Shelley Osborne is the head of learning and development at Udemy, a global online marketplace with over 20 million users that makes learning and teaching accessible to anyone, anywhere. As a professional who has dedicated her career to fostering and driving lifelong learning?she's a former high school English and Spanish teacher?we asked Shelley how building a learning culture fuels lasting business success. Here's what she shared.


The human brain is hardwired to learn. Weighing just three pounds and brimming with billions of neurons and nerve fibers connected by trillions of synapses, our brains empower a lifetime of absorbing information that's crucial to better understanding and navigating our world.

Unless you're stuck in a company that doesn't foster a culture of learning, that is, where employees can become frustrated and feel like their careers are stagnating. A lack of supported learning is a leading reason that 31 percent of employees have quit a job in the first six months.

Cultures built around feeding and nurturing the curiosity of employees not only enable modern businesses to keep up with ever-changing workplace needs and demands, but they also drive increased employee productivity and engagement. As your team unlocks its potential and raises its collective skill level, learning can mean the difference between your company surviving and thriving.

While implementing a "learning culture" may sound simple, rolling out a few additional training initiatives isn't enough. I know from years of experience that, for learning cultures to truly take hold and make a difference, companies must commit to adopting and promoting a genuine learning mindset from the top-down.

When learning is elevated to a strategic asset that's recognized at the executive level, it can drive the business forward and deliver a competitive edge. Here are five ways that learning cultures can transform organizations and drive bottom-line results.

1. Close the looming skills gap

As unemployment rates drop to historic lows, companies are struggling to find qualified workers to fill open positions. With the high costs and productivity lags associated with new hires, it makes sense for businesses to look to current employees to close their growing gaps. Upskilling existing talent is far more cost-effective and efficient than continually recruiting and onboarding new hires.

In a learning culture, where employees are continuously maintaining and growing their skill sets and even pursuing cross-functional training, it becomes much easier to move talent around where and when it's needed. Besides, workers genuinely want access to learning opportunities and are ready to leave for new employment when they don't get them.

2. Keep pace with evolution of workplace demands

Skills training is more important than ever in today's quickly evolving workplace, where automation and other technologies are transforming the way we do our jobs. As employees navigate shifting landscapes, learning needs to be woven into daily routines, and corporate leaders can no longer view training as an interruption of work.

Companies that treat learning as a strategic asset and make just-in-time learning resources easily available will reap the rewards of having agile employees who can pick up skills in the moment of need.

3. Drive workplace innovation and creativity

Within learning-centric organizations, where upskilling is encouraged and available, employees are more likely to experiment and innovate. In environments where relevant training is at every employee's fingertips, workers aren't limited by missing skills and can fuel the crucial innovations that drive successful businesses forward.

Companies with learning cultures also typically recognize the power of cross-functional collaboration to generate fresh perspectives and ideas. By offering cross-functional training from one part of the business to another, teams can surface opportunities as well as risks that may otherwise not have been considered. When companies embrace learning, they're also more likely to question "traditional" experience and skill sets and recognize employee potential for roles where they may have transferable skills.

4. Alleviate distractions to maximize productivity

From getting sucked into the Twittersphere to spending too much time navigating a new "productivity" tool, employees are negatively affected by workplace distractions. Our workplace distraction research found that 70 percent of employees said they think training could help them block out distractions and achieve focus at work, but most aren't getting it.

Not only can training help to increase efficiency and alleviate distractions, but company-wide support of a learning mindset also gives employees a place to speak up when they have a training need. Of those surveyed, 66 percent are reluctant to raise distraction challenges and have never spoken to their managers about it.

5. Attract younger talent and boost retention

Research shows younger workers aren't seduced by flashy perks and would rather join mission-driven companies that offer opportunities to learn and try new things. As the pressure increases for employers to deliver meaningful work and growth opportunities, we're witnessing a boost in engagement, resulting in increased employee satisfaction and retention.

As additional validation of the connection between learning-driven corporate cultures and employee retention, a report on workplace boredom found that disengaged workers are 2.5 times more likely to quit, and 46 percent said the lack of opportunity to learn is the top reason they're bored. On the flip side, 80 percent agreed that being given opportunities to learn new skills at work would make them more interested and engaged in their jobs.

By engaging workers, helping them build careers within the organization, and equipping them with the knowledge and opportunities they need to innovate, employees and businesses alike can reap the benefits.