Continuous learning is the practice of expanding one’s skills and knowledge as part of an ongoing process of self-improvement or professional development. Requiring intellectual curiosity and a desire to adopt new skills, continuous learning can help individuals grow their careers or shift to a new career path that better aligns with their values and interests.

What Is Continuous Learning?

Continuous learning is the process of regularly expanding skills and knowledge. It can be done by taking online classes, listening to podcasts or shadowing senior colleagues at work. 

In the workplace, organizations can encourage a culture of continuous learning through educational programming that teaches employees skills that are needed by the business. This often allows organizations to reassign or promote internal employees instead of hiring new employees.

 

What Is Continuous Learning?

Continuous learning is an ongoing educational experience that extends far beyond a single workshop or seminar. By routinely seeking out learning opportunities, you reinforce what you have learned, build upon your knowledge base and identify new topics to explore.

Amy Regan Morehouse, senior vice president of global education at ServiceNow, said continuous learning is ultimately a mindset, an openness to learning new things.

“If I want to continue to be successful in what I do — or be more successful or try something new — I need to be constantly curious about what’s happening, and then step in to go and learn about that,” she told Built In.

Continuous learning can be broken down into formal, social and self-directed learning formats:

  • Formal learning typically involves an instructor delivering structured lessons in a classroom or virtual environment. Companies typically offer formal learning opportunities that orient employees to the organization, teach them skills needed by the organization or train them for management roles.
     
  • Social learning allows employees to learn on-the-job skills through observation or social interaction, including peer-to-peer learning opportunities, like mentorships or job shadowing. 
     
  • Self-directed learning occurs when individuals seek out knowledge on their own. It could include listening to podcasts, watching Ted Talks and reading articles to further one’s professional development. Self-directed learning opportunities are especially useful for employees who want to develop specialty skills or switch careers.

 

Why Is Continuous Learning Important?

Continuous learning is important to businesses that want to stay ahead of industry trends and develop employees internally instead of hiring and training new workers. It’s also vital for individuals who want to experience sustained growth and improvement. One can learn a lot from a workshop or conference, but that knowledge will be quickly forgotten if it’s not regularly reinforced.

With continuous learning, professionals can adapt to market forces and adopt new technologies — two skills that are increasingly important in a rapidly evolving landscape. A study by ServiceNow and Pearson projected 23.5 million U.S. jobs will require reskilling or upskilling in the next few years due to AI, automation and other emerging technologies.

“You should not be the same version of yourself a year from now as you are today,” said Jay Fortuna, vice president of learning and organizational development at GoHealth. “Anyone who thinks they’ve got it all figured out and they don’t need to get any better is slowly falling behind the curve.”

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Benefits of Continuous Learning for Companies

1. Leads to More Productivity and Innovation

Companies need to keep up on industry trends and emerging technologies to stay ahead of competitors. By providing continuous learning opportunities for their employees, companies can ensure they have the skills they need to meet the evolving needs of their business. 

“By having people that are continuously getting developed, they become more efficient,” Fortuna said. “They can now do the job better and faster.”

 

2. Allows Companies to Develop Employees Instead of Hire and Train New Workers

By cross-training and upskilling its workforce, a company can cultivate a large internal talent pool it can draw from to fill vacant positions. Hiring an internal candidate is much more cost-effective than interviewing, onboarding and training new hires. Additionally, external candidates are paid an average of 18 percent more than internal hires.

 

3. Results in a Happier Workforce

Employees are more likely to stay with a company that nurtures their growth and development. Roughly 57 percent of U.S. workers said they want to update their skills, according to Gallup. Millennials, in particular, say opportunities to learn and grow are extremely important when applying for a job. 

“When people feel invested in, they’re more likely to stay and be more productive for you,” Regan Morehouse said. 

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Benefits of Continuous Learning for Employees

1. Professional Development

Continuous learning is necessary to remain competitive and marketable in most careers, but it is especially important for career development — whether that means climbing the ranks of their existing company or landing a higher job title with a new company. According to Gallup, U.S. workers who participated in an upskilling program earn an average of $8,000 more than their colleagues.

