3 Ways Executives Can Champion Lifelong Learning

With fall officially here, children are now fully settled in at school, businesses are back up to full speed after summer vacations, and many of us are taking stock of our 2017 resolutions - and how to accomplish them before the holidays approach.

If learning something new was on your list, you’re not alone - and it’s not too late.

Advances in technology have allowed countless individuals to pursue interests that extend beyond the standard classroom, on their own time, and often for little to no cost.

That’s good news because I believe (like John F Kennedy, Jr. did, and wisely said) that “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” We need to continue learning long after we’ve tossed our caps into the air and received our diplomas, especially in a world where the speed of innovation has us adopting new technologies, standards, and best practices at breakneck speeds.

Learning not only benefits ourselves but helps advance our communities as well.

A recent Bloomberg article reported, “as of first-quarter 2017, 45 percent of small businesses reported that they were unable to find qualified applicants to fill job openings.”

That’s right - continued learning is more than a “nice to have”... it’s  an economic imperative.

When Alan (my co-founder) and I first founded our company Accredible, we noticed that neither education opportunities nor economic opportunities were meritocratic. As we’ve grown we wanted to make sure we instilled the culture of lifelong learning within our own organization.

These three guiding principles have allowed us to do just that.

Espouse the importance of continued learning, and lead through example.

We help hundreds of organizations recognize learning and achievement by issuing digital certificates and badges. As leaders, Alan and I need to make sure we clearly communicate the importance of continued learning, and one of the best ways to do that is to lead by example.

Recently I’ve been learning how to handcraft leather goods and have taken workshops on data visualization. Alan has spent his learning budget on books about agile development and software team management.

Promote a culture that values all types of learning styles and attainment.

Our company serves a wide variety of customers in higher education, technology and more. All of these focus on teaching something, but that doesn’t mean they’re all taught in the same ways, on the same timeline, or with the same technology.

Many established and well-regarded traditional higher education institutions now offer online courses to complement their degrees. An annual report from the Babson Survey Research Group cited, “About 5.8 million students were enrolled in at least one distance learning course in fall 2014 – up 3.9 percent from the previous fall.”

What’s more, in 2009 a change occurred as “three-quarters of CEOs and small business owners stated that they viewed the quality of online education programs to be on par with traditional degree programs, refuting arguments that online courses and programs would not be recognized by employers.” (source)

Many of the recipients of Accredible certificates are working to improve themselves, whether its "high stakes” like pursuing a medical certification, or modernizing an existing skill set, like digital marketing.

It’s all important.

Let’s abandon the prejudice behind how something was learned, and instead focus on making sure it was properly learned and can be verified.

Provide your employees with actual time and money to learn and grow.

To make lifelong learning a part of your company culture, you must give employees the time and resources to do it. In fact, not just do it, but prioritize it.

At Accredible we specifically earmark funds for each employee to spend two hours per week of company time learning and spend $100 per month on educational materials. It's not considered time off, and it's an employee’s right to use it even if they are under deadlines. This stance allows every employee to pursue the specific things they want to learn, whether it’s central to their job function or not.

Money talks. When you help financially support your staff’s educational pursuits you are telling them: you matter, and we believe it’s important for you to grow as a person.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other,” this is true. We believe that this investment in our staff’s education is helping to grow the next generation of leaders...and that is money well spent.