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Deciding on the best learning and development approach
The way that a particular staff development programme is to be undertaken may be best specified by a solutions expert who has been briefed on the requirement. That said a background awareness that there are different influencers on methodology and a summary of the different types of methodology is worth investigating. This will provide a commissioning manager with some insight into what is being presented in an application and enable that manager to make a more informed decision.

A key influencer in deciding on a methodology will be what is to be learnt by the participants. Are we talking knowledge principles or practice skills?

  • Principles; declarative knowledge, which is knowledge about something
    Your manager was taught about the importance of absence management during an induction programme and on a recent management short course
  • Practices; procedural knowledge which is knowing how to do something
    Your manager has been on a course to learn and practice practical skills in how to deal with latecomers

The different methodologies used to conduct a learning and development activity or event fall into two discrete types for which different people will have different terms. My terms are:
  • Structured
  • Unstructured

Structured / Guided / Constructed / Directed
Structured learning is where there is an explicit framework of organisational/individual need, learning objectives and resource allocation (time and money). Structured learning may be:
  • Formal (Academic)
    Instruction developed and presented with the explicit and primary purpose of gaining a qualification or certification
  • Non Formal (Occupational)
    Instruction developed and presented with the explicit and primary purpose of gaining work related knowledge or skills

A manager may wish to develop their knowledge and skills to become a better manager. Undertaking a level 5 BTEC qualification in Management is a Formal Structured process. Having the company provide a non accredited year long management development programme is a Non Formal Structured process. Both may provide very similar learning however, how the former curriculum relates to the occupational need of a participant is incidental.

An area that is growing in popularity is Technology Supported Learning. This is where explicit knowledge matter is transferred electronically. This method provides for both:
  • real time, synchronous interaction between participants and practitioners and between participants regardless of geographic location and
  • remote engagement with learning materials without interaction with other participants or even practitioners.

Examples of these types of methodology are:
  • online learning in the form of webinars, podcasts, virtual conferences
  • Computer Based Training in the form of instructional DVDs
  • mobile learning in the form of Apps

Technology supported learning is well suited to the delivery of knowledge principles. What is less certain is how far participants can develop complex practice skills.

A methodology that is declining in popularity is Distance/Correspondence. This is where explicit knowledge materials are transferred physically. The flow of instruction, response and feedback is generally asynchronous reducing the ability to explore concepts through dialogue. That said there are a number of academic institutions that run Under and Post Graduate qualification for part time students where this type of methodology is still used.

Face to Face learning and development remains very popular. Events are generally predetermined work related activities in the physical presence of a practitioner and other participants. Environments include workshops, presentations seminars and extended courses.

Face to face learning and development has many benefits but also a number of limitations. Face to face tends to be quite expensive both from the cost of a practitioner and hosting the environment. There is also the amount of time staff are away from their work. Bite size courses (lunch and learn) may reduce staff opportunity costs but are generally not that much cheaper than a full days training. The biggest benefit of face to face training is the real time interaction between practitioner and participants particularly when exploring values, beliefs, skills and behaviour changes.

As learning and development practitioners gain greater understanding of the benefits and limitations of various methodologies, the combining of different methods will grow. This is commonly called a blended approach. Examples may include workshops with online reference where the ‘delivery’ of the knowledge is via downloads from an internet site but exploration of the value, impact and practice to do with the knowledge is undertaken within the workshop.

Unstructured / Organic / Evolved / Self directed
There is an increasing acknowledgement within some of the more forward thinking learning and development community that what is often called Informal Learning is growing in importance. This is likely to be driven by the huge availability of knowledge at the click of a mouse and the relative inexpensive nature of gaining access to knowledge material.

Informal Learning lends itself to Technology Supported Learning where knowledge matter is implicitly and explicitly transferred electronically through games, wikis, general web site and social media (LinkedIn groups).

Face to face informal learning appears to still have a place in staff development through the encouragement of recreational activity in the physical presence of other people.

The main aspect of informal learning is that it is self directed and as such may not explicitly fit within the same development framework as the more structure approach to learning. Within a structured approach, the evaluation of an activity is (should be) explicit. In a non structure approach, evaluation is less likely as there is no specific directive for the learning and therefore the success of an activity to meet any particular individual or organisational objective may be less clear. Another concern that I have spotted on various social media regarding self directed learning is completion rates. Many a course is started but few individuals persist to the end. I cite myself within this category on more than one occasion.

A commissioning manager must decide; based on the requirements definition and the objectives, which type of learning and development activity might be most appropriate. I hear of far too many organisations turning to cheaper options, citing financial constraints, despite acknowledging that the chosen methodology is less than appropriate and unlikely to work. To me this seems like a dereliction in the duty of care to both individual needs and organisational objectives.

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Peter Mayes

Peter Mayes.

Peter Mayes is the founder and editor of TrainerBase; dedicated to helping business and other organisations find trainers and trainers find business.

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