 

2. New Career Opportunities

While one’s career trajectory is often thought of as a career ladder, Regan Morehouse said most people take more of a zig-zag approach that more closely resembles climbing a jungle gym. Continuous learning can help employees make those jumps to reach their career goals.

“That requires a lot of agility in your skill set,” Regan Morehouse said. “You need to be able to hear of an opportunity, figure out what that might look like, skill up on the skills you don’t have today and then apply them to your new role.”

 

3. Personal Enrichment

Whether you’re expanding your knowledge of your current profession, shifting to a different career or picking up a new hobby, continuous learning is important to your personal growth. By learning new skills, you develop confidence in your ability to overcome challenges and adapt to changes. Once you have developed the muscle of continuous development, you are able to shorten your learning curve and pick up new skills with more ease, Fortuna said, adding that it can also inspire you to embark on a quest for continual self-improvement.

“Investing back in yourself turns into a flywheel,” Fortuna said. “The more you invest in yourself, the better you get, the more you like it and want to do it.”

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How to Implement Continuous Learning

1. Identify Skill and Knowledge Gaps

Develop learning and development programming based on the needs of the business. This could include specialized skills for certain departments, or it could include more general skills that appeal to a wider group of people. In any case, a continuous learning plan should define which skill gaps exist in the business and how a learning plan will help the business reach its learning goals.

Fortuna suggests leaders take a step back and ask, “What are we missing? What do we want to focus on? How do we get better at that?”

 

2. Garner Support From Leaders

Employee learning programs need support from leaders at all levels. The executive leadership team can help prioritize skills needed by the organization and establish a culture of continuous learning. Managers, meanwhile, can support employee learning by giving their direct reports time to participate in training. They can also lead by example by participating in learning and development initiatives.

“In order to have continuous learning pay off as an ROI to the business, there has to be that structure within the organization,” said Amy Parker, vice president of global talent development and employee engagement at Acquia. “There has to be support from an executive leadership team, but inherently it has to be part of the fabric and the culture of the people that you’re bringing on board.”

 

4. Develop a Resource Library

If your organization is just getting started with learning and development, you can start off by offering educational content through Udemy, LinkedIn Learning or any number of online learning platforms. While it may not be designed for the specific needs of the organization, these platforms cover a wide range of topics, giving employees the flexibility to choose an option that aligns with their professional interests.

 

5. Encourage Peer-to-Peer Learning

Peer-to-peer learning opportunities, like mentorships and job shadowing, are a great way to form relationships and grow practical, on-the-job skills among employees. At Acquia, coworkers can connect with each other through Trova, an AI tool that matches coworkers with similar interests. This allows coworkers to connect and learn tech skills from each other without any coordination or oversight from the learning and development team.

 

6. Stay Flexible and Adapt

As a general philosophy, it’s best to keep continuous learning programs flexible. To give employees more flexibility in scheduling, a company could offer multiple workshops at different times or offer an on-demand online course that can be completed at any time. 

There should also be some flexibility in the programming so employees can suggest topics or host a workshop of their own. By encouraging employees to facilitate their own workshop, your learning and development program will not only benefit from fresh ideas, but it will also encourage employees to buy in and take ownership of learning and development opportunities.

“Don’t try to force a framework that’s not going to be congruent with the culture of the organization,” Parker said. “You can do little changes to shift the culture, but if you don’t have a learning culture, figure out what excites people or what they want to learn.”

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is continuous learning important?

Continuous learning is important for employees and companies to stay on the cutting edge of industry trends, market demands and technological innovation. It also allows organizations to develop employees internally instead of hiring and training new workers, and it benefits individuals who want to grow their knowledge and skill sets for more career opportunities and personal enrichment.

What is an example of continuous learning?

Continuous learning could include a formal course or employee training program, or it could include listening to a leadership development podcast or shadowing a senior colleague in your department.

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