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The Importance of Company Culture in eLearning

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When it comes to helping new hires learn a company’s culture the goal is twofold.  First, you want them to learn the company culture, not learn about the company culture.  Second, you want them to learn more quickly than they would if they were learning the culture just through osmosis.  Unfortunately these two goals are in tension.  The best way to learn a culture rather than just learn about a culture is through the natural osmosis process by which we each learned our own native cultures.  And if this process is sped up too much it can quickly degenerate into just learning about the culture where facts are know, but the culture isn’t internalized.

In order to strike the proper balance between these two goals, any eLearning course which is designed to help new hires learn a company’s culture should take advantage of indirect learning.  Indirect learning is the learning that happens when we pay attention to something else.  When concerned parents worry about the messages their kids are picking up from video games and tv, it’s indirect learning they’re concerned about.  Remember that scene in the Karate Kid where Daniel-san has to paint fences and “wax on, wax off”?  Same idea.  The premise of indirect learning is that while we actively focus on one aspect, like a movie’s story or solving a problem in a video-game, we’re indirectly learning information, skills, and habits without our attention being drawn to it.   

Indirect learning is a great method for learning a company culture because indirect learning is how we naturally learn culture in the first place.  We never set out to learn our own culture.  Instead we just live our lives, focusing on getting from point A to point B and along the way we learn what we’re “supposed to” eat for breakfast, watch on tv, and say to our friends.  In an eLearning context, indirect learning works in exactly the same way, but the timeline is compressed so that the basics of a company culture can be learned in a matter of minutes rather than in a matter of years.

The key idea is that the eLearning course new hires complete appears to teach them the company culture only incidentally.  Let’s take the example of a mandatory cybersecurity course all new hires need to complete in order to make sure that the company’s data is safe.  The explicit purpose of the training is to make sure that all new employees have strong passwords and good digital security habits.  And of course these goals are accomplished.  But while the new employee is focused on learning the cyber material, they’re also absorbing everything else that the eLearning course is offering them.  

Everything from the examples in the course to the settings can help a new employee learn your company culture.  Is the course set in a realistic office setting, an abstract studio, or perhaps someplace fanciful?  Is there a framing device or a story throughout the training, or is it more straightforward? What about the characters?  Are they real people, do they work in your company, or are they actors?   What’s the tone of the course?  Do characters address each other informally?  Do they make jokes?  How are they dressed, and how do they present themselves?  

How each of these questions and innumerable others are answered represents a little pieces of your company’s culture, and anyone taking the course will learn them even as they focus on learning the explicit material the course is “teaching”.  And this is the main reason it’s so important to make sure that every piece of eLearning your company uses communicates the company culture you want it to.  Because if you don’t intentionally communicate your company culture, you will be communicating a culture to the people taking the course, even if it’s not the one you want to be communicating.  

When it comes to helping someone learn your company’s culture eLearning is an incredibly powerful option.  It provides a specific environment where a new employee is actively primed to learn as much as they can as quickly as they can, and can use all of the tools available to eLearning in order to keep the experience informative and engaging.