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Are we stuck in a time warp or are organizations truly changing the way employees are developed?

Many organizations provide workshops, training courses or e-learning modules for employee development. These are often part of a curriculum that is designed to cater to the needs of various groups of employees or to develop specific capabilities. Organizations discharge their responsibility for funding these resources as a fulfillment of commitments made in the employee value proposition. Learning and development functions discharge their responsibility in providing these resources as a fulfillment of their professional duty. Employees feel good about these resources, as they provide windows of development during their day job and help them learn new skills.

But is “discharging responsibility” or “feeling good” about providing learning and development resources good enough? Of course not!

The above is a somewhat cynical view of the learning and development world, although sadly still prevalent in some organizations. In many instances, the business case behind developing employees is to raise the performance and competitiveness of the organization. Accountability for learning and development ultimately lies with each individual employee to know their own needs, find solutions and demonstrate value. Organizations must also demonstrate their partnership in this – unpacking the business strategy, translating it into skills and behaviors that add value, and providing resources to develop employees accordingly.

So, how effective is learning and development? There are many studies into how much learning is retained after attending a workshop. Most of these studies suggest that up to 70 percent of learning is forgotten and unapplied within a very short time span. Therefore, the challenge is how to raise this percentage significantly to a figure that (a) makes more of a difference to the employee’s contribution, and (b) provides more of a return on investment in learning and development. HR teams can do this by developing learning environments that involve multiple dimensions of employee development over a journey rather than through single iterations.


A single workshop can be a transformational experience, but, for many, its value is short lived. To really make a difference, learners need to have numerous opportunities to learn, practice and reflect. Creating a learning journey punctuates an employee’s experience with frequent opportunities to apply learning, thus embedding new behaviors and professional/leadership practices. This is a more effective way of learning than isolated events.

A learning journey might have many components, including:

  • Assessment
  • Workshops
  • Coaching
  • Immersions
  • Projects
  • Reflection
  • Self-paced learning
  • Networking

Creating a journey over a few months, a year or even multiple years will deliver more lasting change than just attending workshops listed in a curriculum. This learning also needs to be integrated with other aspects of employee engagement, such as feedback, performance and motivation.

Multiple Dimensions

Learning is cognitive, behavioral and emotional. Effective learning experiences cover the following three elements.

  1. Cognitive: Learners receive knowledge on subject matter that is essential for their roles and personal development. They are stretched in their growth, apply their learning and receive feedback on the practice of new skills.
  2. Behavioral: Learners receive feedback on their traits and preferences that impact performance. They have the opportunity to develop learning paths that focus on their personal needs and professional/leadership responsibilities. They receive coaching on the impact of their contribution.
  3. Emotional: Learners have experiences that challenge them deeply and encourage reflection. They are taken to the edge of comfort zones and confronted with feedback that challenges their sense of purpose and values.

Probably the most accepted method of learning to deliver deep change is for new experiences and application to be at the center of opportunities. This means that the learning and development organization needs to look at its role differently than just as a content provider. Integration with organizational projects, leaning on leaders as teachers, engaging line managers and creating collaborative cohorts are ways that the learning environment needs to be established.

The goal of learning is to stimulate a growth mindset in the learner and spark an appetite for personal change.

A learning environment that is developed around the understanding of business impact, focused on critical populations and based around core capabilities and values will develop highly skilled and capable employees, provided it is built around longer lifecycles or journeys of growth.