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The Evolution of Learning and Development

In the last 30 years, the role of the human resource developer has changed from one of training individuals to one of facilitating learning. The perception of the employee has changed from one of a simple resource to that of a resourceful individual, who should be nurtured for the benefit of the company and society. Autonomy is encouraged as is a creative and entrepreneurial outlook. Nigel Walpole, Managing Director Bray Leino Learning explains.

The eighties and nineties saw the trend for ‘learning organisations’ where the economic benefits of a culture of learning were recognised. Staff development and training moved centre stage with increased budgets filling training rooms with ring binders of materials to keep the workforce up to date with the skills, knowledge and processes required for the organisation’s success. Learning and development was big business, spawning a whole industry of publishers, consultancies and training companies.

Thirty years ago, the training needs of employees were stored on a simple database listing the requirements of each role within an organisation. More sophisticated databases would track the validity and currency of the certificates and training materials and provide evidence of compliance but bore little resemblance to the sophisticated Learner Management Systems used today.

A modern LMS acts as a virtual learning environment; an online classroom, space for interaction and communication with tutors and peers, an e-portfolio and method of tracking, shaping and analysing the learning journeys of employees. A good LMS puts the learner in control of their own development. This kind of LMS is a typical example of disruptive technology, changing the way the HR department works. The HR manager or L and D professional works with the employee to identify areas for development and support the learner in the removal of any obstacles to their successful development, rather than allocating training materials for specific roles.

With sophisticated learner management systems come sophisticated learner analytics. The modern HR manager needs to be comfortable with data. The data provided by a company LMS not only helps in constructing the learner journey and improving success rates, it is also invaluable when it comes to measuring the ROI and ROO of the HR departments staff development activities and informing future spend. It encourages a strategic approach, essential in a climate where technological and economic change moves at such a fast pace.

The speed of development in learning technology has left many HR practitioners breathless. The nineties saw the move from ring binders to multimedia CD’s and electronic documents. Training videos became much more affordable and instead of shelves of printed files, training rooms had servers full of PDF’s.

This changed however, with the rise of web 2.0 and the accessibility and affordability of consumer technology and creative software. An HR manager may find themselves directing their own training videos, filmed on affordable kit by their own staff. L & D staff may exploit subject matter experts in house and use administrative staff to publish the resulting learning materials. There is a shift from buying in expensive resources, to a ‘do it yourself’ culture. These homemade resources are supplemented with free and low cost resources curated online.

L & D professionals used to meet with publishers selling their wares, every few months. Now they search online, curating and aggregating relevant content on a daily basis. The cost of resources has moved from the purchase price of a product to the cost in staff hours of finding or developing their own resources. Curating and creating resources in-house creates its own challenges. How do you maintain quality? How do you ensure effectiveness? How do you verify the pedigree of the content? The HR developer has had to develop financial management systems and quality monitoring systems, agile enough to keep up with developments in learning and technology.

Face to face learning is as important as ever but the trainer has moved from the front of the classroom to the back, checking and supporting learning rather than presenting content. The flipchart has been replaced with the interactive whiteboard allowing trainees to share their own resources and examples, while the trainer facilitates group work and peer assessment. This blended approach, a mix of digital and face to face learning has flipped the classroom putting a greater onus on the learner to drive the training.

So what does the future hold for HR practitioners?

Scanning the horizon, one of the biggest challenges will come from the use of mobile technology in learning and development. The benefits to learners and employers are evident as mobile learning technologies take learning out on to the shop floor, out of the training room and into the workplace. For example, instead of closing a department for training on the use of a particular piece of equipment, QR codes can be placed on the equipment in situ, so that anyone can use their smartphone to scan the code and find out what they need, there on the job. Trainers can visit their learners with a trolley full of tablets, rather than relying on an expensive IT suite. This requires a good level of digital literacy, for the trainer and the employee and an investment in the infrastructure to provide Wi-Fi throughout the organisation.

HR practitioners planning to embrace the trend towards Bring Your Own Device will have a whole new set of challenges to contend with. How will they ensure equality of access? How will they support the use of a range of different personal devices? The lack of control and the inevitable blurring of professional and personal worlds is an issue. HR practitioners will need to establish a clear set of guidelines, a robust policy if they are to avoid potential problems.

With the current pace of technological change, we live in interesting times. HR practitioners can avoid expensive mistakes in trying to keep up with developments by creating communities of practice. Learn from your peers. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Read current research on developments in the Learning and Development sector and engage with the experts and theorists. With the support of the sector you will be remain agile and find sustainable solutions for the benefit of your organisation and employees.

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