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Learning and Development. L&D. CHAPTER 4 Understanding learning and the learners. THE PURPOSE OF THE CHAPTER

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Learning and Development



Understanding learning and the learners

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To explore the variety of ways in which the learning process can be understood in order to identify implications of that for individuals, for L&D practitioners, and for their organisations.


  • The age of the trainer

  • The age of the learner

  • The age of the universal knowledge worker?

  • Advances in learning technology

  • Shift, or no shift?

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The age of the trainer:

LEARNING AS CONDITIONING (late 19th to early 20th century)

Individual action is driven by behaviours that can be scientifically studied and trained.

  • Focused on: psychological processes of drive, stimulation, response and reinforcement

  • Underpinned by: positivist/behaviourist learning theories

  • Heavily influenced by: developments in early experimental psychology

  • Some key researchers: Thorndike (1913), Watson (1913), Pavlov (1927), Skinner (1953)

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The age of the trainer:


The meanings that individuals attach to their experiences influence their behaviours. Learning is achieved through the operation of internal channels of information and feedback involving perception, memory and experience.

  • Focused on: cognitive structures or schemas that enable individuals to understand events and situations, and to interpret and respond to their environments

  • Underpinned by: traditional cognitivist/positivist learning theories

  • Heavily influenced by: developments in artificial intelligence and computer science, and in the cognitive sciences of psychology, anthropology and linguistics

  • Some key researchers: Simon (1945), Piaget (1950), Broadbent (1958), Neisser (1967)

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The age of the learner:

LEARNING AS A SOCIAL PROCESS (mid-20th century to date)

Individuals construct their learning through a social process.

  • Focused on: social relationships and processes that influence the individual’s values, beliefs and perceptions of their environment

  • Underpinned by: constructivist/humanist learning theories

  • Heavily influenced by: developments in the psychology and sociology of adult learning

  • Some key researchers: Piaget (1950), Kelly (1955), Bateson (1973), Knowles (1973), Vygotsky (1978), Lave and Wenger (1991), Sternberg (1994)

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  • 1 Frame the research question

  • 2 Find sources of information

  • 3 Assess the accuracy of the information

  • Assess the relevance of the information to organisational context

  • 5 Assess the feasibility of the information given organisational context

  • Determine whether available information is adequate for sound decision-making

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The Kam Mund case: wider context

2004 Gershon Review of government efficiency leads to extensive central government restructuring.

Radical culture change at the DWP to underpine restructuring of its HR function into service centres and business partners supporting 50,000 line managers in carrying more HR responsibilities. DWP to reduce its staff by 30%, particularly in HR.

E-based learning programmes for HR business partners and line managers to ensure a more self-managed approach to using HR services.

Failure of many of DWP’s 1,500 training officers to understand what SML involves leads to prioritisation of their development.

Design of a DWP-wide programme of integrated self-managed learning, coaching and e-learning in order to turn training officers into L&D professional change agents.

2005 DWP announces that by 2006 all training officer posts to be replaced by 800 new L&D professional posts

February: Start of a pilot self-managed learning programme for 12 DWP training officers. Six months later, web-based learning comes on stream. Pilot later extended to further 100 TOs.

2006 April: Conference for 260 L&D professionals on their new role.

After the conference: Suite of learning interventions placed online for each of the 280 capabilities involved in the new L&D roles.

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The age of the universal knowledge worker:


Knowing is the ability to interact with things and other people in a situation, and learning is an improvement in that ability (Greeno et al, 1993).

  • Focused on:relational and emotional as well as rational processes that are influenced by social as well as psychological factors

  • Underpinned by: later constructivist/humanist learning theories

  • Heavily influenced by: developments in socio-cognitive and strategic management research and in the knowledge management field

  • Some key researchers and authors: Polanyi (1966), Kolb et al (1974), Argyris and Schon (1978), Huff (1982), Prahalad and Bettis (1986), Zuboff (1988), Porac et al (1989), Nonaka (1991), von Krogh, Roos and Slocum (1994).

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  • Raise awareness across the organisation of the need for a learning culture that promotes knowledge productivity.

  • Identify and advise on barriers to the development of such a culture and how they can be tackled.

  • Help to develop social capital through expanding learning capacity within small groups in the workplace, and through contributing to policies and practices that build organisational commitment, trust, and engagement amongst employees.

  • Develop the competence and motivation of leaders, managers and team leaders to promote learning that leads to knowledge creation in the workplace.

  • Focus L&D resources not just on ‘key’ personnel but also on all the organisation’s employees, especially those at the lower skilled levels who may receive little support from managers in their learning and development.

  • Harness new ICTs to the knowledge process.

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From training to learning?


  • On-the-job training still widely popular (43 per cent)

  • In-house programmes rated highest (55 per cent)

  • Coaching came second (53 per cent) – perceived as the ‘shining star of the portfolio’

  • 62 per cent of respondents trying to develop an L&D culture

  • Evidence of some increased involvement of employees in determining the organisation’s L&D needs

  • Management development approaches were placing greater emphasis on learning through projects, and with and from peers.

  • Most significant new practice – growth in new programmes to develop the role of line managers

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From training to learning – no shift?


  • Coaching carried out mainly by line managers coaching those reporting to them, mainly for remedial purposes

  • 25 per cent of respondents said that coaching was not linked to L&D strategy in their organisations but was a stand-alone process

  • Only 12 per cent of respondents found coaching ‘very effective’

  • No real evidence of a major shift from training to learning, or of significant application of constructivist learning theories to training and learning design

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Shift or no shift?


  • 79 per cent said that their employers provided them with enough training opportunities. Very few declined training.

  • 82 per cent received some form of training in the previous year.

  • 92 per cent of those who received training believed it was successful.

  • The most common forms of training received:

  • Training held in a meeting room or classroom, followed by on-the-job training

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(CIPD 2008 Who Learns at Work? survey)

  • The role of the line manager is increasing in importance as responsibility is devolved from the HR/training department.

  • Inequality of learning provision continues, particularly in smaller organisations.

  • There are no important differences in attitudes to learning by age. Younger workers have the same preferences as older workers.

  • 69 per cent of respondents used a computer and were mainly self-taught.

  • Although formal training was the most common form of organised learning, by far the majority of respondents thought learning on the job the best method.

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No shift yet . . .

(CIPD 2008 Who Learns at Work? survey)

Most preferred method of learning

46% Be shown how to do things and then to practise

18% One-to-one coaching

15% In a meeting room or classroom

13% From colleagues

8% Other

Least preferred method of learning

25% From books and articles

21% Via the Internet

19% In a meeting room or classroom

15% Watching videos

14% Correspondence courses

7% Other

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Baroness Sear, 1985:

What people need above all else is the ability and the will to learn and the conviction that it can be done. No one can say precisely what demands will dominate the labour market over the next 20 years. But if people can be given the confidence that they can learn what is needed, then the uncertainty of future demands loses much of its menace. The ability to learn and the flexibility it makes possible must be the key to future success.

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