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Learning and talent development: an overview –

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This CIPD factsheet gives broad introductory guidance. It:
• examines what is learning and talent development is and why it is important
• considers where to start, how to plan for learning to take place, which methods to
use and evaluation.
This factsheet gives an overview of the learning and talent development (LTD) process with links
to our research and other factsheets which will help give further guidance. It is aimed mainly at
managers who are not specialists in the LTD area but who are increasingly responsible for
developing staff and so need to understand the terms and techniques used. However, students
and professionals looking for a quick refresher may also find it useful. Trends in learning and
development are monitored in our research and annual survey reports.
What is learning and talent development?

CIPD’s definition of learning is ‘a self-directed, work-based process leading to increased adaptive

capacity’; in other words, an environment where individuals ‘learn to learn’ and possess the
capabilities that enable them to build their skills and help their organisation retain competitive

Talent management processes aim to ensure that those who are identified with potential receive
the right experience and learn the skills required to progress. Talent development implies a
longer process of learning, acquiring skills or knowledge by different means such as training,
coaching, formal and informal interventions, education or planned experience. It can be
structured by human resource development (HRD) professionals, or created as a personal plan.
Why is LTD important for organisations?

Ensuring that all staff have the required skills and capabilities to do their jobs, and the work they
will be required to do in the future, is imperative for organisations competing in a rapidly
changing world. Even if it were possible to recruit individuals with all the necessary knowledge
and abilities for the jobs currently defined in your organisation, they need to know how to apply
their skills. In addition, organisations, jobs and technology continually change, so employees
need to be able to continue learning and adapting their capabilities. By looking ahead to define
requirements and initiate effective learning interventions in good time, organisations can stay
ahead of change.
How do you start?

For most organisations the starting point is the strategic plan. By specifying what will need to be
produced in the future it is possible to understand what skills and competences staff will need.
Two processes can follow – the identification of training needs, and the production of a talent
management plan: see our two factsheets on identifying learning needs and talent management.
Needs should be identified at different levels – for the organisation as a whole, for departments
or teams, for individuals. An overall review of LTD needs should be followed by a process of
prioritisation – which are the most urgent in terms of their likely effect on profitability or
organisational effectiveness, compared to the costs of investing in the learning – costs of
providing resources or running formal courses, plus the time of managers or learners’
attendance. This investment can be assessed and prioritised – though the cost of not having the
required skills, or the right customer attitude, also needs to be factored into investment

Closely linked to the talent management plan may be the organisation’s plan for developing
managers. Their needs may be longer term, including planned experience and secondments.
Further information about this and particular techniques can be found in our management
development factsheet.
Whose responsibility?
Only learners can learn, and only they can choose to apply their new skills to the work they do.
However, a company-wide development process is normally managed by the HR function, or a
specialist LTD function in larger organisations. Even where there is a specialist function, the line
manager’s input to the identification of learning needs, the motivation of their staff to learn and
apply their knowledge is vital. In addition the line manager may play a major role in helping
people learn – in the workplace, coaching or delivering training. CIPD members can use
our practical tool for assessing and enhancing the role and contribution of line managers in
learning, training and development.
The shift from training to learning

Learning takes place in many ways – through experience of doing the job, through coaching from
the line manager, through formal and informal training, or through social learning where people
come together to share their experience and review what they have learned (a key process of
knowledge management). To understand more about the many ways in which adults learn, see
our research report on how people learn.
• Find out about our How do people learn report
Recent CIPD research has focussed on the change in attitude within organisations from
concentrating on training to learning. Now the role of the trainer/HRD professional becomes that
of supporting, accelerating and directing learning interventions that meet organisational needs
and are appropriate to the learner and the context.
The project also pointed out the importance of the organisation promoting the right climate for
learning, and the importance of motivation for learners to acquire and practise new skills. For
both of these to be in place, line management needs to be closely involved.
Which methods to use?

There is now a great variety of what might be called ‘learning interventions’. (An ‘intervention’
can be defined as any event that is deliberately undertaken to assist learning to take place.) This
makes the job of the developer (whether a learning professional or a line manager) more
complex and challenging than it was, but it also provides the possibility of better outcomes. CIPD
advises that because so much learning occurs directly through work, managers should aim to
include these responsibilities within their normal repertoire of behaviours, rather than view them
as separate learning activities. For that reason they may be viewed as leadership practices that
promote learning and talent development rather than learning practices that enhance specific
knowledge and skills.

There are a number of ways in which to help people learn and the following paragraphs give a
brief account of the most popular and effective means of learning, divided into those most
closely related to the workplace, and off-the-job learning methods. Links are given to other
factsheets that explain the techniques more fully.
Work-related learning techniques
Action learning and learning projects

Putting managers to work in cross-functional teams, exposing them to different functions and
enabling them to learn about other aspects of the organisation is one way of broadening their
experience though careful thought needs to be given to choosing the right project for individuals
as part of tailored development.

