Creating a Learning Culture in Your Organisation


Published: 05 November 2018

Developing a learning culture and providing a work place that sustains it must be a high priority for healthcare organisations.

Having a well-developed and well-supported learning culture within an organisation will result in improved staff engagement, reduced staff turnover and better patient outcomes.

Our patients deserve the highest standard of care possible. In order to provide this standard of care we must ensure that the workforce is effectively and appropriately educated by constantly upgrading its knowledge.

“A true organisational learning culture enables employees to challenge the status quo, think critically, and ensure that the team doesn’t become stuck in “this is the way it has always been done here” thinking, and instead, creates the capacity and adaptability needed for change.” (Capilano University Exec Ed 2014)

Benefits of a Learning Culture

Building a learning culture in the workplace can provide the following benefits:

  • Increased efficiency, productivity and profit;
  • Improved patient outcomes;
  • Increased employee satisfaction and decreased turnover;
  • An improvement mindset among employees;
  • A developed sense of ownership and accountability;
  • Ease in succession/transition;
  • A culture of knowledge, inquiry and sharing; and
  • An enhanced ability for workers to adapt to change (Nabong 2015).

However, a learning culture may not be that simple to build, as there are still a number of barriers that are preventing healthcare professionals from actively participating in learning. Further, the motivations behind why individuals learn and grow differ across teams and organisations.

Findings from a recent Irish study state:

“The main barriers to participation in continuous professional education were lack of employer support and the difficulty of balancing home life, work and study. The main motivation for participating in continuous professional education were improved self-esteem and confidence and the expectation of increased opportunites for promotion for those with higher educational opportunities.” (Claire Murphy, Christine Cross, David McGuire, 2006)

So, how can organisations address these barriers, enable healthcare professionals to feel motivated to educate themselves and ultimately create a positive learning culture in an organisation?

Creating a Learning Culture

It takes a committed and dedicated approach in order to achieve real cultural change.

Gaining support from the organisation and the leadership team in the unit is critical to success. The organisation must acknowledge the value of educating staff and make staff education a priority by providing the funds, time and opportunity to learn.

To create a learning culture management must display a true enthusiasm for education. The manager sets the tone regarding the culture of the team.

The following elements must exist in order for a learning culture to be successfully built:

  • Organisational recognition of the value of investment in staff education;
  • Leadership from the unit manager;
  • Staff coaching to identify knowledge deficits and needs;
  • Development of a learning plan plus coaching on setting goals towards achieving mastery in the learning objectives;
  • Creation of dedicated clinical nurse educator within the unit to champion a learning culture and to coach team members on uncovering their knowledge deficits and meeting their learning objectives; and
  • Reward through acknowledgement or promotion.

Key Elements of a Learning Culture

To encourage and facilitate a learning culture the following building blocks need to be in place.

A Supportive Environment

The following elements can contribute to a supportive learning environment that is conducive to individual growth:

  • A climate of psychological safety (Edmonson 2002);
  • People are safe to attempt and fail without fear of negative consequences;
  • Coaching and mentoring are accepted and common;
  • Sharing of knowledge is the norm; and
  • Staff can grow and develop through preceptorship/mentoring programs, professional development days, clinical skills labs and regular learning sessions.

Concrete Processes to Facilitate Growth

Learning organisations often implement concrete processes that will facilitate growth of their staff. An example of this is a formal goal setting program.

Goal setting gives long-term vision and short-term motivation, helping individuals to prioritise and focus their learning.

The most common goal setting framework is SMART:

Specific. Learning goals need to be specific. It is important to think about how our continuous professional development hours are going to be met and specifically what do we need to learn and do to achieve our desired outcomes. Some questions we can ask to ensure goals are specific include:

  • Who is involved?
  • What do I need/want to learn??
  • Where will the learning take place?
  • When will it take place?
  • Which constraints could impede progress?
  • Why is this a desirable goal?

The learner may want to develop their personal competence to work more effectively with others or they may want to learn specific skills that are related to the work they do. Furthermore, they might wish to learn more about their organisation and the steps they need to take to further their career.

Measurable. Ensuring we can measure our achievements allows us to notice and appreciate the progress that we are making. This can increase our motivation to continue learning.

Achievable. Goals need to be achievable. Depending where the learner is in their life and career, their ability to achieve their goals will be impacted. The learner should choose goals that meet their interests, the requirements of their workplace and fulfil their CPD requirements.

Relevant. Is reaching the learning goals relevant to the learner? If they are not it makes it harder to stay the distance. Why have these learning goal been chosen? What benefits will it bring to the learner and the organisation? What skills does the learner think will improve with training? What knowledge deficits does the learner have? What would the learner appreciate having more knowledge about?

Timely. Setting deadlines calls us to action. Setting goals and achieving them requires a timeline and an end point. These can be flexible and act as a reminder of our commitment to attain skills or improve our knowledge.

Leadership That Champions Learning

Have you ever thought about introducing an Advance Practice Nurse Educator to your team?

The role of clinical nurse educator in the Medical Surgical Neurological Intensive Care Unit (MSNICU) at University Health Network (UHN), an academic health sciences centre in Toronto, Ontario achieved the following after the implementation of the Advance Practice Nurse Educator.

  • A common vision for pooled learning where everybody teaches, everybody learns, so all can excel.
  • The MSNICU is becoming the unit of choice to work by attracting and retaining RN’s. Since 2008 30% of staffing complement are new hires. Current turnover is minimal ,0.5%.
  • Staff with varying levels of experience (novice to expert) have opportunities to develop and grow.


Further reading: Creating a Culture of Lifelong Learning in Healthcare



Creating and promoting and organisational culture that centres around learning benefits everyone involved, including individual staff members and patients.

For patients, their care will be improved as a result of an engaged, knowledgeable, confident and up-to-date healthcare workforce.

For health a learning culture allows the opportunity to focus specifically on what they need/want to learn. The learner can choose their own learning objectives or discuss with their manager or CN educator in the team for suggestions on the competencies required for members in the work team.



  • Creating a Learning Culture for the Improvement of your organisation, Tala,A, Nambong, Training
  • Benefits of Creating an Organisational Learning Culture, September 21, 2014 , 11:pm
  • The motivation of nurse to participate in continuous professional education in Ireland, Claire Murphy, Christine Cross, David McGuire, 2013 Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol.30 Issue: 5, pp 365-384, https//
  • Edmonson, A.C. Managing the risk of learning: Psychological Safety in Work teams,
  • Forthcoming in West, M. (ED) International Handbook of Organisational Teamwork, London: Blackwel Amy C Edmonson, Associate Professor HBS, Morgan Hall , T93, Boston Ma 02163, USA



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Janette Cooper View profile
Janette Cooper is a registered nurse, currently working as a gastroenterology procedure nurse at Noarlunga Hospital. She has a Bachelor of Nursing, a Graduate Certificate in Health Service Management from Flinders University, and a certificate in Gastroenterology Nursing from The Queensland University of Technology. In 2012 she began a life coaching course with The Coaching Institute in Melbourne. It has allowed her to combine her two passions of nursing and personal development. She divides her time between gastroenterology nursing and promoting personal development and leadership by means of frequently published articles through Ausmed, leadership presentations and workshops and coaching health professionals wanting to develop their leadership potential.