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How Does Your Garden Grow: Plotting Your Learning Culture

Jenny Elig, Instructional Designer

You’ve decided it’s a promising idea to have a learning culture in your workplace – and, after reading my colleague’s description in an earlier post, who wouldn’t come to the same conclusion? A healthy organizational learning culture is like a garden. But this isn’t a garden that’s trapped behind walls; it’s a community garden, and the people working in it reap and share their knowledge and skills.  

Naturally, you want to get in on a community garden approach to learning – you and your organization could really benefit from it! But the process of getting started can be as intimidating as a blank garden plot. What do you plant? How do you organize the seeds? What if the land is rocky, dry, or resistant to new growth? It can be overwhelming, but if you start off with these guiding thoughts, your culture will grow in no time.


1. Don’t rip up the ground without leadership’s buy-in

Before you get any further than an outline of possibilities, ensure your organization’s leadership is onboard. Not only do you want to get leadership excited and shining down on your garden, but you also want to have their help in making sure your plans for a learning culture align to business goals.  

Also, it’s good to have leadership communicating the concept that it’s OK to fail, notes Mark Feffer. After all, failure is a key component of learning; and managers must provide chances for employees to experiment without risk.


2. Don’t plant to improve organizational KPIs – plant to grow their knowledge and skills

Feffer also advises that a learning culture should not be implemented to improve key performance indicators but rather to grow knowledge, skills, and abilities. Picture this: You receive a plant for your desk. You’re told that every time a leaf goes brown, your performance evaluation will drop. You’ll probably be so desperate to preserve the plant that you won’t risk any experimentation, even if it could make the plant flourish. Although a learning culture should enable learners to pick up knowledge, skills, and abilities that will help them on the job, the culture must be differentiated from the tasks of their role.


3. Find out what motivates your gardeners

If everyone in your organization adores peonies, don’t plant row upon row of rose bushes. Let your learners guide you to the seeds you’ll plant. Survey learners to see what skills and abilities they’ve wanted to pick up and explore the expectations of the workforce to see where your organization can help them level up.  

Motivation comes not just from content, but also approach and modality. If learners need learning that’s provided just in time, a long-form article from an industry publication won’t help them out much.


4. Make it social 

There’s a reason why gardening clubs exist – we learn by talking to people, watching them, and imitating their actions. As Forbes Coaches Councils Member Lital Marom reminds us, our earliest learning experiences are social, and that pattern continues throughout our lives. We can support a learning culture by giving our target audiences a place to grow and flourish together, whether it’s in an online collaborative space, or in a group meet-up. Give them a space to share what they’ve learned – this might be in the form of knowledge sharing spotlights or curated content pathways. Speaking of curation, the act of curating content can deepen a learner’s understanding of the subject matter. In a 2022 study of electrical engineering students, Aguilar-Pena et al., found that academic results improved and drop-out rates decreased when students were responsible for a semester-long content curation project. The process, researchers concluded, enables learner development of lifelong learning strategies, supports information retention, and encourages learners to stay up to date on trends within their industries.


5. Make sure you measure it 

If you have gardener friends, you’ve probably seen their proud social media posts during blooming and harvest seasons. Huge zucchini squashes, shiny tomatoes and colorful blossoms are more than pretty images – they’re measurements of their return on investment or, in lean years, indictors that they need to tweak their process. Marom advises learning culture cultivators to monitor learner progress and assess closing of skills gaps using data. Also effective are pulse checks – how are your learners growing? Do they want more sun, more fertilizer, or to be transplanted to another spot in the garden? Continue to measure and adjust, and you’ll find that you’ve cultivated a successful learning space.



Do you need help to grow and maintain your learning culture? Contact an Ardent expert today.


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