support, learning function's support, measurement of learning, and employees' support. There were some more items added pertaining to benefits from learning culture and barriers to it. A sample item of the questionnaire is: to what extent do the employees of your...

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