In this article
Continuous learners are self-motivated, driven and appreciate the power that comes with acquiring knowledge. Continuous learning can help people to achieve success both personally and professionally.
High academic performance prior to entering the workplace does not signify the end of a person’s learning journey, with many employers expecting even their most accredited workers to commit to continuing to upskill and learn on the job.
A 2021 survey of over 1,000 UK based employers revealed that 89% believe that their employees will have to learn new skills or retrain in new areas in order to stay up to date with industry developments. Almost half (49%) ranked ‘willingness to learn’ and ‘enthusiasm’ as critical factors to consider when hiring, with only 6% citing academic performance as a principal concern.
What is continuous learning?
Continuous learning is about a person’s commitment to learning and education on an ongoing basis. It is an umbrella term which encompasses many different types of learning. This could range from someone studying for formal qualifications, casually learning a new skill from home or taking part in training and education within the workplace.
It requires people to be self-motivated and to choose to learn new skills or increase their knowledge in a particular subject both intentionally and voluntarily.
People might take part in continuous learning for personal or professional reasons. They may wish to upskill to get ahead in the job market or they may be more interested in personal development, increasing their knowledge in a certain area or boosting their confidence by achieving their learning goals.
Continuous learning is also extremely beneficial for those who work in job roles which are constantly developing and changing and where the most up-to-date knowledge is vital for success. Some examples of these roles are Stock Traders, Software Developers, Marketing Strategists or Computer Programmers.
Continuous learning can help those who work in certain fields to track developments, assess market trends and make the most business-savvy decisions.
Why is continuous learning important?
Continuous learning is important for many reasons. The workplace is becoming increasingly competitive with many people now being educated to at least degree level and with new graduates emerging each year.
In the year 2019/20 there were 2.46 million students enrolled to study at UK higher education institutions. Applications for 2020 were also up 3.2% to a record high. Although gaining a degree at a UK university is a significant achievement, once graduates enter the world of work, a passion for education and continuous development will help them to stay ahead in the workplace.
Completing an undergraduate, or even post-graduate, degree does not indicate the end of a person’s educational journey. A passion for education will help people to dedicate time to continuing to learn; however, another benefit of continuous learning is that it does not exclude those who have struggled to obtain formal qualifications in the past.
Continuous learning is not inextricably linked to academic prowess; its roots also lie in:
- Drive to succeed.
- Desire to better oneself.
A commitment to continuous learning can benefit those who wish to grow both personally and professionally and help people to get the most out of their chosen career path. It may also form part of a person’s Personal Development Plan (PDP).
Despite the competitive nature of the modern workplace, some industries still continue to struggle to find suitable, capable workers, so it is also vital that such businesses continually train and upskill their existing staff and provide working conditions and incentives that make them want to stay.
On an individual or personal level, continuous learning could be viewed as something similar to a work ethic. True continuous learning can be embraced in a holistic way by an individual to become part of their everyday life or routine.
Your attitude to continuous learning could affect the way you:
- Approach problems and overcome obstacles.
- Observe work colleagues and learn from them.
- Read and interpret, fact check and understand data (quantitative or qualitative).
- Show attention to detail.
- Seek out new ways of doing things.
- Start courses, meet deadlines and hand in assignments.
- Embrace learning through technology, social media, and apps.
- Choose learning over other ways to spend your time.
- Practise and implement what you have learnt in practical ways, in or out of work.
- Make predictions, draw conclusions, and explore new methodologies.
Being a continuous learner can have a positive effect on your life both at work and in your personal life. Being armed with increased knowledge can help you in social situations or debates and can help you to think critically or objectively. It might also help you to spot misinformation and bias, which is a useful tool in the modern world.
How can continuous learning benefit you?
Continuous learning might mean that people do not have to make the choice between working or studying. If you are employed by an organisation that has a commitment to the learning journeys of their employees, you can make the most of expanding your knowledge and skillset as part of your career. If you are dedicated and organised, you can work, earn and learn all at once via continuous learning.
You might also prefer to study or learn for personal, rather than professional, reasons. Learning new skills and gaining new qualifications can boost your confidence as well as your career and you may find that your personal development is closely linked to your professional development.
Some of the ways continuous learning might benefit you are:
- Sense of achievement.
- Increased confidence.
- Can help you keep up with industry related changes and developments.
- Can help you perform better at work.
- Employees don’t have to continue education at the expense of their career.
- Gives the opportunity to upskill and learn new things.
- Gaining accreditations, qualifications, and certificates.
- Personal development.
Technology allows us to be more connected than ever before. Harnessing the power of technology can help to make continuous learning accessible and fun. There are countless apps, blogs, podcasts, videos and websites dedicated to learning or to giving information about industry related topics.
As continuous learning is self-led and requires motivation, it can easily be incorporated into your usual online browsing schedule; simply set aside a certain amount of time per day to your online learning and choose to read an informative article, use an educational app or scroll through new stories.
The connectivity that technology now gives us is embodied by social media. This makes social learning a possibility in the modern world.
LinkedIn, for example, provides several online courses plus the option to follow topics of interest and connect with like-minded individuals. Other social media sites provide various options to follow public figures or search for trending topics, which can alert users to breaking news, trending items, changes in legislation and recent developments.
