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Managers fail to learn from their mistakes, research reveals


New research into the way people learn sheds light on why individuals, and therefore organisations, often seem incapable of learning from their mistakes.

The research carried out by learning & development consultancy MaST International, reveals that less than half of those surveyed actually put learning into practice through a specified action plan. For example after the Hatfield train disaster (2000), mistakes are made again just a few years later, such as at Potters Bar (2002).

The research reveals that although people claim to be able to describe precisely what they have learnt, less than half (48%) bother to capture and transfer it into a feasible action plans. Without structure, planning and transferring, learning outcomes become easily forgotten and mistakes are made again.

The ‘learning health check questionnaire’, developed by learning 'guru' Dr Peter Honey, has also highlighted that people generally learn reactively rather than proactively – assuming ‘I’ll know it when I see it’.

Of the 555 training and HR professionals and managers who completed the survey, 85% claimed to treat everything that happens as a learning opportunity but only 50% plan to learn in advance. This helps to explain why it is such a struggle to get people to set learning objectives, personal development plans (PDPs) or embrace continuing professional development (CDP) in a purposeful way.

Mark Mercer, consultant at MaST International, commented: ‘This research has confirmed our belief that to support personal and organisational change, people need to be given structure about the way they learn so they really benefit and change behaviours.’

Dr Peter Honey commented: ‘The results confirm my suspicion about the way people approach learning; it is not something that comes automatically, learning is a learnable skill. Ask yourself ‘what do I want to achieve from this?’ and ‘how can I transfer what I have learnt?’ really helps to increase learning capacities and help progression in the workplace.’

The research also showed a split in the way that different age groups learn, highlighting that under 25s produce action plans to do things better or differently, whereas over 55s prefer to learn through experimentation (75% of over 55s).

The over 55s group were predominantly directors and they were far more likely to try to transfer lessons learned in one situation to another (82.8% compared with 65.5% in other job categories) and more likely to ask ‘how could I apply this learning?’ (53% compared to 42% of other categories).

Honey believes this may be because older and more senior staff have the confidence to experiment, while younger and less senior personnel are less inclined to take risks.

This information could provide valuable lessons to others aspiring to director level, on how to experiment with learning, and also encourage directors to pass on opportunities for creative learning to help others progress by:

•Deliberately role modelling learning behaviours
•Being a generous provider of learning opportunities for other people
•Building learning into working practices (the ‘culture’) so that it becomes an accepted way of life
•Using every opportunity to champion the importance of learning, both for the organisation and the fulfilment of individuals.

The research findings are based on the health check questionnaire which was completed by 555 respondents at the HRD Exhibition in London in April 2008.

If you would like to take the learning health check questionnaire please go to: There you will need to select the option ‘Register with Peter Honey’ and then enter the authorisation code: HRD.

The website is live until 30 June.


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