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The 21st Century learning professional: Let battle commence


KnightsPaul Kearns starts a dynamic new column today by suggesting an oath for all learning professionals to swear by. A long standing champion for standards within the training industry, he has donned his armour in anticipation of an epic campaign. Hold on tight, it may be a bumpy ride...

Do you regard yourself as a learning professional? If so, what are the hallmarks of your professionalism? Do you fall back on a qualification or is professionalism much more than that? If you're not sure, then over the coming months I plan to provide at least one benchmark of what professionalism means to me. This will obviously be a very personal view but it is intended to capture the essence of the ultimate, consummate, learning professional.

Let me start by being blunt though - I wouldn't be writing this short series if I thought the CIPD (or any academic, awarding body) had ever managed to establish any meaningful, professional standards. The very fact that I, and thousands like me, have been operating as practising training managers, OD specialists and learning consultants for many years, without any mandatory certification, is clear evidence that a serious vacuum exists.

Photo of Paul Kearns"The 'establishment' will always want to protect their vested interests and anyone wanting to challenge them will have to face the volleys of brickbats, slings and arrows that will inevitably follow. So be it, let battle commence."

If the CIPD had established a recognised register of true learning professionals then they would be able to have me struck off and the fact that they cannot, and do not even attempt to, is why their members are condemned to being treated as 'amateurs'. Who can honestly call themselves professional if their 'teachers' do not even take their own teaching seriously? In fact, it is those who take their expertise most seriously, and are prepared to defend it, that will always occupy the highest ground of professionalism.

Of course, setting standards is, in itself, difficult enough. Just look at how the medical profession has had to deal with homeopathy and the advent of other alternative medicines. The 'establishment' will always want to protect their vested interest and anyone wanting to challenge them will have to face the volleys of brickbats, slings and arrows that will inevitably follow. So be it, let battle commence, I am confident nothing will be able to dent or penetrate the armour-plating of a real professional. So what sorts of attributes provide such protection?

Over the coming months I will be exploring how learning professionalism is determined by:

  • Always searching for a solid basis of evidence that your methods work
  • Educating the line about the difference between training as input and learning as output
  • Aiming for all learning to be part of a learning strategy that is, itself, an integrated part of a clear HR strategy
  • Understanding what a learning system does for organisational learning and knowing how to install one
  • Sticking to a rigorous and robust diagnostic learning process
  • Knowing what the best delivery methods available are and using them intelligently
  • Aiming to find a role where your learning expertise (internally or externally) can be put to best use
  • Let us not set ourselves up to fail though, there is no suggestion here that learning professionals have to be perfect, just as no lawyer or doctor could ever be described as perfect. Those entering the field for the first time only have to declare their desire to become professional and to strive to always improve their professionalism. Even those who have been in learning for many years might have to compromise their professionalism on occasions (even doctors prescribe pills against their better judgement, if the patient is demanding enough) but true professionals will always at least be fully aware of when they are compromising their standards, advising their 'customers' accordingly, and doing everything they can to return to those standards whenever possible.

    "I wouldn't be writing this short series if I thought the CIPD (or any academic, awarding body) had ever managed to establish any meaningful, professional standards."

    What better way to get the ball rolling though than to have a 'Hippocratic' oath for the learning professional? Would you be prepared to declare such an oath?

    "I swear to always endeavour, to the best of my ability and judgment, to help organisations and individuals learn what they need to know to advance themselves and the goals of their organisation. I will not offer prescriptions without a proper diagnosis and I will always search for evidence that my methods have had the desired effect and impact.

    "I will respect any hard won lessons of those learning specialists in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

    "I will remember that there is art to learning as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh any purely scientific, cold logic or analysis. I will also remember that I can only treat individual human beings, whose ability to learn may affect their family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for those who need to learn. I will always remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings.

    "I will not be ashamed to say 'I know not', nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for an organisational or employee benefit.

    "Prevention is always preferable to cure so I will always endeavour to help employees to learn today to avoid the problems of tomorrow.

    "If I do not violate this oath, may I long enjoy life and art, and be respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of seeing people learn, especially those who have sought my help."

    I hope Hippocrates will forgive me and I welcome any suggested amendments and any other ideas that will help us all to have our chosen calling in life regarded as a true profession and taken as seriously as it deserves to be.

    Paul Kearn's oath is adapted from a modern version of the Hippocratic oath for the medical profession, written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, academic dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today. See

    Paul Kearns specialises in measuring the value of the human contribution to organisational success and teaches real evaluation around the world. He is the author of the CIPD's best selling 'Evaluating the ROI from Learning' and has campaigned for many years to raise professional standards.

    The 21st Century learning professional replaces his previous Opinion column

    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not of

    This feature was first published in May 2008


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