Learning and Development Strategies and Activities

Introduction

An organization has to have the required skills and knowledge to be able to compete with other organizations across the globe. To keep with a highly changing and complex business environment, an organization has to learn and develop appropriately. Successful employee learning and development strategy can help an organization to develop and to be a learning organization

Successful Learning and Development Strategy

The main objective of the learning and development strategy in an organization is to ensure that employees acquire the necessary skills and knowledge, and the organization has the necessary knowledge and skills base to carry out its operations. It should encourage creativity, inventiveness, and boost an organization’s knowledge base.

Learning and development in an organization should ensure that employees acquire knowledge and skills that are of value to the organization. It should not be training for the sake of training, but it should ensure that employees acquire knowledge and skills that are important to the organization. It should respond to the current and future knowledge and training needs of an organization.

Planning a successful learning and development strategy

The first step to a successful learning and development program is the assessment of learning and training needs. Training specifications should be outline only after learning and development needs are well understood. For success, training and development programs should consider the learning need of target employees.

Learning and development activities

Employee mentoring, management coaching, training by role-playing, modern apprenticeship, and case study exercises are some of the common learning and development activities in the modern organization.

Employee mentoring involves putting employees under mentorship relation with other senior employees. The main objective of employee mentorship programs is to enable the mentee to learn from the knowledge and experience of the senior employees. Mentorship relationship helps employee develop easily and be confident in their work.

Management coaching is a learning and development activity where managers act as coaches in their organizations or departments. As a coach, the role of a manager is to help employees develop their skills and improve their performance. The style promotes cooperation between the management and employees and therefore encourages learning.

Role-playing is one of the most effective approaches to learning and development. In this technique, employees learn by playing roles in a simulated situation. Modern apprenticeship has various benefits as a learning and development program in an organization. It allows prospective employees to gain experience in various sectors of an organization. It also provides an organization with adequate time to evaluate employees before getting into a long-term employment commitment.

Case study exercise is popular with training individuals in a management position. Through case study exercises, learners can explore real cases and apply gained knowledge in their decision making.

Learning Styles Models

Kolb’s and Money and Mumford’s models are the most common models for training and development. Kolb identifies four learning styles that result from two preference dimensions: perception and processing dimensions. The four learning styles are divergers, convergers, assimilators, and accommodators. Training and development are most successful are carried out with the learning style of the target learner(s).

Honey and Mumford borrowed from Kolb’s models to develop their Learning Style Questionnaire. The questionnaire helps individuals to identify their learning styles. Honey and Mumford’s learning styles are reflectors, theorists, pragmatists, and activists.

Organizations have to learn and develop to overcome competition and sail through a highly complex business environment. By training and developing its employees, an organization puts itself in a better position in the global business environment. Organization development and learning can be achieved by implementing an effective learning and development strategy.

The business environment today is very competitive. Through technological advancement, especially technological technology, and globalization have created a business opportunity, they as well contribute to the high competition. In the highly competitive business environment, the organizations that survive are those that can respond to changing customer needs. An organization has to have the required skills and knowledge to be able to compete with other organizations across the globe (Kim, 1997).

However, knowledge is increasing and becoming obsolete at a very high rate. The knowledge that an organization has today may not be of use in two years and customer needs may have changed as well. To keep with a highly changing and complex business environment, an organization has to learn and develop appropriately. The nature of the business environment today has led to ‘Organization Development’ and ‘Learning Organization’ management concepts.

Successful employee learning and development strategies are necessary for an organization to achieve organizational development and to be a learning organization. Present organizations require more skills and knowledge to remain competitive in the global business environment. Knowledge and skills acquired informal education and training are inadequate because of the changing nature of knowledge and skills need in organizations (Goldstein, 1989). An organization, therefore, has to ensure that its employees progressively acquire the necessary knowledge and skills.

Qualities of a successful Learning and Development Strategy

Learning and development strategy is a necessity in a contemporary organization that wants to remain competitive. The main objective of learning and development strategy in an organization is to ensure that employees acquire the necessary skills and knowledge, and the organization has the necessary knowledge and skills base to carry out its operations (Salaman, Storey, and Billsberry, 2005; Armstrong, 2000). Learning and development strategy implies a planned employee education and development that aims at generating new knowledge that is beneficial to both the organization and employees (Solomon, 1999). When successful, learning and development should lead to improved individual and organizational performance.

Successful learning and development strategy should encourage creativity, inventiveness, and boost an organization’s knowledge base. It should help the organization to be creative, innovative, and able to respond to changing consumer needs. Considering that success in the current business environment is dependent on knowledge, learning, and development strategy should ensure that all employees have the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills. Training and education should not be a preserve for employees in high positions but should be available to all employees that require them. Therefore, learning and development funds should be allocated strategically in a way that all sectors of the organization progress in knowledge and skills.

