Barry Sampson

"Only about 20% of learning comes from formal training interventions, and the rest happens through informal learning" Sampson

In 2006 Charles Jennings, Global Head of Learning at Reuters, talked about the ‘conspiracy of convenience’ that exists between managers and training departments. Barry Sampson, Learning Support Manager, B&Q discusses what he meant…

The basic premise of [the ‘conspiracy of convenience’] is that the manager spots a problem, the training department provides a solution and the employees are then subject to that training intervention, often in sheep dip fashion. Both parties then pat themselves on the back secure in the knowledge that they’ve fulfilled their roles for another week.  It would be funny, if it wasn’t so accurate.

At this point you may be wondering if the department you work in falls into this category. If you’re not sure, just ask yourself how your organisation measures the success of its training. If your answer includes one or all of the following; the number of people trained, the number of training events run, or the scores learners achieve in post event assessments, you may be part of the conspiracy.

Traditional training departments are an industrial enterprise, a factory churning out courses to be consumed. They are easy to spot. When faced with a business issue to solve, they will very quickly decide on the method of delivery, be that a workshop, a piece of elearning or any other intervention. They will then produce that solution, deliver it and measure the amount of activity. There may be an attempt to find a linked business measure.

The modern learning and development department sets out to improve performance. It doesn’t need to retrospectively identify success measures for its outputs, because the result it’s designed to deliver is the measure. Once the performance improvement is identified work can begin on the content, and at this stage it isn’t necessary to identify the method of delivery, because the focus should be on what is going to be delivered rather than how.

It has also been said that only about 20% of learning comes from formal training interventions, and the rest happens through informal learning. Does that mean that L&D has no part to play in that other 80% of learning? Definitely not, in fact this is the area where they can make the most difference, but it does require a shift in thinking from ‘delivering training’ to ‘supporting learning.’

The key is to provide multiple delivery methods that give the same effective outcomes. Should it make any difference to us how the learner learns, as long as the transfer of learning is effective and that learning is then applied in a way that improves organisational performance? I think not. There are many benefits to having multiple delivery methods.

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It’s better for learners. It allows learners to access the content in the way that is most appropriate to them at the time. This may relate to preference; e.g. the learner chooses self-directed paper based material because they would like to work through it, reflect on it and return to it. It may relate to convenience; e.g. the learner chooses audio because they are about to take a train journey and can listen on their iPod.

It’s better for the organisation. It provides the flexibility to deliver the content in a way that is appropriate to the circumstances. For example, at a time of increased recruitment it may make sense to deliver the content as a group session, whereas in times of more stability, allowing individuals to work through the same content delivered as a piece of elearning may be more appropriate.

A key element in a supported learning environment is the support provided by workplace colleagues. To a degree this can be formalised by providing learners with buddies or mentors, something that is particularly helpful if the learner is new to the organisation, team or role and requires some level of orientation. Where appropriate, the role of the buddy may include direct support and training. This is sometimes disparagingly referred to as ‘sitting next to Nelly’, usually by the inhabitants of those old style training departments who believe that learning is a serious business best left to those who know about training rather than those who know how to do the job at hand. If Nelly knows how to do the job correctly, and is fully able to share her knowledge with others, then the best place for the learner is sat right next to her.

We shouldn’t throw away the old model completely. There remains that 20% or so of learning which still needs to be delivered using more formal methods, but it has a greater chance of success if we use it only where it is appropriate to do so.

So, will you be heading back to the factory floor and looking forward to that next pat on the back, or will you be looking for real opportunities to increase organisational performance?