“You couldn’t pay me to go back to school,” you might’ve heard a coworker lament at some point during your career. But here’s the thing–many major companies are encouraging for their employees to go back to class on their dime and continuous learning in the workplace.
Corporations like Disney, Walmart, McDonald’s, and Starbucks are including incentives for employees to encourage them to go back to school for a diploma, or even just a single course. Not only does this incentive make them stand out in a competitive job market, but it also capitalizes on the advantages of continuous learning in the workplace.
You don’t need to pay for an employee’s formal education to start a culture of continuous learning. But what does the phrase continuous learning even mean for the individual and organization? Why is it important, and how can leaders foster learning in the workplace?
Neural Plasticity and Learning
For many of us, the mere thought of heading “back to school” stops us in our tracks. With a degree (or degrees) hanging on our office walls, we wouldn’t blame you for thinking, “What do I have left to learn?”
We make excuses around time, energy, and content of classes. However, studies show taking time to learn anything will make you a better leader.
The term “neuroplasticity” has been around since the mid-1800s and has been used in a variety of contexts. Most recently, research has shown that intelligence is not a fixed object, but a continuously forming series of connections within our brain.
Think about the concepts you may have studied in business school, but seldom revisit day-to-day. Try dusting off those concepts now, and you’ll find they aren’t so easy to recall. But, when you make it a point to access a memory or activity regularly, you create and strengthen neural pathways in the brain. The more often you’re lighting up these paths or creating new ones, the stronger the connections in your brain.
When you stop trying to form or maintain neural pathways, they start to wither.
Think of your brain’s pathways as roads. The more connections you form between neurons, the wider the lanes need to be to accommodate traffic. The stronger the connections, the bigger the superhighways. But, start neglecting connections, and the roads fall apart. No one’s driving on them and maintenance falls by the wayside.
Neuroplasticity matters when it comes to continuous learning because even establishing the habit of learning will strengthen your brain, creating and reinforcing connections. Continuous learning is the practice of constantly gaining new skills and expertise in the workplace, and the more you do it, the easier it will become. Like a boulder rolling down the hill, you just need a touch of momentum to get started before quickly picking up speed. The more you create those roads between neurons in the brain, the more robust the highway becomes.
How Can Continuous Learning Benefit Me?
Beyond turning your brain into a superhighway of learning, making it a point to constantly learn will help you get ahead in business. If you don’t continue to learn or relearn concepts, you’re more likely to lose them altogether, setting you back. But, if you keep learning new information, studies show you’ll have increased memory and problem-solving abilities overall.
- Adaptability. Continuous learning is less about the subject matter you’re taking in–more about simply learning something new. The more we form this habit, the easier it is to adapt to changes in the workplace. Whether it’s a challenge with customers or a new technology to conquer, having your brain primed to learn will eliminate roadblocks.
- Marketability. Learning about the latest trends in your field will keep you engaged with peers and can make you a leader in your field.
- Performance. It might be obvious, but the more workplace skills you pick up, the better you’ll be at your job. Who doesn’t like getting ahead?
- Enrichment. Continuous learning can help build connections you might not have thought were important. A creative writing or poetry class on nights and weekends could bolster your workplace writing skills. And that improv class might not promise you a career in comedy, but it’ll make you a better team player and communicator in the boardroom. Once you open yourself up to opportunities for expansion, you’ll be surprised where you’ll find growth.
How Can Continuous Learning Benefit the Workplace?
As a business leader, practicing continuous learning on your own is only half the battle. You’ll want to bring the practice into the workplace to your team for a multitude of reasons.
- Cultivate a smarter team. It’s simple, learning more makes your team smarter. Fostering a practice of continuous learning will help them rise to meet the challenges their roles throw at them.
- Boost retention rates. For 68% of the workforce, training and development are the most important workplace policies. When you encourage and put continuous learning policies in place, you’re more likely to retain talent and less likely to waste time and capital interviewing, hiring, and training new employees.
- Foster a cooperative workplace. Telling your team that it’s okay to learn and make mistakes might sound like a no-brainer, but putting the actual policies into action can change the dynamics of your company. It shows your team that you value their growth and that you’re supportive of their career. It shows your team that they’re worth investing in them. In turn, they’ll invest in themselves, and in turn, create a stronger workplace.
Whether its formal workshops during the workday or offering continuing education credits, continuous learning is an important part of work for the individual and the company. It could be a simple refresher on PowerPoint or an ongoing relationship with a business coach. No matter what you choose, know that learning anything is going to make you a better leader in the office.