Developing learning

At an individual level, each member of staff in an organisation must take responsibility for his or her own learning. That is, if we are to maximise our learning, each individual must recognise that he or she has a part to play in making the most of learning opportunities that arise as part and parcel of one’s working life and, where possible, adding to this range of possibilities by actively seeking out and creating additional opportunities for learning. Learning can be closely linked with job satisfaction, and so there is much to be gained for each individual by looking carefully at what steps they can take to ensure that their learning is maximised. At a team level, learning can be more than the sum of the individual responsibilities of each member of staff within the team. This is for two reasons. First, team members can support and encourage one another in learning – for example, by sharing ideas, exploring possibilities together and giving each other feedback about performance. Being exposed to other people’s perspectives and points of view can in itself be an important basis for learning. Also, the person who has responsibility for leading the team can be a major factor in promoting learning if his or her leadership skills are sufficiently well tuned to encourage and support a culture of learning within the team. Indeed, it can be seen that team culture is an important factor, as a team which discourages learning through defensiveness can create major and unnecessary obstacles to learning. Effective teamwork means that members of the team can learn from each other’s experiences (mistakes and positive steps) without having to have the same experiences themselves. This can be a major benefit in terms of widening our learning. At an organisational level, the question of culture is once again very important. An organisation which, through the unwritten rules of its culture, discourages or blocks learning is, in effect, creating major problems for itself. A culture of non-learning can not only block learning opportunities, but also lead to key staff leaving because they are frustrated at the lack of learning available to them and the lack of value attached to their knowledge and skills. In line with the well-known motto that an organisation that fails to plan, plans to fail, we can argue that an organisation that fails to learn, learns to fail. An organisational culture which fails to recognise the value of learning will often manifest itself in a failure to invest in training development and related activities. A hallmark of such an organisation is a tendency to see training and development monies as costs rather than investments. Enlightened organisations recognise that it is a mistake not to invest in learning. The question of organisational learning introduces once again the important concept of leadership. A culture of learning does not necessarily develop spontaneously; it is something that has to be nurtured, supported and developed over a period of time. This takes not only hard work and persistence, but also the vision that is associated with a good leader. In sum, then, learning can be promoted by each individual taking responsibility for his or her own learning, supporting one another in learning within our team or work group setting and leaders within an organisation using their skills to influence the culture in order to promote a stronger emphasis on learning.

Dr Neil Thompson                        

Neil’s website and blog are at

Return to Tackling Barriers to Learning main page