Do you encourage a culture of learning in your RTO business?

Is the culture of your RTO a regular topic of discussion? Do you talk about the culture of the organisation? Have you ever thought about why some RTOs perform better than others, even if they have similar demographic, facilities, funding and opportunity? Are you willing to accept and learn from your mistakes and be transparent about the need for change in your communication to your staff?

If you answered yes to these questions there is a good chance that your RTO is a learning organisation. A learning organisation is a place:

“where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole (reality) together.” (Senge 1992).

But how do you achieve this? Learning cultures are characterised by a recognition that learning can happen all the time. It is not enough to provide training and hope that your organisation will suddenly change. To build and maintain an effective learning organisation, leaders, managers and staff must understand the culture, be willing to acknowledge both strengths and weaknesses and know what to do to influence or shape the culture to enable the organisation to perform.

Building Blocks

Listed below are 3 key building blocks of successful learning organisations. Over the next few weeks we will explore aspects of these building blocks in our social media posts. They  are:

  1. Culture and environment that supports learning
  2. Deliberate and documented learning processes and practices
  3. Leadership behaviour that provides reinforcement for learning
    (Adapted from Garvin, Edmondson and Gino, HBR, 2008)

Lets explore these now and consider how they would work in an RTO.

1. A Culture and an environment that supports learning

A supportive learning culture must be established to align with the vision and direction of the organisation. Your team should all be working together to achieve success and so the culture and environment must be enabling.

What does this look like in an RTO?

Within your RTO you will no doubt have staff working in different roles, some engaged in front line student services, some delivering training and assessment and perhaps some focussed on sales and marketing. They will all bring different ideas and approaches to the table. In a learning organisation differences are appreciated, alternative viewpoints are listened to and opportunities for conflict encouraged to spark fresh thinking!

To maximise problem solving and new idea creation staff must feel safe, not only in their day to day roles but also as they share their viewpoints across teams. They must be able to openly disagree and learn to be open to critical review and feedback.

Another critical aspect of providing a supportive environment is to provide time for reflection. How would your RTO stack up in this area? Are your staff always busy? Scheduled down time enables your team to pause and think about the RTOs processes.

2. Deliberate and documented learning processes and practices

To build a successful learning organisation there should be documented learning processes and practices including details of how the organisation generates, collects, interprets and disseminates information. Knowledge must then be shared systematically, both internally and externally.

What does this look like in an RTO?

Think about what would happen in your RTO to implement a new initiative. Would there be an integrated approach across the RTO or is it be more likely to be managed by an individual or small team and perhaps communicated at the end of the process?

A learning organisation might approach it like this:

In response to some competitor research the RTO decides to change their training delivery strategy to include an online portal to encourage student interaction. The information is shared across a multidisciplinary project team and ideas are shared from all of the different team members to enable them to contribute to planning the change.

The RTO would then pilot the change in one or two courses and gather information during the pilot to determine the success of the portal. The project team would monitor the results; analyse and interpret the information to solve any problems and identify improvements before rolling out across all courses. After ironing out any issues, the new portal would be rolled out for all courses. The project team could then identify next steps, including how to effectively share information across the whole RTO team, identifying the training required for team members to make sure they are equipped for new aspects of their roles, and finally sharing information externally, to clients to showcase the new way of engaging with students. A final step might be a review of the implementation process to determine what was learned along the way and sharing this with all staff.

This type of deliberate and documented approach enables the whole RTO to benefit from the learning of the project team, ensures that all staff are given an opportunity to contribute, learn and grow. This reinforces the culture of learning across the organisation.

3. Leadership behaviour that provides reinforcement for learning

The ability of an organisation to learn is strongly influenced by the leadership culture. Leaders who are engaged, inquisitive and consultative are essential to create and sustain a supportive learning environment.

What does this look like in an RTO?

If we take the example outlined above, the success of the project was dependent on the leadership supporting not only the research process but the time taken by the project team to interrogate the data collected and share information to allow input from all team members. The leadership was prepared to listen to new ideas and allow the team members to try out new processes without fear of making mistakes. Honest and transparent communication of the actions taken during the pilot program and documentation of the process help to inform the RTO team about the learning journey as well as the outcome.

What is your RTO doing to become a learning organisation?

Who has responsibility for facilitating learning in your organisation? Learning cultures support a decentralised approach to facilitating learning. It is actually everyone’s responsibility to help everyone else learn. Sharing ideas and learning from successes and failures can happen all across the organisation.

We would love to help you think this through and consider how you can foster the qualities of a learning organisation in your RTO.







Gillian Heard


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