Dynamic Learning Playbook

How can I improve learning in my organization?

While organizations may be interested in improving learning as a means to improve outcomes, they often struggle to operationalize learning activities. A 2010 survey of 116 nonprofits by Bridgespan Group identified three significant impediments to organizational learning:

  1. A lack of clear and measurable goals about using knowledge to improve performance;
  2. Insufficient incentives for individuals or teams to participate in organizational learning activities; and
  3. Uncertainty about the most effective processes for capturing and sharing learning.

A guide to overcome learning challenges

This playbook highlights common learning challenges and recommends solutions and resources to overcome them. Follow this step-by-step guide to get started:

  1. Reflect on your learning challenges.

    Read through the four learning challenges and supporting design principles in the sections below. Identify the challenges that resonate most with you and your organization.

  2. Consider potential solutions.

    Review the recommended solutions and identify which could work in the context of your organization.

  3. Explore additional tools, case studies and resources.

    For each solution, we provide a number of tools, case studies, and resources that detail varying approaches to tackling the challenge, including those drawing on firsthand experience from our pilot partners.

  4. Apply the recommended tools and resources to your organization.

    Follow the implementation recommendations for each tool or resource to apply them to your own organization.

More detailed descriptions of the four learning challenges and supporting design principles can be found in the Playbook.

Supportive leadership

Goal setting, deploying knowledge resources, and influencing culture to enable a continuous process of learning and improvement is impossible without strong leadership that is committed to establishing a clear vision and pathway for learning.

Design principles for supportive leadership include:

  • Demonstrating a commitment to learn
  • Shaping a learning agenda
  • Establishing a common understanding of “learning”
  • Defining clear vision and goals for learning

Challenge: How might we encourage leadership to set expectations on what learning means, how it fits into our work, and how we demonstrate progress?

  1. Solution 1Clarify learning objectives

    Learning Alignment Sprint


    World Vision: Translating Strategic Goals into Knowledge Goals

    Case Study
  1. Solution 1Establish guiding frameworks for learning

    Theory of Change (ToC)


    The World Bank: Measuring Knowledge Sharing

    External Resource

    Root Capital: Creating an Enterprise Progression Framework

    Case Study

Learning culture

Culture is the “connective tissue” that explains why certain systems, practices, attitudes, behavioral norms and shared values prevail to become part of an organization’s principles and philosophy. Organizational culture can promote or inhibit certain behaviors and can drive teams to be proactive toward desired organization practices and processes.

Design principles for a learning culture include:

  • Fostering a culture of continuous improvement
  • Establishing incentives for knowledge-sharing at all levels
  • Conducting external benchmarking

Challenge: How might we promote a culture of continuous learning and knowledge sharing, given we’re incentivized to focus on other business and implementation priorities?

  1. Solution 1Develop formal learning KPIs and incentives

    The World Bank: Building Learning-Focused Roles, Responsibilities, and Skills

    External Resource

    CGAP: Establishing a publication review committee

    Case Study
  2. Solution 2Institute cultural practices to mainstream learning

    Urban Institute: Cultivating an Organizational Learning Culture

    External Resource

    The World Bank: Defining Indicators of Success in Building a Knowledge Sharing Culture

    External Resource

Defined learning structures

People are the key to learning. In order to activate tacit knowledge that resides within individuals, teams must be appropriately tasked, resources must be managed and budgets must be properly allocated.

Design principles for defined learning structures include:

  • Establishing a defined learning function
  • Resourcing for learning and capacity building
  • Building strong networks and cross-team coordination
  • Managing outsourced learning

Challenge: How might we instill sound learning and knowledge sharing models and practices inside our complex, siloed, and overextended organization?

  1. Solution 1Get systematic about lessons learned

    Before Action Review (BAR)


    After Action Review (AAR)


    Learning-Focused Field Visit Guide


    Insights Capture Tool


    The World Bank: Defining Guidelines on In-House Versus Outsourcing Learning

    External Resource
  2. Solution 2Block dedicated time and resources for knowledge exchange

    Learning Outputs Sprint


    Hyper Island: Facilitation Tools and Methods

    External Resource

    IDH: Building a Community of Practice

    Case Study

    Building an Internal Innovation Unit to Solve Business Challenges

    Case Study

Intuitive knowledge processes

Learning is an ongoing process that results in knowledge generation, thereby catalyzing progress toward program objectives. Processes must be clearly defined, ensuring team roles and responsibilities are identified and socialized. Learning processes should also be embedded into ongoing daily workflows.

Design principles for intuitive knowledge processes include:

  • Embedding learning processes
  • Defining roles and responsibilities across team
  • Using technology to enable human interaction

Challenge: How might we get better at learning and knowledge sharing across our programs over time in a simple, obvious, and efficient way? 

  1. Solution 1Codify knowledge sharing processes

    Knowledge Flow mapping


    Digital Knowledge Exchange


    Case Study Development Blueprint


    Influence Strategy

  2. Solution 2Build learning incrementally and nimbly

    Learning Loop


    Mercy Corps AFA: Developing Agile Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning (MEL)

    Case Study

    CGAP: Creating a Living Reference Deck

    Case Study