No Image Available

Seb Anthony

Read more from Seb Anthony

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

Learning and development at the crossroads: Part 2


In this second part of the three-part series, Donald Taylor examines how changes in L&D technology has forced the industry to evolve with it.

Technology has changed

There's a subtle change here in learning. Not only is technology used, frequently and in an ad hoc manner, but it's used differently to the centralised, push mechanism of the traditional training of the 80s. This is personalised, individually-driven, 'pull' learning. And often this sort of informal learning is used not – as we use traditional training – for long-term capability building. It is used for short-term performance support.

In L&D we know this in our heads, but we don't always accept it in our hearts. For example US company Ruder Finn has what it calls an internet intent index. They ask people what their intention was at the moment they went onto the internet to browse. Here are the seven choices they give people:

  • Advocacy
  • Learning
  • Socialise
  • Shopping
  • Have fun
  • Express yourself
  • Do business

Ranked in terms of popularity, where do you think learning comes on that list? Where do you think shopping lies? Almost universally, L&D folk say shopping will be number one, and learning will come at the bottom.


Learning is number one – more popular than socialising and having fun – while shopping lies at the bottom of the list. Strangely, if you show this ranking to L&D professionals – and I have, often – the reaction is always the same: "Yes, but they don't really mean learning, do they? They just mean finding things out." Yes, they do. And that's a type of learning, too – an increasingly important part, yet it seems that L&D sometimes has difficulty accepting that anything which takes place without its intervention can be real learning.

Google automatically shows you how search engines are used for performance support. Begin typing a search term and it will suggest a completion of the term based on the most common entries made by other users. For example, on if you begin by typing 'how to', Google will suggest 'how to tie a tie'. The reason: most US boys go through school without needing to tie one, and then find themselves at their first job, or on prom' night, needing to put one on. That's classic performance support.

Do these personal learning tools mean the death of the classroom? No – it's simply that workplace learning has expanded beyond the traditional training remit of knowledge transfer. The problem is that the L&D department hasn't fully expanded with it.

The L&D function needs a broader role to be effective. The capability building that we always did in the classroom is just one of at least four things that we need to be doing:

  1. Capability building. Centrally-controlled 'push' learning that builds individual employees’ long-term knowledge and skills. What we've always done.

  2. Performance support. Personally-driven 'pull' learning that answers specific short-term performance issues. We're familiar with this as what's often called the 'Googlisation' of learning. Actually, this term trivialises an increasingly significant part of L&D's role.

  3. Personal learning support. We need to ensure that organisations select social and other learning tools wisely, instigate and maintain a positive learning culture and stimulate quality user-generated content. At the same time, we need to support employees in their meta-cognitive development. A graduate now is very unlikely to have all the learning skills they'll need for the next 40 years of work. They will need explicit help in developing themselves as learners and also as good communicators to other employees, because that's a crucial part of organisational learning, too.

  4. Skills management. We need to provide both a long-term view of how we grow organisational skills both for the corporate vision of three years' time, and to meet managers' needs for their projects in 3-12 months' time.

Do we need to be doing all this things? Well, executives seem to think we do. And that's the real game changer.

More about that in part 3.

This article is based on Donald’s introductory talk to the 2010 Irish Learning Showcase, organised by the Irish Learning Alliance in Dublin, and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Donald H Taylor is non-executive chairman of the Institute of IT Training. TrainingZone members can get a exclusive discount to this year's IITT conference, Training 2010. He also chairs both the Learning Technologies Conference and the Learning and Skills Group, a free international community of learning and development professionals. Donald blogs at - and tweets at:


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!