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4 Strategies of High Performing Learning Organizations

  • 4 Min Read

High-performing learning organizations are more effective at leveraging and supporting workforce learning.


With the world spinning ever faster, organizations need to be able to adapt their employee development systems, processes, methodologies, and mindsets to enable workers to respond effectively to change and support organizational performance. Leveraging strategies used by high performing learning organizations can help.

“Every organization has goals they need to meet. All want happy customers, and all want to innovate,” says learning and development professional David Mallon, Head of Research for Bersin by Deloitte. “But we have to ask, why is it that some organizations are higher performing and more capable at attaining their goals?  The answer is they are more effective at leveraging and supporting workforce learning,”

Mallon recently completed the latest edition of Bersin’s High-Impact Learning study, a body of research conducted every four years. The study seeks to understand how organizations can better support workforce learning. It also characterizes the personalities of high performing learning organizations, and plots organizations on a maturity curve.

“Traditional methods of learning and training aren’t working anymore,” says Mallon. “Learners are distracted, overwhelmed and impatient. With their smartphone in their pocket, they have an expectation that they can access information and learning on their own time and from any location. They want to be in control. So, the notion that we are going to pull people out of their work lives to train them is just not likely to work.”

The latest version of Bersin’s High-Impact Study confirms that work and learning are essentially two sides of the same coin.

“Traditionally they have been separated, but our study shows that work and learning can’t be broken apart,” says Mallon. “Learners don’t want learning out of context. What this means is that we are not just studying an organization’s formal learning and development responsibilities anymore, but rather the way workforces learn and are supported in their learning.”

Four Levels of Maturity

The Bersin study also shows that learning organization maturity is not exclusively the domain of large, resource-rich organizations.

Mallon explains: “Companies who are able to attain top level maturity are not necessarily characterized by size, revenue or industry. Every industry, every size of organization, and every geography is represented at both the bottom and top of the model.”

Bersin’s learning maturity model categorizes organizations within four levels:

  • First level: Learning is about training. It is episodic, reactionary and focused around classes and courses. There is no notion of learning’s relevance in the context of the business strategy.
  • Second level: Organizations are beginning to wake up to the notion of learning integration into other parts of the business. Learning is more than a one-off course. It fits within a program and introduces new methods, techniques, and context.
  • Third level: Organizations understand that learning helps the business solve its own needs. Learning has broader context and broader ownership.
  • Fourth level: Very few companies have achieved this level. Organizations anticipate the learning needs of employees and get out ahead of them. They intentionally stage content, provide support in advance of worker need. Employees are never lifted out of work to learn. The organization understands and is mindful of learning and development opportunities that arise on a daily basis. Level four is about supporting learning in the flow of work.

Strategies of High-Performing Learning Organizations

So, what are the highest performing organizations doing to drive effective learning in the flow of work? Mallon identifies four strategies that separate the haves and have-nots in the maturity model.

1. Designed for growth

High performing organizations put their time and energy into two key areas: improving the performance of employees in their current role through in-the-moment learning, and they offer longer-term development paths. Organizations designed for growth also reward individuals who actively engage in their own growth. Learning and development professionals view learning from the employee’s perspective and focus on simplifying an employee’s work life, anticipating their needs, eliminating the barriers to learning and delivering experiences that are relevant, current and in the moment.

2. Support engineered exploration

High performing learning organizations create conditions that allow an individual to control their destiny and influence their future. Through process and decision-making clarity, they encourage greater risk-taking and exploration among employees.

3. Offer guided adaptation

High performing learning organizations invest time in making learning happen faster for the individual and for the organization so that they are leveraging that learning every day to accelerate performance, move faster, and adapt quicker.

4. Engage in accelerated evolution

At the highest maturity level, organizations evolve as a result of their learning, rapidly adjusting their mental frameworks and mindsets. These organizations encourage learning on the fly, quality conversations between a supervisor and employees and position risk as impactful and helpful.

Mallon concludes that organizations that are good at these four things create learning opportunities that are useful, valuable, and delivered in the flow of work. They also experience better business outcomes.

He notes: “When you are moving from activities to outcomes, from courses to experiences, and when you are culturally moving away from conformity you create conditions for stewardship of ideas and for individuality in learning. This should be the approach we all strive to achieve in our organizations.”

Written by:

Ellyn Winters Robinson
Ellyn Winters-Robinson

Ellyn Winters-Robinson is co-founder and chief marketing officer of Ignition, a boutique marketing communications and PR firm focused on the technology sector. As a seasoned communicator and storyteller, Ellyn has written extensively on a variety of edtech topics and issues for D2L, covering such topics as Competency-based Education, online and blended learning, trends in data analytics and the future of enterprise learning.

Ellyn holds a Bachelor of Public Relations from Mount Saint Vincent University and is an accredited public relations professional.

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Table of Contents
  1. Four Levels of Maturity
  2. Strategies of High-Performing Learning Organizations