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Developing a Culture of Learning at Essex County Council’s Essex Social Care Academy – Adult Social Care

Measuring Impact of Training

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Are you in an L&D role and unsure of how to transition your staff from a culture of spoon-fed training opportunities to a culture where staff engage with learning opportunities and embrace new technologies? 

We spoke with Will Chaney, Workforce Capability Team Manager at Essex County Council’s Essex Social Care Academy – Adult Social Care, to learn more about how their team has worked to transform attitudes around learning in their organisation. 

When and why did you realize that a culture of learning is critical to organisational success? What benefits does a culture of learning yield to a company?

The Essex Social Care Academy – Adult Social Care, is responsible for ensuring that Adult Social Care staff have the required knowledge and skills to deliver the best possible service to the people of Essex. The context in which we operate is one of financial restrictions through limited Government funding, ever-increasing demand, and additional pressures through high rates of vacancies, which leads to some managers unable to release staff for non-essential training.  Staff who are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) are required to demonstrate regular CPD and reflective learning through maintaining a portfolio. In addition, the introduction of brand new legislation in recent years has brought major changes to social work.

Operating a shift in learning culture was therefore identified as an essential part of the success of the Adult Social Care function at Essex County Council.  Historically, our workforce had effectively been “spoon-fed” training opportunities, usually in a traditional classroom-based format, which was no longer an option.  We needed a different learning culture, which would increase staff’s personal responsibility for their own learning and introduce more variety and flexibility in learning opportunities in order to suit our specific context.

What does a healthy professional learning culture look like to you?

Our vision of a healthy professional learning culture is that of a culture in which:

  • Staff take responsibility for their own learning and development, with appropriate support.

  • Staff and their managers are provided with tools and advice to enable them to make informed decisions about suitable development opportunities.

  • Managers are able and willing to release staff from their duties in order to attend training sessions.

  • Staff are curious and willing to increase their knowledge and skills using a variety of resources.

  • Successful learning is not defined by the title of a training course and the date and time the training session takes place, but by the suitability of the training method in order to achieve specific business outcomes.

  • Learning and development opportunities are tailored to our needs, and are designed to deliver specific outcomes.

  • Learners understand their responsibilities and what is expected of them.

  • Training providers understand how we work, and the rationale for doing so, and become partners in the delivery of our vision.

  • Learning opportunities can take many shapes in order to respond as well as possible to the challenges we face, and may include face-to-face training, experiential learning, shadowing as well as e-learning to name just a few.

  • Learning is transferred into practice, so that the anticipated outcomes can be observed.

How have you engaged employees in learning?

Changing the learning culture – like changing any culture – is not a quick exercise. In a way, we were helped in starting this process by the various changes that were introduced in relation to adult social care over the last few years, from the professional re-registration requirements, to the new legislation, the inevitable need to deliver social care in a different way and a new learning management system to name a few.

These paved the way for introducing a different learning culture, alongside other corporate and professional changes.  However, whilst we have made progress, we have a lot more to do still. The changes we have introduced have been gradual, and have been supported by a consistent message to training providers, staff and managers.

Quality assurance visits at training venues provide an on-going opportunity for face-to-face delivery of our message, and the annual Learning at Work Week has played an essential part in highlighting the changes, promoting new opportunities and new ways of doing things, as well as engaging into one-to-one dialogue with learners and managers in order to support the embedding of the new culture.

As part of our culture change, we were keen to embrace modern technology and experiential learning for our staff, which in itself is very engaging.  Some examples of how we brought that into the workplace was to invest in Virtual Reality Headsets and mobile phones which were loaded with apps relating to Dementia and Autism.

These were launched at the Learning at Work Week 2017 and are now regularly loaned out to teams in Adult Social Care so that staff can experience those conditions, giving them knowledge to bring to the social care assessment process.

We also started to run Action Learning Sets for Safeguarding. This included running mock Chairing Safeguarding Meetings.  Adult Social Care staff volunteered to act out various roles so the training was, in effect, delivered in-house.  Learners were then able to view the ‘Act’ and ask questions. With learners involved from both the “acting” side and the “observing/questioning” side, employee engagement is very high and the feedback received so far excellent, including: “We should embed this experimental style of learning as part of our business as usual training strategy.  It is very powerful & memorable.”

Engagement of our workforce into this on-going change in learning culture went even further when, as a result of demand being far higher than available places, we decided to train Adult Social Care staff to become trainers for the Virtual Dementia Tour experiential learning (including each of these trainers receiving the Awards in Education qualification).  These trainers are doing such a good job that The Virtual Dementia Tour Training Team has been shortlisted in the Social Worker of the Year Awards 2017 for Creative & Innovative Social Work Practice.

The Virtual Dementia Tour allows learners to ‘walk in the shoes’ of someone with mid-stage Alzheimers disease. The feedback from this type of experiential learning  is extremely positive and we know that staff not only respond well to this type of learning but also retain more knowledge and are more successful in bringing that knowledge to their role and changing their practice,  compared with more traditional classroom-based training. We have already gathered data which shows how practice has changed for Dementia support. Some of the feedback includes:

“The training was very uncomfortable and almost painful, but it brought home dramatically the impact on all the senses that Dementia has.”

 “I found the ‘hands on’ practical sensory experience a proactive way of learning […]. [As] near to real life as it could be.”

The challenge for us now is to adapt other training to experiential learning in the future, as we feel this is both a highly efficient form of development, and creates the necessary employee engagement which enables the shift to a new learning culture.

