Learning climate in Flemish organisations: positive or still work to be done?

Chalk line for a successful learning policy

Working longer implies adaptation and change. Employees are expected to update their skills throughout their entire working life. Everyone involved in this lifelong learning scenario requires not only goodwill and the capacity to adjust but the availability of sufficient learning possibilities as well. Therefore, lifelong learning is a responsibility shared by both employee and company. Companies that want toimplement or enhance a positive learning climatein their organisation must take 5 major conditions into account: accessibility, support, autonomy, sense of connection, and transfer. These conditions apply to both formal and informal learning.

These are the findings of a study conducted by professor Katleen De Stobbeleir and researchers Fauve Delcour, Tina Davidson and Kim Bellens at Vlerick Business School in collaboration with the ESF-Agentschap Vlaanderen vzw. The survey – of 1802 Flemish employees distributed over 12 organisations – was conducted on both the organisational and the individual levels, with a mix of HR managers, other managers in the organisation, and employees.

Two types of learning

Formal learning entails structured and explicit training initiatives. Informal learning involves learning on the job. To be able to speak of a positive learning climate, both types must be given a prominent place in the range of learning experiences and be supported by the company. In practice, however, we often see that the balance leans towards one or the other of the two types: in smaller organisations, informal learning often scores well; in larger companies, formal learning initiatives are more fully developed.

5 conditions for creating a positive learning climate

  • Accessibility: the opportunities that you receive from the company for following training programmes and the degree of openness to new ways of working
    In general, Flemish employees are quite satisfied. 69% feel that they have sufficient chances to receive training. 82% report that, with regard to training, no distinction is made on the basis of gender, age, etc. However, with regard to on-the-job learning, there’s room for improvement. Although 64% feel that there’s enough openness for broaching problems, only 41% indicate that there is openness to new ways of approaching the work.
  • Support: the recognition and encouragement that you receive from colleagues and management for following a training programme 
    75% confirm receiving encouragement from management during the training programme. But only 44% experience the same supportive attitude when they actually apply the learnings to the workplace. Thus, there is a gap between words and action. With regard to informal learning, we see a parallel phenomenon. Although 58% report that new ideas are valued, that percentage suddenly drops to 44% when it comes to supporting actually trying out those new ideas.
    So, it appears that learning and new initiatives are readily supported – but once they are applied to the daily work, that support disappears.
  • Autonomy: the experience that you can direct your own learning process independently
    There’s no lack of autonomy: 71% indicate that they are allowed to identify training that is suitable for them, and 70% say that they can speak up when they need certain training. However, what is often lacking in companies is sufficient structure and staffing to be able to act on this autonomy. Thus, only 55% can seek out training on their own without help from third parties.
    There is also sufficient autonomy (70%) in the workplace itself. 61% even report that they view problems on the workfloor as opportunities for on-the-job learning.  
  • Sense of connection: between the training and the training need, as well as among colleagues themselves
    Training demands effort (time, extra work) and this investment only delivers real value when the learnings are relevant to the job. 77% report that what they learn does actually help them to perform their job better. As for methods, this can be improved, because 55% feel that the way in which the training programmes are delivered doesn’t match how they prefer to learn.
    The sense of connection or solidarity among colleagues themselves scores well: 87% have colleagues that are always ready to help someone who is experiencing difficulties in his/her job; 67% believe that they can learn a lot from their colleagues.
  • Transfer: the degree to which the learnings are embedded in daily practice
    Transfer still poses a large challenge for Flemish companies. About 50% have enough time to apply the new knowledge. More remarkable is that in only 28% of the cases do managers discuss the objectives of the training beforehand with their employees. Nevertheless, determining the goals increases knowledge transfer substantially.
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