Why a Learning Culture Is Important for Human Services

As a human services leader, you’re always looking for ways to improve the level of care your organization provides. While there are a lot of different ways to accomplish this goal, creating a learning culture is one of the most powerful.

What do we mean by this? In a learning culture, organizations actively encourage staff members to seek out new knowledge, helping them constantly grow and develop their skills. More and more leaders across all industries are realizing the impact this can have.

Let’s dive into why a learning culture is important and how you can apply it to a human services setting.

Why a Learning Culture Is Important

The creation of a learning culture is not a short-term solution, but rather a long-term investment in both your organization and staff. While this may make you hesitant to embark on this journey, it’s one well worth taking.

Organizations that do not adopt a culture of learning often see higher rates of employee turnover, lower client numbers, and other negative outcomes. By moving toward a true learning culture, your organization will position itself to increase staff retention, create quality outcomes, and build organizational resilience.

How Retention Translates to Higher Quality Outcomes

Staff retention has long been an issue for human services organizations. One way to tackle this issue is by building a learning culture.

Your staff actively want to learn, whether for personal enrichment, to grow careers, or provide better service to clients. By embracing this desire, you can earn your staff’s trust and increase the likelihood your workforce will stay with your organization.

Take, for example, direct support professionals (DSPs). In our 2021 DSP Survey report, DSPs were asked how much more likely they would be to stay at their current organizations if they were provided with strong career advancement programs. Interestingly, 73% of DSPs indicated they would be moderately or much more likely to stay with their current organization if given career advancement opportunities.

This clearly indicates that organizations need to invest in a culture where staff feel both encouraged to learn new skills and that those skills will translate into greater opportunities. This process will allow you to raise the level of care your staff can provide and increase staff retention as well, thus improving the quality and consistency of outcomes produced by your organization.

Despite these benefits, a surprisingly low number of human services leaders understand the impact that learning can have on staff retention. In our 2021 State of Healthcare Training and Staff Development Report, just 48% of human services leaders stated that staff development and training programs have an effect on staff retention.

To help close the gap between the value employees see in continuous learning opportunities and a leader’s organizational goals, let’s look at how your organization can begin to build a learning culture.

4 Steps to Implement a Learning Culture

Clearly, staff values the opportunity to learn and seek out organizations that provide that opportunity. So, how can you become one of those organizations? The key is to bake learning into every stage of the employee journey.

By acknowledging why a learning culture is important, and actively working to create this type of culture, you’ll give your staff the ability to achieve its true potential. As stated brilliantly by Britt Andreatta, PhD, in a LinkedIn report on the subject:

The role of learning is to maximize the potential of your organization by maximizing the potential of all the people in it.

The following steps will put your organization on the path to achieving this goal.

Step 1: Plan an effective orientation

When new staff enters your organization during orientation, take the time to acquaint new employees with the culture of your organization. When you’re working to create a culture of learning, emphasize why continuing education is important during your orientation and how your staff can take advantage of the learning opportunities provided. This way, staff is aligned with this organizational goal from day one.

Step 2: Place learning at the center of your onboarding processes

Though often conflated with orientation, onboarding is its own unique process and another chance for you to get employee buy-in on a learning culture. While orientation is a few-weeks-long event, onboarding should last 6-12 months and work to fully integrate new hires into their role and the organization. This is a great time to show staff your commitment to its professional development. Encourage staff to enroll in training or continuing education opportunities that will allow for personal and professional growth.

Step 3: Emphasize continued training

Between the time staff members complete orientation and reach their six-month mark with your organization, assess if there are any remaining knowledge gaps. To do this, use the following learner-centered approaches:

  • Assess staff members’ knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs).
  • Use the results of these assessments to identify gaps in knowledge.
  • Immediately provide instruction and coaching to fill in these gaps.

A great way to approach these learning opportunities is upskilling and reskilling programs. Through these programs, staff members will learn new skills that will make them better at their job, allowing your organization to deliver higher quality outcomes. On top of that, they’ll be gaining the knowledge and skills they need to grow their career. Through this process, your organization can instill confidence in staff members, increasing the likelihood they’ll remain with you.

These types of trainings, however, shouldn’t stop at the six-month mark. Make sure everyone in your organization, from the CEO down, is regularly engaged in continued learning.

Step 4: Track learner engagement

As you build out a learning culture, it’s important to make sure the plans you’ve put into place are working. To do this, we recommend two courses of action:

  • Periodically surveying your staff to measure their engagement with the available learning materials.
  • Use a learning management system to monitor learners’ progress though courses, completion rates, and other key metrics you’ve defined.

The collection and use of these metrics will allow you to quantify the impact your training efforts are having on building a true culture of learning. By understanding your staff’s level of engagement, you can continue to adjust your efforts as needed. This will allow you to make the most effective learning programs possible.

Why a Learning Culture Is Important for Creating Resiliency

As we’ve seen, creating a true learning culture requires dedication and a long-term vision. But it’s well worth the efforts. By understanding why a learning culture is important to your organization and then putting plans in place to establish this culture, you’ll help push your staff and organization to new heights.

As you provide ways for staff members to learn skills that help them grow both in their current role as well as pursue their larger career goals, they’ll be more likely stay. By creating a more highly trained and stable staff base, your organization will be able to deliver better, more consistent outcomes for your clients.

All of this adds up to resiliency. An organization that gives employees the space to maximize their potential through learning can effectively respond in the face of crises. This will allow you to continue to serve your community, even through the toughest of times.

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Content Marketing Manager, Relias

Jordan Baker is passionate about e-learning and helping learners achieve their goals. At Relias, he works with subject matter experts across disciplines to shape healthcare content designed to improve clinical practice, staff expertise, and patient outcomes.

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