Finally, as part of the model we have implemented, we seek tailored feedback from our learners, and the data from this feedback is systematically analysed in order to ensure that the learning opportunity is delivering as anticipated; it also enables us to provide additional support to learners where necessary. Whatever the circumstances, our message to staff and managers has remained consistent: ensuring we have the required skills and knowledge is fundamental; everyone needs to take responsibility for their own learning; everyone should be willing to try different means of learning, including personal reading and experiential learning; and reflecting on your own learning is essential to help transfer learning into practice.

What advice do you have for L&D professionals trying to foster a culture of learning?

In order to foster such a culture, it is important to remember the specific context of the organisation and its workforce, as the culture needs to be a good fit for both.  Patience will be necessary, as well as determination and an agreed plan to achieve a well-defined outcome.  The methods to deliver the change may need to vary and be adapted through time.

We have also found that the face-to-face approach has been beneficial. For instance, one of our new channels of delivery is a website that provides research and information directly relevant to our front-line staff. However, the take-up on this resource was moderate, until we were able to use Learning at Work Week as an opportunity for “live” demonstration to staff who came to see us.  Following this initiative, we saw a substantial increase in the use of this resource.

Where new methods of learning are introduced, we have also found that getting “buy-in” from influential people, such as Service Managers, has helped – if they feel that a particular initiative is a useful one, they are more likely to encourage their staff to get involved. For instance, introducing flexible development opportunities, which fit around staff’s busy schedules and shift patterns, has also proved popular and supported our culture shift. However, changing culture means changing mindsets, and this will remain a long and gradual process.

What role do you think technology plays in building or expanding learning cultures?

Technology may not be a necessary part of facilitating a shift in learning culture. However, in our case, it plays an essential part. Thanks to our new Learning Management System, we have been able to get staff to self-register onto training courses, rather than register them manually. The LMS also enables staff to access all training opportunities that are available to them across the organisation, i.e. not just those offered by our Adult Social Care specialist team, but also opportunities set up, for example, by our corporate HR team or our IT training team.

Technology has also enabled us to launch new forms of learning, such as virtual reality apps – a form of experiential learning we have recently introduced. We have partnered with a specialised external website to provide staff with reading and research materials which are directly relevant to their professional practice; this website, as well as our LMS, enable staff to keep their own record of their CPD and reflective learning, in order to submit as part of their professional re-registration.

Finally, we use e-learning when appropriate.  If technology was not available, not only would it be difficult for our workforce to engage in many of these learning opportunities, they would also continue to be “spoon-fed” more traditional classroom-based training courses, with little encouragement to shape their own CPD according to their personal needs and career ambitions.

How do you measure the impact a learning culture has on an organisation?

For Essex County Council’s Adult Social Care, implementing a change in the learning culture was not just a question of best practice, but also a necessity in order to be able to continue to deliver a high quality service to the people of Essex. This change is not complete yet, but we can already see some measurable outcomes, including:

  • The ability to release some of our team’s time to concentrate on new projects rather than register staff on training courses;

  • Excellent feedback and take up rates on our innovative experiential learning offers (with demand higher than we can currently supply);

  • Higher take-up rates of some of our internal and external self-serve online development tools and resources;

  • Staff have a much broader understanding of all the learning and development resources that are available to them and of how to make best use of these to fit around their diary commitments and long-term ambitions;

  • Finally, one of the ultimate goals is to see a clear change in practice as a result of the development opportunities on offer – we can already note this change, but measurement will need to be on a long-term basis.

What's next in your L&D strategy to further develop the learning culture in your organisation?

Our organisation is currently going through a re-structure, and this may have a significant impact on our learning and development strategy. However, there are broad line principles which we are very unlikely to derive from:

  • We will continue to facilitate the learning culture shift;

  • We will continue to use innovative practices in order to deliver this shift and support the upskilling of our workforce, whilst implementing Essex County Council’s own strategy and vision;

  • Our workforce will continue to be encouraged to shape their own CPD and take responsibility for their personal learning;

  • We will continue to use technology whenever appropriate in order to facilitate the delivery of our L&D strategy for Adult Social Care;

  • Finally, ensuring that the Adult Social Care workforce has the skills and knowledge necessary to deliver the best service possible to the citizens of Essex will remain at the forefront of our agenda.

About the Essex Social Care Academy (ESCA) – Adult Social Care

The Essex Social Care Academy (ESCA) – Adult Social Care provides a framework which promotes and enables a professional learning culture, improving professional excellence and driving up standards to deliver high quality practice. 

Its main purpose is to ensure that, in Adult Social Care, we have the appropriate workforce, with the right skills, at the right time, so our staff can make a positive difference to the life of the people of Essex.  Our role has many facets and includes, for instance, the development, design and commissioning of training, as well as recognising and celebrating inspiring and exceptional social work.

This interview is part of the U.K. L&D Report 2018.

Download the full report below:

L&D report

What's included?

  • The employee training budgets, training topics, and training methods of organisations in 2018.

  • Practical advice from L&D leaders to help you adopt new technologies, nurture a learning culture, get the most from the apprenticeship levy and measure and promote the value of workplace learning.

  • How learning professionals rate the executive engagement in learning, assess the impact of training and more!

U.K. L&D Report: 2018
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Contact Details

Will Chaney is a Workforce Capability Team Manager at Essex County Council’s Essex Social Care Academy – Adult Social Care where he has worked since 2003. Their team is responsible for ensuring that Adult Social Care staff have the required knowledge and skills to deliver the best possible service to the people of Essex.

Will Chaney

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Last updated: 10 Jul 2019

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