The vision: 6. Learning and development that is powerful

In the first post in this series, I expressed a vision for learning and development that is aligned, economical, scalable, flexible, engaging and, above all, powerful in terms of the results it achieves. In this post, I look at the argument for l&d to be powerful.

Clearly, learning interventions are of little or no value to an organisation if they don’t have a positive impact on key performance indicators. There is a clear link here with alignment. For learning interventions to be powerful, they have first to be aligned to the organisation’s current and future needs.

Organisations are not, of course, the only stakeholders in workplace learning, even if they pay the bill. Learning is first and foremost an investment in the learner, the employee. It can also be regarded as an investment by the learner, who must be engaged if learning is to take place at all. A learning activity is powerful for a learner if it helps them to achieve mastery in their particular area of work and to build their confidence so that they find work more fulfilling and enjoyable.

So, what causes one learning intervention to be more powerful than another? Well, we have already established that the process has to start with alignment to the organisation’s and the learners’ requirements, something that will not happen by magic or guesswork. The only way to assess requirements is to consult with all the relevant stakeholders and that’s a time-consuming process.

An intervention also needs to teach the right things. This might seem obvious, but it is perfectly possible for an intervention to do a very effective job of developing the wrong knowledge and skills. For example, let’s say an organisation wants to increase turnover by adopting a new sales process. They could run a wonderful course which transfers efficiently back to the job. But if the process itself is flawed, then the net result may be lower sales not higher.

Thirdly, the intervention needs to be designed and delivered effectively. The research tells us that effective learning is largely down to choosing the right strategies and methods, and then implementing them well. Media choices, such as whether a particular activity or resource is delivered face-to-face or online, are certainly going to have an impact on flexibility, cost and time-efficiency, but will not usually determine whether or not the learning outcomes are achieved (see The No Significant Difference Phenomenon).

Lastly, the power of an intervention will very often depend on the commitment of learners’ managers. Newstrom and Broad found that the positive involvement of managers before and after an intervention was more likely to influence the end result than any actions by trainers and by learners themselves.

Coming next:
Strategies for transformation 1: from generic to tailored
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