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Creating a learning environment in your organization

A positive environment for learning is always critical for success, whether it is the environment of a classroom or the environment of your organization. The learning environment provided by an organization is a function of the organizational culture. Organizational culture means the values, attitudes and beliefs reflected in the mission, goals, and practices of the organization.

The Board of Directors and senior staff of your organization set the tone for the organization’s culture. Do their decisions and actions view learning as a positive way to improve individual performance and the performance of the organization? Are these positive outlooks reflected in the value statements, policies and structures that guide the operation of the organization?

Here are some ways organizations that value learning provide a supportive learning environment:

Recognize that learning is part of everything the organization does
Opportunities to learn happen all the time. Organizational cultures that support learning recognize learning as an ongoing process, not an event. A new piece of legislation may be used as a learning tool for all staff. A proposed special event may become a learning opportunity for an employee who has expressed an interest in event management.

Support the expectation of learning with resources for learning
An organization shows that it values learning by including employee training and development in the annual budgeting process. Items included in the annual budget reflect the priorities of the organization.

Encourage learning at all levels
Opportunities to learn are made available for everyone in the organization from the Board of Directors to the most junior staff.

Recognize that mistakes are learning opportunities
One way an organization shows that it values learning is in its approach to mistakes.

“Failure is critical to the learning process and must be considered in the context of the individual’s role, potential, and future success. When we fail, we might react in one of three ways: learn from the mistake, continue to fail, become reluctant to try again. In today’s workplace environment, leaders must develop a culture that removes the punishing effects of failure to help people to take risks, be creative, and to grow.” Laurie Hillis (see Links and Resources below).

It is important to encourage people to learn from mistakes rather than being afraid to admit their mistakes for fear of disciplinary action.

Have a policy on employee training and development
A policy on employee training and development shows that the organization values learning. Professional development policies usually include guidance on:

    *How often employees are expected to take formal training – once a year, once every two year, etc.
    *The types of development programs that are acceptable
    *When and how employees will be reimbursed for off-the-job programs

Provide time for learning
Time for learning in the workplace is important for the success of an employee development program. This means giving employees time to learn without the interruptions of every-day activity.

Allow for practice of new skills on-the-job
Learning does not end when the activity is over. Opportunities to use the knowledge and skills they have learned on-the-job will ensure that people retain what they have learned.

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