Learning and development in an organization should ensure that employees acquire knowledge and skills that are of value to the organization. Strategic management concept advocates for the wise allocation of resources. Therefore, learning and development should help an organization to solve its problems and meet its needs (Morey, Maybury, Thuraisingham, 2002). It should not be training for the sake of training, but it should ensure that employees acquire knowledge and skills that are important to the organization (Jennings, 2002; Cooper, 1995).

Learning and development, therefore, should be in harmony with the knowledge and training needs of an organization and the growth and development goals of its employees. It should not only respond to the current knowledge and training needs of an organization but also respond to its future needs and goals (Sisakhti, 1998). Therefore, training and development strategy should be based on the overall business strategy of an organization and should help an organization meet its goals and objectives.

Successful learning and development can be used to achieve other goals above helping employees acquire the necessary knowledge and skills. It can help promote entrepreneurship within an organization, introduce change, improve employees’ attitudes, and involve them in decision making (Kail and Cavanaugh, 2008). A learning and development strategy can also help an organization to attract and maintain resourceful employees. On top of wages, employees are concerned about their development within an organization and choose organizations that offer more learning and development opportunities.

Planning a successful learning and development strategy

To ensure that the learning and development strategy addresses the knowledge and development needs of both the organization and employees, strategic planning is required. The first step to a successful learning and development program is the assessment of learning and training needs (Glynn, et al., 1994). The training needs analysis should involve the target employees and consider the values and goals of an organization.

After learning and training needs are well understood, the specification for training and development should be outlined. Training specifications should breakdown the identified training need into manageable elements. Since people have a different learning style, a training program should consider the learning styles of target employees and implement the most appropriate (Mayo, 2004). After identifying the most appropriate learning style, a plan for training should be outlined. Finally, training should be delivered accordingly. To ensure that the learning and development program achieves its objective, effective evaluation should be included.

Learning and development activities

Employee Mentoring

Mentorship is a popular learning and development activities in modern organizations. Employee mentoring involves putting employees under mentorship relation with other senior employees. The main objective of employee mentorship programs is to enable the mentee to learn from the knowledge and experience of the senior employees (Aryee, Wyatt, and Stone, 2007.). Unlike coaching or advising, the mentee and the mentor have a personal relationship. The mentor has a personal interest in ensuring that the mentee can develop his talent and grow in his career.

Employee mentoring is an important activity for assisting employees to develop necessary skills and maintain them in an organization. Mentorship relationship helps employee develop easily and be confident in their work. Because of the expected confidentiality and trust in a mentorship relationship, mentor and mentee can evaluate development progress and make the appropriate corrective measure if needed. Considering personal relationships in a mentorship program, the mentor acts as a personal counselor to the mentee and therefore helps him overcome difficulties in his work (Hill and Stewart, 2000). Above helping junior employees develop their skills, mentorship programs help promote employee loyalty and increase employee retention.

Management Coaching

Modern organizations are shunning the command and control relationship between managers and employees. Instead, modern managers are viewed rather as leaders and coaches. Therefore, management coaching has become a common learning and development activity in competitive organizations. As a coach, the role of a manager is to help employees develop their skills and improve their performance. The manager guide rather than control and command the employees. Unlike the earlier command and control management technique, coaching creates an environment that promotes learning and independent thinking (Evers, Brouwers, and Tomic, 2006).

Instead of giving solutions, a manager-coach acts as a facilitator and therefore empowers employees to seek solutions by themselves. Like in games, a manager coach is considered as a leader and role model and has a great influence on the learning and development of the employees under him.

Management coaching is becoming a preferred style for promoting learning and development in an organization. The style promotes cooperation between the management and employees and therefore encourages learning. Communication between employees and management is the major strength of management coaching (Evers, Brouwers, and Tomic, 2006). A manager coach can understand the development needs of the employees and can respond appropriately to the needs.

Training by role-playing

Role-playing is a training and development technique where employees learn by playing roles in a simulated situation that reflects a real situation. Role-playing is one of the most effective approaches to learning and development. It allows employees to exercise skills in a low-stress situation. The employees are guided during role play and can assimilate the learned skills (Holmqvist, 2004). Employees can take various roles during role play and can be able to learn through the process. Often, evaluation follows a role play. Evaluation helps the employees to understand their strengths and weakness and can be able to improve on the weaknesses.

Training by role-playing helps achieve training objectives easily. It demystifies complex situations in the workplace and helps employees to gain artificial experience in some situations. Some of the positive outcomes of training by role-playing include helping employees gain a better understanding of their jobs, help them understand how to address a particular situation, help them anticipate reactions, and help them improve their communication skills. In essence, employees in training by role-playing learn by doing, imitating others, feedback and observation, and thorough analysis.

