No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Case Study – Self-Directed Learning in an SME


Vestas Wind Systems builds wind farms and owns Vestas Blades UK Ltd, a blade research, development and manufacturer based in the Isle of Wight and Southampton. In 2002 the UK subsidiary set itself some stretching strategic goals. These included: increasing sales to £70m from £20m, reducing manufacturing times and costs drastically, introducing 24 hour seven day production, launching three new products and increasing quality reliability. The company planned to increase the number of employees from 120 people to over 450 in three years and concluded that unless they could ‘learn at least as fast as their rate of growth, they would not succeed.’

Something different?
Traditional training approaches are used for technical skills and new starters, but the management team wanted to build a culture in which individuals felt motivated to take ownership of their own learning - deciding what to learn, when and how.

As the strategy rolled out and the scale of the business grew individual learning needs would inevitably differ. The company wanted learning to be continuous, timely and relevant. A menu of training courses was considered to have limited effectiveness in terms of learning transfer to the workplace. The company chose to use self-directed learning (SDL) groups as recommended by Roger Martin and Russell Devitt of the Acuition consultancy.

Convincing senior management about SDL
Rod Taylor, Vestas' HR manager launched the SDL programme by inviting 20 senior managers to a pilot. The programme began by outlining the strategic objectives in detail and the crucial role learning would play during implementation.

Rod introduced an inquiry tool to help participants identify their own learning needs. Known as the Needs Analysis Process (NAP) individuals decided the learning goals that would have the greatest benefit to them and their part of the business. They did this by discussing the implications of the strategic and operational objectives on current and future levels of performance. Given the strategy emphasised significant growth and change, learning goals in the areas of recruiting and building new teams, leading projects and delegation were very common. This goal setting activity quickly shifted the mind-set from ‘I’m here, waiting to be taught’ to ‘this is what I need to learn to succeed.’

Content and support mechanism
Learners were made aware of all the resources available through books as well as colleagues. The company had also purchased e-learning and offered to pay one year’s worth of broadband connection fees at participants’ homes to support its use.

Learning groups were set up to support participants as they set about achieving their goals. Two criteria drove the group selection process, first, each group had to have four participants and second they had to be as diverse as possible in terms of department, skill set and gender.

Each group would meet regularly every six weeks in confidence. Such support was critical. The opportunity to talk about applying learning in the workplace not only built confidence but also helped fellow participants working on similar topics. The frequency of the meeting ensured an individual’s learning stayed firmly close to the top of their agenda. After nine months the pilot group of 20 recommended that SDL groups be extended to a further 80 people.

Facilitator support
During the first year each group had its own facilitator drawn primarily from Acuition but also from within Vestas. The facilitator’s role was to help the group learn through dialogue that focused on the underlying (not presenting) issues connected to an individual’s progress or otherwise. The depth of this dialogue also developed higher levels of trust. Workshops delivered by NLP practitioner Sue Knight further sharpened people’s ability to use precise questioning, to listen and give feedback.

From the learner's point of view SDL is a significant commitment, not just to their own learning needs but also to those of their group. No one missed a learning group meeting. The original SDL groups have now been in existence for over two years and only one in 100 has dropped out of a group since they began. Participants describe their groups as a place to reflect on topics they don’t discuss with anyone else. They value the (sometimes challenging) new insights they receive, which help them to shift their perspective on issues. Many say they learn as much by helping colleagues in their group as they do from receiving it.

The key to SDL’s effectiveness for individuals is the practical changes they make to the way they work. Examples include: better delegation to and development of the work team; more effective buy-in for process improvements and business plans; building more understanding relationships across different departments; consultation and getting to the root causes of problems.

The company has learnt a lot too. Though SDL was a risk it helped the vast majority of home-grown talent to lead the successful implementation of a demanding business strategy. SDL has become an integral part of its culture and is seen as an important part of the psychological contract the company has with its employees. Groups still meet regularly, unaided by a facilitator and new groups are planned.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!