Developing a Learning Strategy

learningIan was asked by the CIPD to host a presentation on developing a ‘training’ strategy.  Ian’s reaction as you can imagine was extremely positive towards being asked once again to support the CIPD in helping to develop the up and coming learning community.  In accepting the challenge he also made the point that the session needed to focus on the idea of developing a ‘learning’ strategy rather than a training strategy. In Ian’s view – and for those of us who concur with the SML position in relation to organisational development – ‘learning’ is strategic whilst ‘training’ is tactical. The CIPD agreed with the proposed change. 240 people attended the ‘double’ seminar, which was hosted by Frances Edmonds, the TV presenter.  Kevan Hall – Managing Director of Global Integration, (an international training solutions provider) also presented on the subject of cross-cultural differences and translating ‘e’ learning solutions.

Ian began the seminar with a challenge to the group that there may not be a skills shortage in the UK.  He suggested that it was possible that the problem may be the way we choose to address learning in organisations that creates the gap.

Using the example of the traditional trainers tool: the ‘TNA’ or training needs analysis, what we were doing was perpetuating the inevitable perception of a skills gap, because training delivers an answer in one way, suitable only if you are able to respond to that particular type of intervention and the prescribed objectives. Ian summarised this section that as developers we need to start thinking in terms of a ‘learning needs analysis’, as this is the broader, more strategic approach that will give the organisation as well as the individual a real chance to develop in line with the organisation strategy.

Ian developed this theme by asking the participants to consider that if there was a new imperative that went beyond all of the tired dogma of the initiatives of the previous two decades then it was almost certainly the need for us to develop social capital. Because we have to work with others in project teams, functional teams, work teams and quality teams then we should be working hard to develop our skills to learn from each other and support the learning of others. ‘Trainers’ who are often used to providing lists of training courses for all employees and very little else were likely to find this challenging and undoubtedly uncomfortable.

Developing a learning strategy is a critical part of building an organisations business strategy and is not as simple as identifying a series of training courses or initiatives. It is an inclusive and strategic activity as is corporate and strategic planning.

Ian asked me to join him on the seminar to add business examples of learning strategies. I was delighted to be asked to join Ian and talk about this. I firmly believe that one of the most important things that an organisation can do, is openly articulate its plans for learning. This simple act will often give ‘permission’ to employees to engage in learning as it emphasises the important part that learning plays in all of our roles.

This can then fail in organisations when we neither do anything further about creating the environment that is appropriate for learning, or when we introduce a series of inappropriate learning activities (usually initiatives) that don’t recognise the different needs of employees.

My own experience of developing learning strategies and using SML as the vehicle to put this in place meant that I was able to describe work that I had been involved in with three very different organisations – PPP healthcare, LucasVarity and the Macfarlane Group. These organisations were all at different stages in the development cycle.  For this reason the need to find a solution that was flexible and consciously attempted to address the needs of the organisation from a strategic point of view as well as from an individual perspective was important.  I stressed the value of using SML as an effective basis for developing a learning strategy because the onus for learning is put firmly in the hands of the individual.

My summary was that the benefits you might expect from a Self Managed Learning intervention are comparable to those you might expect from a well-constructed learning strategy.

Following the seminar Ian and I discussed how we felt that this seminar had gone. We were asked a lot of questions about the mechanics of SML but very little about the need to develop a learning strategy. Our observation on the group was that they appeared switched on, young and enthusiastic, but the interaction showed that to a certain extent, their ability to relate to the more complex agenda of developing a learning strategy was limited.  This may have been in part due to experience, but perhaps also due to the need we constantly have in organisations to provide easy solutions.  Whilst many of the group were clearly ‘turned on’ by SML, their enthusiasm was almost certainly because they had just been introduced to a new toy.  The Centre has its work cut out to help the younger generation of the development community to understand the true value of this approach.  If only we’d had the booklets printed!!

Rob Shorrick – HRD 2001, 3-5 April