Social learning can provide an ideal platform for networking, interacting and taking part in topical discussions. However, it is important when using these tools for continuous learning to keep in mind subjectivity and the need to fact check information and cite reputable sources.
How can continuous learning benefit the organisation?
Employers who invest in their workforce tend to have higher levels of staff retention. This is beneficial both financially (as it negates the constant cycle of advertising vacancies, hiring and training new starters) and more generally, because it provides continuity and increases engagement.
Some of the ways continuous learning can help an organisation might include:
- It encourages leadership skills and prepares employees for more senior positions.
- It can increase staff retention levels.
- Staff feel valued.
- Employees that are engaged in continuous learning tend to be more positive and productive.
- It can create a more positive working environment.
- It can create a more collaborative working environment.
- It encourages employees to work cohesively as part of a team.
- Positivity and productivity within the organisation will be evident to clients/end users of the organisation (this could increase sales or improve reviews and business reputation).
- Financial benefits.
How to encourage a learning culture within the organisation
There are many advantages of continual learning to both the individual and the business or organisational itself. To embrace the power of learning and education, it helps to encourage a culture of learning and collaboration.
This way, continuous learning becomes habitual and part of everyday working life rather than an addition to the workplace or something seen as ‘extra’ work.
Make use of technology – Apps, interactive hubs or online courses on your own business website can help to make learning accessible. Continuous learning is something that you want workers to embrace as part of their life, so harness the power of technology to make it as interactive and unintrusive as possible.
Incentivise learning – Incentives do not always have to be financial; you could try something more social like organising an awards ceremony or showing recognition for the person who shows the most commitment to learning each month. In an environment where staff routinely feel valued and included, a gesture as simple as a mention on the regular staff bulletin might be enough.
Lead by example – Developing a positive and collaborative culture within the workplace happens from the top down. Managers who embrace continuous learning and make a visible commitment to their own professional development will show a good example to their subordinate workers. Simply telling employees what is expected of them is not always enough to make a significant impact on the working environment. Employees need to see their superiors leading by example.
Collaborate – Get workers involved in creating courses, giving presentations or helping others. Some people learn best by cooperating with their peers or putting what they have already learnt into practice. Encourage discussion and the sharing of ideas.
Get feedback – Not everyone learns in the same way, and in busy, fast paced environments you may not always have the time or the resources to be as involved in each worker’s learning journey as you need to be. Here it is important to ask for feedback, draft in time for check-ins with staff and act on feedback.
Continuous learning is most advantageous for everyone if it is done in a way that is suitable and effective; although it must be self-led and self-motivated, some people need a collaborative and open environment whilst others prefer to learn alone.
Some people will require a formal approach to learning, whereas those without an educational background might find this daunting. Try to encourage staff to learn in whatever way works for them and not to be afraid to try new approaches.
Continuous and lifelong learning
Continuous learning and lifelong learning are often used interchangeably. Whilst they both refer to a commitment to ongoing learning, continuous learning is often more focussed on learning that has a cohesive goal in mind: career development, gaining a qualification, reaching sales targets, improving teamwork.
Lifelong learning is an ongoing, voluntary commitment that people make to learning which has goals that are sometimes more difficult to quantify. Lifelong learning is also sometimes referred to as the act of making continuous learning part of your everyday life.
Continuous learning is a term often used within the workplace referring to an organisation’s commitment to the ongoing training und upskilling of their workforce and the dedication of their workers to this cause. The goal is often professional development.
This might involve:
- Taking an online course.
- Collaborative learning or team building exercises.
- Studying for a formal qualification.
- Attending industry related workshops or conferences.
Lifelong learning might be considered to be more closely associated with personal development, such as:
- Learning a new language.
- Researching a topic through documentaries, online articles, or podcasts.
- Taking a vocational course to learn a new skill or for fun.
- Starting an e-learning course (out of interest or for fun).
- Researching your family tree.
Continuous, lifelong learning can be incorporated into daily life in many ways such as setting aside time for regular reading, visiting your local library or historical society, conducting your own research and investigations into topics that interest you, attending events or talks and listening to experts, and networking with others.
A commitment to continual, lifelong learning can help you to stay up to date with trending topics, be able to offer informed input into conversations and to educate others. It can also encourage you to try new things, spark innovative ideas and increase your confidence.
At work it could mean that you are able to stay relevant and be a more positive and productive member of the workforce; it can also increase your career options, job prospects and chances of promotion.
College or higher education qualifications make attractive additions to a CV and can indicate a high level of understanding and skill in certain areas, but many workplaces now expect their workers to have a commitment to consistently learning and training within the workplace as well. And for many workers, whether they already have a university degree or not, taking part in continuous learning can help them to thrive both personally and professionally.
The UK job market is set to become increasingly competitive. The popularity of social media platforms is unlikely to decrease and neither is their ability to expose their users to subjective opinions, unchecked facts or questionable sources. In these instances, knowledge is a powerful tool and the ability to ask relevant questions, think critically and have a willingness to learn are paramount in modern society.
Learning in this way requires significant motivation and continual effort, but the positive effects on both the personal and professional lives of continual learners should make the time and effort required worthwhile.