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The Way I See It… Helping People Learn


The findings of the CIPD's recent report "Helping People Learn: Strategies for Moving from Training to Learning" sparked debate within the TrainingZONE community about where the traditional model of training fits in modern organisations, read article. Here Martyn Sloman, learning, training and development adviser at the CIPD defends the report's conclusions and explains why he believes trainers need to focus more on facilitating learning.

How can learning be supported, directed and accelerated towards an organisation’s business objectives?

This is the central question that has driven an extended CIPD research project – Helping People Learn. Answers to this question, will have a profound effect on the role of the future role of the human resource professional. By all means use the term ‘trainer’ if you prefer it. What matters is not the job title but the mindset.

What we, at the CIPD, believe is that both a change in perspective and in approach are needed. Traditionally trainers were taught that training is about the identification of training needs, their design and delivery, and ultimately their evaluation. This cycle, called instructional system design/development in the US or the systematic training model in the UK, has found its way into every public policy initiative on skills and countless textbooks.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this model. Training courses have a role to play and they must be subject to an effective discipline. What we argue, however, is that the systematic training model has achieved a disproportionate importance. It should not be a mantra that we recite every day as we enter the office.

What has happened in the modern economy is that learning has become more important than training as a contributor to organisational success and what people choose to learn has become more important than what they are trained to do.

Two of the fastest growing areas in developed economies are care workers and knowledge workers. These roles demonstrate how on-the-job learning, experience and exchanges with peers can help individuals develop the skills and knowledge they require.

Pause a minute before putting in an angry e-mail and ask two questions. First, how important is the taught training course to personal and professional development in these sectors?

Secondly, ask yourself "how do people learn?" This disarmingly simple question can of course only be answered by the employees themselves. Any general surveys of the workforce as a whole, however, inevitably point to a preference for ‘learn on the job through informal means’ – or some similar articulation.

Given this requirement for a new perspective what should we do? The answer is that we should be seeking to design and implement non-directive interventions which support learning that is valued by the organisation. There is good and bad news here. The good news is that the skills of the trainer will become more rather than less valued by the organisation. It is simply that they will be deployed in a new context in the workplace rather than in the training room.

The bad, or really not so good, news is that these interventions will be very specific for the organisation. What will work in a small manufacturing firm is unlikely to be transferable to an up-market retailer. This certainly makes our task at the CIPD more difficult. It would be nice to produce a list of general tips and tricks and make them available to all. What we’ve done instead is assemble a set of case studies that can be downloaded from the Helping People to Learn webste.

Our hope is that these will help to frame a new debate and to offer practical guidance.


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