What makes a learner?

Essery canvasses opinion on how to identify whether an individual will be worth
the training spend – and how to encourage them to identify the new skills they

concept of learning is taking over from training. If training subscribes to the
“empty bucket” theory, where people are filled up with knowledge and
information, learning perhaps puts more focus on the individual as an active
participant in the process.

may have its place when the need is to implement something new, but other forms
of learning also contribute when we need employees to perform competently.

approach has a cost attached to it, be it training course fees or the
investment of time and effort in coaching and mentoring on the job. So how can
we tell if that investment is going to pay? To adapt an adage, you can lead a
person to learning, but you can’t make them learn. Which begs the question,
what makes a learner?

Chief executive, Campaign for Learning, and author of Power up Your
Mind: Learn Faster, Work Smarter, out this month

too long we have looked at the tools and techniques that individuals need to
make them successful learners, but we’ve missed two key areas: all that happens
before the learning and all that happens after the learning.

must be emotionally ready and motivated to learn – as well as the tools and
techniques to help them learn, they need the competence to release their own
creativity, then they need the ability to reflect on the learning and adapt
their behaviours accordingly.

we’re going to make learning work, we’ve got to be sure we have a range of
return on investment indicators that includes all these points.

Head of training and development, Warrington Borough Council

pet phrase is that a training course is a last resort. If you can develop a
competency framework that is meaningful to the workforce and people can see a
pay-off in developing core competencies, that’s likely to attract them and make
them become positive learners.

need to help individuals identify the bit that’s missing that would make them
fully competent in their role and agree individual interventions, rather than
send them on a training course when they may only need 5 per cent. The big
breakthrough in traditional appraisal is when the individual you’re encouraging
to develop says, “I think I need help in that area”.

Director of the Business Leaders’ Programme Cranfield School of

make the distinction between training and development rather than training and
learning, because learning encompasses both. The difference is to do with how
much of the person’s mindset you’re trying to engage. With training you’re
dealing mostly with knowledge and skills, but development is about much more
holistic concepts.

big distinction between executives who are successful learners and those who
are not is the fixedness of the mindset. If someone has strongly-held
attitudes, it’s not worth trying to dismantle them, and the possibility of
development is emasculated.

seeking to develop others need to know them much better than if all they want
to do is train them.

Head of learner information, UFI

experience shows there is an enormous demand for learning. The real question is
what makes a non-learner, because curiosity and a thirst for learning are
present from an early age.

down to what people learn about learning. If you’ve been successful at
learning, that breeds motivation to learn more, but if you’ve learnt that
learning is difficult and painful, you’ll view it as a risky endeavour. We then
have to switch back on that desire to learn by making sure the investment we
ask people to make is tiny in terms of time, effort and risk and by linking it
to reward.

Divisional learning and development director Whitbread Restaurants

of the things we’re thinking about a lot is that people in the past have always
learnt by rote, the way they did at school, and if you ever tested anybody’s
knowledge from school these days, you’d probably find they hadn’t retained a
huge amount.

only way you ever get people inspired to learn is if they generate the interest
themselves. If people believe in what they’re learning and feel it adds value
to their lives, they’ll be hungry for more. If training is served on a plate –
not very interesting and not just in time for what people need – you’re better
off not supplying it.

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