Modern Apprenticeship

Modern apprenticeship is a program where prospective employees gain on-job training as interns. The programs differ by industry depending on the knowledge and skills required in a particular industry. An apprenticeship program takes between two and four years and helps a prospective employee to gain various important skills in a particular industry or organization. Apprentices in an organization are assigned a supervisor who sees them through the program and ensures that they acquire the needed skills (Schuler and Jackson, 2007).

Modern apprenticeship has various benefits as a learning and development program in an organization. Apart from allowing prospective employees to gain experience in various sectors of an organization, it provides an organization with adequate time to evaluate employees before getting into a long-term employment commitment. The supervisors assigned to the apprentice guide them through the program and help them to be very resourceful to an organization. At the end of the modern apprenticeship program, apprentices can acquire the necessary skills in a particular industry together with communication and decision-making skills.

Case Study exercises

Case study exercises are a training and development technique that makes use of concrete cases to achieve training and development objectives (Harling and Akridge, 1998). It is common in training individuals in management positions (Osigweh, 1987). The approach is based upon the conviction that competence in management can be achieved by studying, discussing, and contemplating actual cases. Trainees are assigned cases that they analyze and propose solutions. The case study exercises can be in form of group discussions where participants share their opinions on a particular case.

Learning Styles Models

Kolb Learning Styles Model

Kolb’s models, Kolb’s Learning Cycle and Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory are some of the most popular learning models for adult education. The models were first published in 1984 and have been influential to training and adult education programs. Kolb’s Learning Model is based on the idea that individuals learn best in a program that is consistent with their learning styles. Kolb advises that knowing one’s learning style or learning styles of the target group makes it much easier to train and develop. Kolb identifies four learning styles that result from two preference dimensions: perception and processing dimensions (Kolb, 1984).

Under the perception dimension, there are those individuals who prefer concrete experience and those who prefer abstract conceptualization. Under the processing dimension, Kolb partitions learners into those who process information by active experimentation and those who process by reflective observation. From the preference dimensions, Kolb identifies four distinct learning styles: divergers, accommodators, convergers, and assimilators.

The figure below illustrates Kolb’s learning models:

Kolb’s learning models

As illustrated in the above figure, individuals adopt learning styles according to how they perceive and process information. Divergers constitute a combination of concrete experimentation and reflective observation. Divergers like to gather information by themselves, are interested in people, are open minded, and are good at brainstorming. The assimilation learning style combines abstract conceptualization and reflective observation.

Assimilators prefer a logical approach to training. Lectures and enough time to read reflect is the best approach for training assimilators. The third Kolb’s learning style, converging, combines abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. Convergers constitute individuals who prefer to do and reflect. Training approaches such as simulations and experimenting work well with convergers. Finally, accommodators constitute individuals with qualities of concrete experimentation and active experimentation. They are individuals who prefer to do and feel and therefore hand on experience approach should be applied with them. Accommodators learn best in groups or teams rather than as individuals (Businessballs, 2006).

Honey and Mumford’s Model (Learning Style Questionnaire)

Borrowing from Kolb’s models, Honey and Mumford developed their self-administered questionnaire to help individuals identify their learning styles. Unlike Kolb’s learning styles inventory, the Learning Style questionnaire arrives at the preferred learning through the responses to the questions in the questionnaire (Swinton, 2010). According to Honey and Mumford, their main motivation to prepare the learning Style Questionnaire was to help individuals identify their learning (Honey and Mumford, 2000). They were convinced that many people don’t know their learning styles and therefore could benefit from the questionnaire.

Honey and Mumford’s model is fundamentally similar to Kolb’s models but differs a little. Instead of ‘divergers’, ‘assimilators’, ‘convergers’ and ‘accommodators’, Honey and Mumford use the terms ‘reflector’, ‘theorists’, ‘pragmatist’, and ‘activist’, respectively (Coffield, Moseley, Hall and Ecclestone, 2004). The Learning Style Questionnaire classifies an individual into the four learning styles: reflector, theorists, pragmatist, and activist and proposes the best approach for training.

Conclusion

To survive the high competition and highly sophisticated business environment, modern organizations have no option but to learn and develop. To learn and develop, organizations must be keen on training and developing their human resources. A successful learning and development strategy can therefore help an organization to develop, meet its challenges, and gain a competitive advantage. Organizations that fail to recognize the need and importance of knowledge development are doomed for self-destruction. A successful learning and development strategy, however, should not only address the knowledge and development needs of an organization but also cater to the learning and development of individual employees.

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