We tend to think of learning as something that happens at school, and stops once we finish our formal education and join the workforce. But learning can—and should—be something that we keep doing all the time, at least for the sake of our work.
In this article, we unpack what continuous learning is, and look at some of the reasons why it’s so important in the working world.
We also offer some tips on how you can support a culture of continuous learning in your business and practise it more mindfully in your own working life.
What Is Continuous Learning?
In simple terms, continuous learning—also called constant learning or lifelong learning—is education or training that is always ongoing, and can happen in any number of ways.
Unlike the learning or training we do at school or through professional courses, continuous learning is never “finished”.
The idea of continuous training also broadens the definition of learning to something that can happen through a much wider variety of activities than we encounter in traditional schooling settings.
In all likelihood, you are already engaged in continuous learning without even realising it. If you have a hobby or a skill that you are trying to improve on, you are doing ongoing training—even if it’s an everyday activity, like cooking!
Most of us probably practise ongoing training at work as well—after all, something as simple as asking a colleague for help is part of the lifelong learning process.
However, it can be difficult to make the most of educational opportunities in your professional life without the support of your workplace. Companies that support their employees' lifelong learning in the right ways can reap a wealth of rewards, which we discuss below.
The Benefits of Continuous Learning
Constant learning in professional settings is good for not only the employees getting the education, but also for their organisations and the broader economy and society. Let’s unpack how continuous learning will benefit your business.
Lifelong learning is more important now than ever before. As technology develops faster and faster, companies constantly have to adapt and their employees' jobs are rapidly changing.
Deloitte describes the skills people draw on in the workplace as “becoming obsolete at an accelerating rate”. However, their 2021 Global Human Capital Trends Report found that 72% of executives worldwide pinpointed their employees' ability to adapt and learn new skills as a priority for navigating future disruption—and continuous learning is key here.
An employee who engages in constant learning is more likely to know about new developments in their field. When their job changes, they’re likely to be quicker at picking up new skills and knowledge than an employee who doesn't engage in professional training unless they really have to.
Lifelong learning also builds the mental flexibility that helps employees adjust and thrive in a changing work environment and an uncertain economy, as well as keep gaining new knowledge and skills throughout their lives.
This means that companies who support their employees' continuous education are more likely to stay abreast of industry changes, or even push ahead of them, because their staff will be up to the challenge.
As many as 74% of UK employees feel they are not living up to their full potential in their jobs. This is according to a four-year study of over 17,000 British workers, commissioned by Middlesex University’s Institute for Work Based Learning.
With almost three quarters of employees nationwide saying they could be doing more or better work, this suggests a massive opportunity to improve efficiency through ongoing training opportunities.
After all, Deloitte reports that organisations with a strong education culture are 52% more productive.
This might be because an employee engaged in ongoing training is learning new skills more often, and an employee with high skill levels can do the same work faster than someone with a less-developed skill set.
Continuous learning also includes sharing task-related knowledge like best practices and troubleshooting tips, which can help an employee work more efficiently.
Continuous learning opportunities boost staff retention by providing professional development and career advancement opportunities.
These opportunities can also boost staff engagement because if continuous learning is tied directly into the work process, it can make everyday work more interesting and fulfilling.
Deloitte finds that companies that foster a strong education culture boast retention and engagement rates 30-50% higher than those that don’t.
It’s also worth noting that training an existing employee to fill a higher position within a company is often cheaper than externally hiring someone new.
As we mentioned earlier, continuous learning gives people practice in adapting to change, enabling them to do so more quickly and easily. In this way, lifelong learning promotes lateral thinking and mental flexibility.
Lateral thinking describes thinking more creatively and expansively than we are trained to do at school. It is an asset to any problem-solving process, as lateral thinkers are better at coming up with new ideas and spotting future opportunities for innovation.
According to Deloitte, businesses with a strong education culture are 92% more likely to develop new or unique products or processes, and 56% more likely to be first to the market with these.
Because lifelong learning means continuously building knowledge, you could also think of it as arming employees with a broader knowledge base to draw from when approaching challenges.
How to Develop a Continuous Learning Culture in Your Business
There are numerous ways to support learning and development in your business, but any continuous learning programme will be difficult to sustain without a continuous learning culture to nurture them.
Here are some tips for not only promoting continuous learning in your business, but nurturing an education culture in the process.
Implement Career Development Plans
Career development plans are a great way to get you and your employees thinking about learning new skills and where it could take you.
They’re also a great motivator to keep gaining knowledge and acquiring new skills with purpose, and can help your employees stay on track with their training if you schedule regular check-in sessions.
Support Self-Directed Learning
We’ve written before about the benefits of self-directed learning (SDL). As its name suggests, self-directed learning is driven by the individual and gives them a high degree of choice in what they learn.
Encouraging SDL is a great way to support a continuous learning culture. SDL sessions are more flexible to set up than group learning activities, so your employees have the time and convenience to engage in SDL continuously.
Make Time for Learning
It’s important to make sure everyone has regular learning time built into their schedule.
The frequency and amount of time your employees spend on learning will vary depending on their role, how busy they are, and what new skills they want to learn. However, scheduling learning time is an important way to communicate that learning is an important part of their work, and not an optional activity for passing extra time.
It's also an important way to make workplace learning continuous instead of sporadic.
Perhaps most important to an education culture is the understanding that questions are learning opportunities, and to welcome them with open arms.
It’s hard to fill—or find—skills or knowledge gaps if employees are afraid or ashamed to acknowledge what they don’t know.
How to Practise Continuous Learning with Purpose
As we said earlier, you’ve probably been engaging in lifelong learning for quite some time now without even realising it.
Here are some tips for making this learning continuous in a way that is more targeted to your career development.
You probably consume lots of media, be it books, podcasts, films or TV. You can turn this recreational habit into a professional one by consuming media that will give you insight into your work.
For example, you could listen to a work-related podcast on your commute (or while you’re making breakfast, if you’re still working remotely) to “get your head in the game” at the start of each day.
You could also follow social media pages in your field.
As we’ve mentioned, questions are the food of learning, and you should get into the habit of asking them when you don’t know something!
If you rarely encounter skills gaps that lead you to ask questions, think about what other, “bigger picture” questions you could be asking about your work.
Make a Personal Development Plan
If your workplace hasn’t helped you set up a career development plan, there’s no reason you shouldn’t draw up a personal development plan for yourself.
Having this plan will help you to be more engaged in your learning, as you have a clearer idea of why you need to work at it.
If you’re not already blocking out time for learning at work, you can always do this at home.
Set aside a regular period of time—even if it’s very short—to learn something new about a topic or skill that speaks to you.
Continuous learning, as its name suggests, is the practice of learning regularly and throughout your life.
Businesses that invest in their employees' continuous learning are likely to be more efficient, adapt more easily to industry changes, innovate more, and have higher retention rates.
Actions you can take to implement a continuous learning culture in your business include setting up career development plans, encouraging self-directed learning, scheduling learning time, and encouraging questions.
To engage in more purposeful continuous learning in your own life, you could consume educational media in your field, get into the habit of asking questions, draw up your own career development plan, and set aside your own regular learning time.
Learnerbly’s marketplace of continuous learning resources can help you easily and flexibly boost continuous learning in your personal life and organisation.