Professional Training and Development in Context
A simple way of thinking about professional training and development in the workplace is in support of formal learning, while some ‘learning to learn’ skills may also help with informal learning which happens in normal daily life. Developing knowledge in an organisation requires formal and informal learning approaches to be integrated because neither will enable knowledge to be acquired if it is the only approach taken. Therefore, the first conclusion is that formal corporate training and development should consider informal learning as both a predecessor to and successor of any formal intervention.
Formal learning activities have the goal and process of learning defined by the organisation. Also, it occurs in the work context to develop peoples’ skills and knowledge through a structured programme of lectures, discussions, simulations, role plays and other instructional activities. The training is planned and directed by a professional trainer, which might seem a good thing, but a key criticism of this formality is that it occurs outside the context of daily practice.
Informal learning is the most prevalent form of workplace learning, integrated with daily work routines, triggered by an internal or external stimulus, maybe unconsciously, and can be both haphazard and influenced by chance. More strictly, it is an inductive process of reflection and action linked to learning with others.
Formal professional training and development
Another important factor in professional training is that it applies to an adult audience. However, the literature is not complete or consistent in defining good practice.
A partial list includes:
- Sensory stimulation theory
- Reinforcement theory
- Cognitive-Gestalt approaches
- Holistic learning theory
- Facilitation theory
- Experiential learning
- Action learning
- Adult learning (Andragogy)
Current practice in much professional training and development draws on many of these areas. For example, facilitation theory underpins much of the corporate training in developed economies by proposing that learning occurs through the trainer acting as a facilitator, establishing an atmosphere in which learners feel comfortable considering new ideas, recognising there is often resistance to changing currently held ideas, assumptions and preferences. Reinforcement theory supports the common practice of awarding certificates of completion. The evidence base for learning styles is not solid, but most professional training involves a mixture of activities that address preferences for learning based on Kolb’s research findings that adults learn in four ways through:
- observation and reflection
- abstract conceptualisation
- active experimentation
This post doesn’t have the space to discuss the ideas around learners emotional responses, but the influence of external factors on learners emotional states is important and their experiences will shape their openness or hostility to different learning activities. For example, while some people enjoy role plays, others find them incredibly stressful and disturbing.
Some of the research in the field is low quality, so there is more work to do. However, reputable sources do exist and they offer some guidelines that can be applied. Consequently, we use these in designing and developing CBMSc training services.
For example, there are five key principles for adult training that say it should be:
- immediately useful
Knowles has done most in recent years to highlight the importance of understanding how adult learning differs from approaches for children. His ideas support the five principles above by suggesting that adults:
- Bring a lot of experience that trainers can use as a resource.
- Expect to influence what they learn, how they are educated, and how they will be evaluated.
- Respond to active participation, which should be included in the design and delivery of education.
- Need to be able to see applications for new learning.
- Need their responses to be acted upon when asked for feedback.
There is more to learn about the most effective methods for professional training and development. However, for now, some key points to consider are:
- Formal training and development is only ever a brief interruption to a constant process of informal learning and try to integrate with this.
- There should be a clear goal and process
- Trainers should act as facilitators more than teachers
- Development should contain a mix of approaches leading to relevant, practical and actionable results
- Treat everyone with respect
And finally, the main omission from the literature, from our perspective, is the importance of evidence-based content. There have been some promising initiatives in the airline industry which seems to be taking a lead in upgrading their training to be more evidence-based, and the CIPD is also showing leadership in this area. We need more safety-critical industries to follow the air transport industry lead, as well as other professional institutions to emulate CIPD.