When formal learning does the job

The new learning architect

Throughout 2011 we will be publishing extracts from The New Learning Architect. We move on to the second part of chapter 7:

The structure inherent in formal education, training and development provides advantages for employers and employees alike

  • Because the curriculum is formally laid out in advance, employers can have greater confidence that important content has been covered consistently.
  • Because a formalised intervention has a clear beginning and end, employers can more easily track who has had what training and when.
  • Because of the assessment process, employers can have greater confidence that learning objectives have actually been achieved.
  • Because professional facilitators are leading the intervention, employees can have greater confidence in the quality of the tuition they are likely to receive.
  • Because content is sourced from subject experts and assembled by professionals, employees are more likely to have access to high quality materials.
  • Because the intervention has a recognised outcome, even if that is just a formal completion, employees have the opportunity to gain a certification/qualification that may be valuable in their careers.

Of course, few of these advantages can be guaranteed; a great deal depends on the skill with which the intervention is targeted, designed and delivered. However, it is easy to see why employers and employees are likely to have more confidence in a formalised intervention than any less formal alternative, particularly when the stakes are high:

  • When an employer needs to be able to demonstrate compliance to an external regulator.
  • When a high degree of proficiency is absolutely vital to avoid the chance of an expensive error, damage to an employer’s reputation, or risk to health and safety. Quite clearly we cannot rely on informal learning processes to provide the skills needed by airline pilots, surgeons or structural engineers. These may be exceptional cases, but there are elements in most jobs where proficiency cannot be left to chance.
  • When an employee is a complete novice and depends on a structured approach to their initial training.
  • When the attainment of a qualification can make a big difference to an employee’s career progression.

However strong the lobby for more informal approaches to workplace learning, it is hard to see how we could do without formal learning altogether. The problem is not with the concept of formal learning; it is with the assumption, often held by l&d professionals, their internal ‘clients’ and learners themselves, that every learning and development requirement is best addressed by a course. As they say, when you’ve got a hammer in your hand, every problem looks like a nail.

Coming next in chapter 7When formal learning is less appropriate

Return to Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6

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About Clive Shepherd

Clive Shepherd has written 240 post in this blog.

Clive is a consultant specialising in the application of technology to learning and business communications. He was previously Director of Training and Creative Services for a multinational corporation and co-founder of a major multimedia development company. For four years he was chair of the eLearning Network.

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