Learners can help themselves

Having completed our research – ‘From Training to Learning’ – the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is now considering the practical implications.

What is the changing role of the trainer in a world where the focus is more on the learner than ever before? What skills do trainers now need, and what support would they find useful in their role?

I believe that training professionals have a unique opportunity to reshape our role and assume greater importance within our organisations, based on what we have learned from the ‘Training to Learning’ project.

We have argued that a shift is taking place – from training, which is a top-down intervention initiated by the organisation, to learning, which is an ongoing process that lies in the individual’s domain. Only learners can learn, and the way they learn is changing. And informal learning has become more important.

Individual learning

But that does not mean the end of traditional off-the-job training courses. There are many occasions when this will still be the best way of developing individual learning that promotes the organisation’s objectives. These courses offer protected time for learning; they bring people together to learn from others and share experiences. They can provide occasions for skills practice and feedback in a non-threatening environment, and they can also be a signal from the organisation that a subject or topic is of importance.

But our research shows that the range of trainer interventions and activities extends far beyond the design and delivery of the training course.
There has been a huge rise in coaching, for example, in ways of promoting peer group learning, and action learning is undergoing a resurgence. Generally, there has been a move towards non-directive forms of intervention – a shift from instruction, to the facilitation of the learning process.


Over the coming months, I will be looking at the issues surrounding non-directive interventions and the challenges involved in making them work in practice. I will be drawing on the 26 case studies on our website, and a lot can be learned from these examples. But we can also draw an important lesson from the one that we failed to complete.

At the 2004 Human Resource Development (HRD) Conference, we asked for examples of interventions and activities being implemented to support learning in organisations.

One excellent response came from a head of training in a medium-sized company, who outlined his learning strategy. It was clearly expressed, and considered all the major aspects of implementation. There were procedures to deal with non-compliant line managers – those at the critical interface who were reluctant or unwilling to play their part in promoting individual learning – and mechanisms to monitor and measure the effectiveness of the various elements – it was a great example of modern best practice.

The case study was written up and returned for clearance by the organisation, prior to publication on the website. But it was at this point that we ran into a problem. The head of training informed us that he couldn’t get clearance, since “no-one else in the organisation knew anything about it”. He had produced a learning strategy that required widespread commitment for implementation, in total isolation.


The moral is straightforward; technical excellence is not enough. Today’s training and learning professional can only achieve their objectives by undertaking an ever-widening portfolio of activities that will be delivered by a range of intermediaries. What matters is where the training and learning professional directs their energy.

At the heart of the changing role of the trainer project is a belief that a new framework is required against which training interventions should be judged.

Twenty years ago, things were simple. You functioned as a trainer by ‘identifying, developing, delivering and evaluating’ training needs. But a new expression of our role is now needed. Based on our research, one suggestion might be: ‘Supporting, accelerating and directing learning interventions that are appropriate to the learner, the needs and the context’. Now there’s a challenge for the 21st century!

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