The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is calling on L&D professionals to move away from what it sees as an over reliance on tried and tested methods of understanding learning and look to newer insights into learning from the sciences.
Following on from its 2012 L&D Survey earlier in the year, the institute commissioned a report that explores some of the current perspectives and practices of L&D teams – what it calls a steady state perspective – and also some of the emerging perspectives on how we learn – what it calls ready state.
The report – From steady state to ready state: a need for fresh thinking in learning and talent development? – makes for fascinating reading and challenges some of the current thinking learning professionals rely on in their day-to-day practice. It also provides insight into what the CIPD sees as emerging areas of interest in L&D.
Report authors, the CIPD’s John McGurk and Surrey University’s Professor Eugene Sadler-Smith, say that sticking with the status quo will only serve to undermine L&D professionals:
The CIPD’s 2012 Learning and Talent Development (L&TD) survey indicated that there may be an over-reliance on tried-and-tested models of analysis and diagnosis at the expense of developing awareness and use of newer cognitive models and behavioural sciences. We suggest that a reliance on ‘steady state’ rather than moving with curiosity and discrimination into a ‘ready state’ will undermine the impact of L&TD professionals.
The report unpicks some steady state perspectives on learning used by L&D professionals (as highlighted by respondents to its L&D Survey) such as the systematic approach (plan, do, check), Belbin team roles and the Honey and Mumford learning styles questionnaire (LSQ) .
The authors say all three models endure in practice for a variety of reasons: they are all formidable brands; they all encourage people to think in a particular way which is hard to ‘unlearn’; and people and organisations are used to them and like them – whether or not they are aware of their validity and reliability.
But they caution that emerging insights from neuroscience and cognitive research question the value of these models. The authors ask readers if they could be doing better.
In the age of Google, the report says, L&D professionals need to be up to speed on current thinking as their credibility could be drawn into question.
Being in the ‘Age of Google’, where information is increasingly abundant, networked and available, means people need to relate that information to their context, and thus make sense of it. So, if the expertise L&TD lay claim to is often also freely available, bringing its credibility into question, at the least we need to be aware of some of the new and current ideas which are being fed and popularised across these social and other networks.
The ready state perspectives the authors recommend include putting the brain at the centre of learning and understanding how we learn.
Cognitive science is another area for focus as the nature of human reasoning and logic is a major factor in how we learn. The authors draw on the work of Daniel Kahneman (2011), author of Thinking Fast and Slow and on research into the state of Flow by Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi as well as research into memory to showcase the type of thinking that is useful for L&D.
The authors also look at age and learning, smart drugs and performance and exercise and learning – three further areas that L&D professionals should be staring to understand.
McGurk and Sadler-Smith make three recommendations:
1 Be mindful about models and methods
All models and methods of learning analysis, including those which are universally used, have to be re-appraised and re-thought. They may give us insight for a certain context but will not fit all situations. Thinking mindfully about our objectives and desired outcomes will ensure we use these models and diagnostics, not just because they are available and we know how to use them, but because they are right for the situation and fit for purpose.
2 Put the brain and mind at the centre of learning
Understanding more about how the brain works, even at a ‘shallow clever’ level, means understanding more about how people think and react, adding richness and depth to learning insights. Knowing about issues such as myelination and deep practice as well as the concepts of brain plasticity gives a clearer connection into how the brain propels our learning.
3 Get ‘clever but shallow’ about insight
Refreshing our insight bank is vital to our ability to build the bandwidth needed to develop relevant and powerful L&TD interventions and become insight traders. There is a galaxy of research, comment and capability out there which practitioners can tap into. It’s often available at the click of a mouse or across a Skype connection, though discerning its value and relevance is an increasingly important skill. Part of the role as reflexive and effective practitioners is to build in time to refresh knowledge and understanding and develop insights about what new knowledge can bring practice.
The report authors aim to stimulate debate around emergent thinking and research around how we learn and at the same time question the thinking L&D has relied on for many years.
“We use what we know and trust, but sometimes this can lead us to become conservative and hamper innovation. Is there a new inflection point, where there is a need to actively unlearn some current practice to allow the integration of the new?”
The report authors say now is the time to challenge current thinking.
We [the CIPD]think it’s necessary and timely given the amplified level of challenge that corporate learning and development faces. It is also a time of great opportunity as learning, talent and its interface with culture, organisation and management development become critical pivots in organisational transformation.
[Picture credit: Michal Zacharzewski]