What’s the future for traditional training departments?

September 6, 2011 Sarah Danzl

By Roberta Gogos

oxu_pr_thumbAs social learning grows does the requirement for traditional training departments shrink? U.K.-based eLearning development firm Epic asks this very question in its fourth E-learning Debate – and this Epic debate is being hosted only online.

The motion presented for discussion: This house believes that as social learning grows, so the requirement for traditional training departments shrinks. Those arguing in favor include Donna Hamilton, Head of Group Learning at Royal Bank of Scotland and Jane Hart, founder of C4LPT. Those arguing against the motion: Melissa Highton, Head of the Learning Technologies Group at the University of Oxford, and Clive Shepherd, Chair of the UK’s eLearning Network.

The debate is engaging people in an important discussion about topics that are vital to anyone working in L&D, with participants on both sides making some excellent points.

Those who favor the motion argue that the requirement for traditional training departments will shrink. Donna Hamilton points out, “We know that very little of what is taught in the class room ever makes its way into working life. Learners need to undertake fieldwork – repetitive, mindful, problem focused practice – to gain skills.” She also says that the role of the new learning department should be to support this on the job skill development with “the right coaching, expert teaching and challenging work based activities.”

Jane Hart, also arguing in favor, suggests there is a major new role that the traditional training department can play in helping people work and learn in the new social workplace. She says that role will involve “moving from a ‘managing learning’ to a ‘supporting performance’ mindset.”  Jane argues that the requirement for traditional training departments will shrink “as knowledge, work and learning become indistinguishable, [and] social learning (powered by social media tools) becomes an organizational imperative.” As Nic Laycock put it in his blogged response to the debate, Jane’s point is that “the traditional training department has run its course – with the opportunity now to transform itself into a true business added value function by leveraging new technologies to become a key business partner.” Donna Hamilton sums it up: “we are failing to take advantage of developments in social learning that are fundamentally reshaping the relationship between people and information. Traditional training departments need to evolve or be relegated to corporate history.”

What would cause training departments to shrink would be a change in how learning is perceived by the business.  -A. Jones (Thomas Reuters) via @eLearningdebate

Opponents, on the other hand, have pointed out that traditional learning is itself inherently social – and that social learning is nothing new. In a recent blog post Clive Shepherd calls attention to the fact that social learning is not the same as social media, and that L&D departments are not the only stakeholders in workplace social media. He points out that social media has a multitude of uses in the workplace with outcomes unrelated to learning such as collaborating on tasks, promoting goods and services, entertaining each other, exchanging information etc. Clive says, “What is important is that L&D is at the table, campaigning for the use of social media at work where this is likely to make a worthwhile contribution to the overall learning architecture.” Clive argues that social learning that employs Web 2.0 social media is new, and as it develops it should continue to complement formal learning – i.e. social learning is just one part of the learning mix.

Melissa Highton takes it a step further by saying that the role of training departments will in fact grow rather than shrink and that traditional training departments have an important part to play in the quality and accreditation of social learning. She argues that training departments should participate as equals in the open content movement by sharing materials developed in-house and by employees. She points out that when traditional training departments shift away from in-house production to shared, social learning their emphasis must shift to become more skilled at varied methods of assessment. In a nutshell, the requirement for traditional training departments to adapt and develop is inevitable and L&D’s new challenge is the accreditation of prior learning and peer learning.

Whether you’re for or against, what’s clear is that this debate has caused quite a stir, with thought provoking arguments on both sides and a number of key issues brought to light. As Dr. Naomi Norman, Director of Learning, says, “The debate format has proved incredibly successful at getting people discussing and arguing and encouraging thinking.” So if you would like to read more on what people have to say on this latest social learning debate or wish to share your own thoughts, visit www.elearningdebate.com.

About the Author

Sarah Danzl

Sarah manages the public face of Xyleme, overseeing all PR and Customer Communication. She is a specialist in written communications, media relations and reputation management. One of her favorite aspects of her job at Xyleme is working with the customers on on joint initiatives, including award applications.

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