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How to create workplace culture that encourages learning & experimentation

For organisations to retain their customers and stay ahead of competitors, the ability to adapt is no longer a nice to have. Fundamental to adaptation is a learning mindset and culture. The workplace is becoming increasingly harder for workers to focus, with distractions such as email, asynchronous chat notifications, abundant information, personal devices, and social media. Keeping employees engaged in learning can be challenging for people and culture directors and learning development managers.

A culture of continuous learning isn’t just about attending workshops or completing mandatory training sessions, research suggests that the most effective learning happens naturally, through everyday work activities and interactions with colleagues (2). Let’s explore the science of learning theory and how it can transform your workplace into an environment that encourages continuous learning where employees constantly grow and innovate.  

The power of role models

Think back to a time you learned a new skill by watching someone else do it. This is "observational learning", a concept studied by psychologist Albert Bandura (3). People learn by paying attention to the actions and outcomes of others. If a behaviour is seen as leading to positive results, they're more likely to imitate it. This highlights the importance of leaders setting a positive example, and when leaders demonstrate a love of learning and a willingness to experiment, it sends a powerful message to employees that growth is valued. Think of role models as seeds. A positive role model can plant the seed of inspiration for others. Their enthusiasm and commitment to learning can inspire others to mirror their growth mindset and dedication.

Reinforcement is the key ingredient

When colleagues see others being praised or rewarded for learning new skills or taking initiative, it motivates them to do the same (3). Public recognition of positive learning behaviours goes a long way in shaping desired behaviours within your team. Imagine a team member taking the lead on a challenging project, successfully implementing an innovative approach. Research suggests that informally and publicly acknowledging their effort and the value they brought through their learning reinforces the importance of continuous learning for the entire team (4). Think of positive reinforcement as a garden and fertiliser. Just as fertiliser nourishes plants and encourages growth, reinforcement in the form of recognition acts as a fertiliser for desired behaviours. It strengthens positive actions and motivates individuals to continue learning and growing.

Make learning playful

Ever found yourself so immersed in a game that you lost track of time? That's the power of gamification. Games can be designed to be simple or complex and challenging for learners, making the learning process more engaging. Studies show that even a short, content free, casual game before a training session can lead to increased engagement and better performance on learning materials (5, 6). Imagine incorporating a quick sorting game that includes points, leaderboard or badges as a pre-training activity. This playful approach primes the learner's mind for the upcoming content and makes the learning experience more effective, motivating, and enjoyable. Think of gamification as a playground. Traditional learning can be solitary and sometimes dull, particularly for onboarding or compliance training. Gamification transforms learning into a playground, offering a fun and interactive environment for encouraging exploration, experimentation, and discovery.

Learning through stories and community

Learning often happens best through informal interactions and shared experiences rather than sitting in a classroom (7). Communities of practice (CoPs) are groups of colleagues who share a common interest and learn from each other by exchanging stories, experiences, and what has or hasn’t worked (7). Organisations can adopt CoPs by creating spaces for these informal learning communities to connect and share knowledge. Imagine a group of marketing brand specialists discussing a recent campaign. By sharing their experiences, successes, and challenges, they learn from each other and develop new innovative strategies. Think of CoPs as pollinating bees. They spread pollen and promote growth. CoPs act as the pollen and help spread stories and experiences across the organisation. They germinate new ideas, spark innovation, and contribute to the group's collective knowledge.

Put science into action

Here are some actionable steps you can experiment with to create a learning culture in your workplace::

  • Reward role models: Recognise and celebrate employees who demonstrate desired behaviours and are willing to share their knowledge with others. This could involve public shout-outs, mentorship programs, or even small rewards for outstanding learning initiatives.
  • Gamify your learning: Incorporate short games into training programs or onboarding processes. Short, casual games before and during learning content such as memory, sorting or word games boost participation, motivation, and performance, making learning a more enjoyable experience.
  • Build communities of practice: Create opportunities for employees to connect and share knowledge in informal settings. Ask employees to identify common topics of interest and encourage them to gather around those topics to empower informal participation and collective learning. This could involve hosting brown bag lunches with industry experts or establishing online forums for knowledge and story exchange.
  • Focus on application and experimentation: Don't let learning exist in a vacuum. Ensure there are opportunities for employees to apply their newly acquired skills and knowledge in strategic projects. This reinforces the value of learning and motivates continued development.

Conclusion: A learning culture for success

Building a culture of learning is an ongoing process that needs to be nurtured, just like a garden. By implementing science-based strategies, you can create a workplace that nurtures continuous learning, innovation, and sustained growth for both your employees and your organisation.

A culture of learning is not just about acquiring knowledge; it's about creating an environment where curiosity and experimentation is encouraged, mistakes are seen as learning opportunities, and knowledge is actively shared. When employees feel empowered to learn, grow, and contribute their ideas, they become more engaged, adaptable, and ultimately, the organisation becomes more successful. In this continuously learning environment, your organisation will be well-equipped to navigate the ever-changing world and stay ahead of the competition. How is your organisation nurturing a culture of learning?


1.Chang SC, Lee MS. A study on relationship among leadership, organizational culture, the operation of learning organization and employees' job satisfaction. The Learning Organization. 2007;14(2):155-85.
2. Brown JS, Collins A, Duguid P. Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher. 1989;18(1):32-42.
3. Bandura A, Walters RH. Social learning theory: Englewood cliffs Prentice Hall; 1977.
4. Brun J-P, Dugas N. An analysis of employee recognition: Perspectives on human resources practices. The International Journal of Human Resource Management. 2008;19:716-30.
5. Kiili K. Digital game-based learning: Towards an experiential gaming model. The Internet and Higher Education. 2005;8(1):13-24.
6. Hamari J, Koivisto J, Sarsa H, editors. Does Gamification Work? -- A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on Gamification. 2014 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences; 2014 6-9 Jan. 2014.
7. Brown JS, Duguid P. Organizational Learning and Communities-of-Practice: Toward a Unified View of Working, Learning, and Innovation. Organization Science. 1991;2(1):40-57.

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