The Theory & Practice of Training

The Theory & Practice of Training
By Roger Buckley & Jim Caple
Kogan Page
324 pages
ISBN 0749441569
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Training in the Age of the Learner
By Martyn Sloman
ISBN 0852929919
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Reviewing these two books together highlights the deficiencies of one and the strengths of the other.

Buckley and Caple update a standard textbook in this edition, but unfortunately do little to bring training into the 21st century. The book takes a functional, systems-led approach to the subject matter reminiscent of the 1970s and ’80s (though the 1st edition was in 1990), and seems aimed at the novice. Even a novice though would be put off by its stodgy GCSE-level plod through the material.

The presentational style doesn’t help either. It is written in continuous text with the odd sub-heading – no thought seemingly given to inlays, sidebars, formatting or attention to the flow or pace for the reader.

It is comprehensive certainly, but dull. Divided into 11 chapters, it covers all the basics from job analysis to the use of handouts, and wraps itself in process flowcharts and algorithms that serve to make things less clear. Its impersonal style, high-handed exhortations about what you (the trainer/organisation) should be doing, and its thoroughly pedestrian approach would switch off all but the keenest, and lowbrow, of readers.

The systems approach so favoured here may be acceptable for technical training, but is much too cumbersome and slow-minded for today’s fast-moving markets and sophisticated, knowledge-based companies.

What a breath of fresh air then, to engage with Slomans’s book. Sloman writes in such a way as to connect with the reader, which is surely what training is about, after all. It has an upbeat, modern and inspirational approach to learning (rather than training).

Sloman takes as his new paradigm ‘perspectives in competitive advantage which are inextricably linked with the new opportunities created by information technology’.

This new learner focus is explored in relation to notions of competitive advantage and business need, and is closely allied to e-learning and the development of new approaches for the trainer that are embedded into organisational development activities. The book concludes with a look at delivering and demonstrating value.

The old model (aptly demonstrated in Buckley & Caple) is about training as being top down, systematic and delivered by the training department; the new model rightly focuses on learning, individual responsibility and trainers acting as consultants.

E-learning in Buckley & Caple is covered in one page, whereas Sloman expands and updates the concept to cover web-based, online and informal (knowledge management) approaches. Indeed, e-learning in Buckley appears to be in good company with blended learning, discretionary behaviour, the internet, competitive strategy and human capital as not appearing to exist at all.

Sloman discusses the use of models and then clusters learning theories together, rather than depending on any one particular model for his analysis. He uses pithy case studies based on his real-life experiences, and this brings a freshness and vitality to the book.

Sloman attempts and succeeds in engaging the reader, and while he can go too far in the direction of the mere anecdotal on occasions, this is a relatively minor criticism.

In a very real sense, Sloman’s book shows what the future of learning is and can be, while Buckley & Caple’s book shows – at great length – where learning was, and how it should be allowed to peacefully retire.

By Ian Foster, strategic HR adviser, Hampshire County Council

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