In action learning the projects are carried out in groups, or ‘sets’, and learning comes from
questioning their own and others’ proposed actions, identifying courses of further action and a
time scale. It can make a major contribution to freeing up inflexible or traditional thinking, but
needs top level management support if radical outcomes could be threatening.

Coaching is about improving skills and performance, usually for the current job, but also to
support career transitions. Usually coaches are hired from outside the organisation, but
increasingly some organisations expect all line managers to operate as coaches.

Mentors usually come from inside the organisation. Typically they will be experienced managers,
but for senior managers, outside mentors may sometimes be hired. The differences between
coaching and mentoring are usually that mentors have relatively long-term relationships with
their junior colleagues and their focus is less on events than is the case in coaching.
On the job training

In the job training (OJT) is usually:

• delivered on a one-to-one basis at the trainee’s place of work
• given time to take place, including potential periods when there is little or no useful
output of products or services
• a specified, planned and structured activity.
OJT is the most popular method of learning, perhaps because it is seen to be immediately
relevant, but those who train (work colleagues or line managers) need to understand how to
support learning to ensure that it is effective and no bad practice is passed on. In particular they
need to ensure that:
• trainees are able to practice what they have learned immediately so they don’t
• instruction is paced to avoid information overload
• good feedback is given to encourage the trainee.
Knowledge management

Increasingly organisations gather teams together at the end of projects to review how they have
worked and to record ‘lessons learned’. These events allow for participants to learn better ways
of working together, or improve processes. The outputs may be recorded in Knowledge
Management systems, but individuals and teams also benefit.
Off the job learning

Learning carried out away from the workplace may be the easiest to record and cost, but should
not be considered the only way in which learning happens.
Bite-sized learning

Small chunks of formal training of an hour or two and in varying formats, perhaps linked with
other techniques such as e-learning. They can make planning learning events more complex.
Classroom training

Training is defined by CIPD as ‘an instructor-led and content-based intervention leading to

desired changes in behaviour’ and formal courses are one of the most used forms of
development. Internal courses give the opportunity to focus on organisation-specific problems,
increasing the possibility of learning transfer, while courses involving people from other
organisations may help individuals see things in a different context.

Our factsheets on learner-centred training courses and creative training methods both offer more
information on formal training interventions.
Distance learning

Using learning materials delivered through the post and (increasingly) electronically, thus a
growing link with e-learning. There are many providers, such as The Open University. One of the
main issues is that learner motivation can slip without contact with fellow students and tutors,
and tutor support (remote or face-to-face) is important.

Vocational and management education may be a useful way of meeting learning needs while
also allowing learners to acquire qualifications. Understanding the application of learning and the
actual skills imparted will help decisions about the best course to choose.

E-learning and blended learning

Blended and e-learning is ‘learning that is delivered, enabled or mediated using electronic
technology for the explicit purpose of training in organisations’ (CIPD definition). E-learning is
growing. It provides large populations with the same material, and access is flexible so that
people can learn in their own time. Against this, e-learning does not appeal to everyone, and it
works better for ‘hard’ knowledge than for softer skills like communication or leadership. It is
more effective when combined with more traditional forms of learning, what has become known
as ‘blended learning’.
Outdoor training

Outdoor training can include teambuilding, problem-solving or leadership exercises, usually in

the open air. Although it is increasingly called ‘outdoor development’, the exercises and the
reviews which should follow them, are very much instructor-led, and preparation for and follow-
up of the outdoor elements may take place in a classroom.

Taking people out of their normal environments can be rewarding, but some may feel
uncomfortable. The emphasis should not be on physical challenge and exercises should be seen
to relate back to the work environment.
Employee preferences for learning interventions

Our research into ‘who learns at work’ has shown that employees prefer to learn from
experience, or being shown how and then given a chance for practice, rather than from
traditional classroom methods. They also have different styles.
Evaluating learning

Assessing the effectiveness of learning interventions is important but not easy. It is relatively
simple to assess what learners thought of a trainer, but this does not measure whether the
learners returned to do their jobs better, or the impact on their departments or on the
organisation as a whole. Setting clear learning objectives before the intervention can help, as
does involving line managers before and after the training has taken place, but the process can
be complex. More information is given in our factsheet on the evaluation of learning and
Further reading

CIPD members can use our Advanced Search to find additional library resources on this topic and
also use our online journals collection to view journal articles online. People Management articles
are available to subscribers and CIPD members on the People Management website. CIPD books
in print can be ordered from our online Bookstore
Books and reports

ANDERSON, V. (2007) The value of learning: from return on investment to return on expectation.
Research into practice. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. ,

HARRISON, R. (2009) Learning and development. 5th ed. London: Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development.

SLOMAN, M. (2007) The changing world of the trainer: emerging good practice. Oxford: Elsevier

This factsheet was written by Jennifer Taylor, an independent consultant and researcher and
Principal of Further Developments Ltd.