Sunday, April 27, 2014

L&D's Biggest Failing - some further thoughts

L&D’s Biggest Failing – some further thoughts

Rachel Burnham writes:  Last week Sukhvinder Pabial wrote in his blog ‘L&D’s Biggest Failing’ about the lack of clear entry points into the L&D provision and absence of a career progression path beyond this.   I want to follow up on the points raised, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t. If you haven’t yet read his blog you will find it useful to do so

Before I continue, I want to declare my interest as one of the focuses of my work is the development of L&D professionals.  I am a tutor for the Certificate in Learning & Development Practice for MOL and have been involved with this programme and its predecessor for about 14 years.  Each year I work with several groups of students who are participating in this blended learning programme.

From my contact with these L&D professionals I find that most people come into our profession through the route of becoming experienced in a particular role and then gradually getting involved in helping other people to develop the knowledge & skills required to be effective in that role, often through informal buddying and one to one instruction.   This links with the points made by Sukh about moving into L&D work because of a specialist skill or because you like & are good with people. 

Many organisations still see L&D as primarily about ‘delivery’, usually only ‘face to face’ and often very much about the imparting of knowledge in an ‘instructional style’ - that to me seems such a very long way from the much wider ‘performance consultancy role’ which is what L&D is now about, that there are days when I feel a sense of having one foot in one timeframe and one in another – as though I have stepped into the Tardis and popped out in completely another era.  And sometimes even on another planet!
In many organisations therefore to be an L&D professional requires knowledge of the role and organisation, with the skills and understanding of L&D very much relegated to a poor second.   And then those skills are often confused and limited to ‘presentation skills’ and ‘ability to use powerpoint’.  (Of course, this limited viewpoint sometimes continues into job design, with roles created that are all about delivery and with all other aspects of L&D squeezed into the time before the start or after the end of continuous workshops.)

Many L&D professionals work initially in either delivery of training or as administrators, often without any substantial development, which can stretch into years.  This means that their organisations miss out on the benefits of a more impactful L&D during this time.

Where I disagree substantially with Sukh Pabial’s article, is about the absence of any vocational qualification for L&D.  There is and it is the CIPD’s Certificate in L&D Practice.  Done well, this provides an excellent foundation in modern L&D practice, which looks at alignment to business needs, provides an introduction to the application of relevant learning theories, introduces a wide range of learning methods (from work-based learning through uses of social media to more traditional approaches such as coaching and face to face workshops) and covers the basics of LNA, evaluation and delivery.  It has a practical skills based approach and unlike its predecessor, CTP, it is possible to devise assessments which more closely replicate the sort of tasks that L&D professionals are required to perform in the workplace, rather than academic style reports.

Is it a perfect qualification? No – of course there is room for improvement.  For example, it is hard in such a fast moving field such as ours, for the underlying curriculum to stay completely up-to-date and that is certainly a criticism that could be levelled at CLDP.   Does it give the right balance between all the various topics that could be included in a foundation qualification and in particular between academic rigour and practical skills development?   That could generate another whole debate in its own right.   

A wider issue is that of locating L&D as an integral part of HR, which is the basis of all the CIPD based qualifications.  I personally find it useful to be aware of the wider role of HR, but many in L&D find that this assumption of being a part of HR, just does not fit with their reality.  Whether this is because their role as an L&D specialist or trainer is operationally quite separate within their organisation from HR and never the twain shall meet. Or even because their L&D/training role is part of a  external training or education provision or is part of a customer-facing offering providing training to support the products/services offered by the organisation.  It would be helpful if the qualifications offered recognised this range within our professional field.

When it comes to progression within the L&D field, I think the next steps beyond a foundation qualification are muddled.   The CIPD professional path brings you much more into a management role, whereas many in L&D want to develop their expertise as practitioners.  And there is such a lot of scope within L&D for expert practitioners.  This needs much greater emphasis on the development of skills and application of current thinking on learning and how to impact performance, than is currently acknowledged with the CIPD qualifications framework.  Whilst other qualifications are available, it is crazy-paving at best.

We need a better approach.  L&D needs a better approach.

I offer these thoughts as a further contribution to the debate and look forward to hearing your ideas in relation to them.

Rachel Burnham
27 April 2014

Burnham L & D Consultancy specialises in the development of L&D professionals, blended learning and evaluation

Follow me on Twitter @BurnhamLandD

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