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Learning & Development: What's it all about?

Training toolkits. The growth mindset. Organisational learning culture. Gamification.

Over the coming months, we will be taking a closer look at these topics and more as we put Learning and Development under the microscope. But let’s start with the basics: in today’s post, we review what Learning and Development involves, discuss its purpose and consider how professionals can prove its value. So, without further ado…


What is Learning & Development?

Learning and development (L&D) strategies aim to improve both individual and group performance by building skills and competencies. The impact of learning initiatives on an organisation’s success should not be underestimated; only businesses with a clear talent development strategy will truly thrive.

Fortunately, there are many methods we can use to upskill employees and push the business forward. These include:

  • Formalised training
  • Self-led learning
  • Workshops
  • Coaching
  • Mentoring

The best learning strategies utilise a combination of these methods to deliver the right learning to the right people at the right time. Simply put, robust L&D initiatives create the talent network that forms the driving force of successful organisations.


Why is L&D important for people and businesses?

Bottom line: Learning is the only way an organisation grows and improves. It gives employees the tools to adapt to radical change—in other words, it builds that all-important, oh-so-enigmatic business capability known as corporate agility.

We all know that businesses are changing constantly, and indeed most organisations go through fairly predictable patterns of growth (for further information, check out the Greiner model). The best learning solutions pre-empt these organisational changes so that employees are armed with the skills they need to navigate the new landscape from the get-go.

Let’s say an organisation has introduced a new service offering which requires employees to use an unfamiliar online platform. The sales team have been pitching this service and have started to sell it in. What happens now? Well, if employees haven’t been upskilled in the new platform, it’s likely that chaos will ensue because employees will not be able to deliver what has been promised. Staff morale will plunge, clients will be disappointed, and revenue may be lost—in the worst cases, clients may serve their notice and hire another agency that can fulfil their needs.

But if employees have been given the right opportunities to upskill in the platform, then it’s a different story. Think confident and skilled staff, happy clients and increased revenue for the business—both directly and indirectly, as word spreads about the quality of work being delivered. The Association for Talent Development (ATD) found companies that devised comprehensive learning programmes had, on average, a 24% higher profit margin and generated over 200% more revenue per employee. The message is clear: strong learning strategies promote corporate agility, which in turns secures a competitive advantage.

As well as staying ahead of the curve, well-executed L&D initiatives result in other benefits like increased creativity, breaking down silos between departments, instilling and maintaining a strong sense of company culture, and—last, but not least—boosting employee engagement.

According to Deloitte Insights, learning opportunities are among the largest drivers of employee engagement. However, in 2016 the Economic Research Council found that just 8% of the UK workforce was enthused about their work. Clearly, there is a disconnect here between what employees want and what they are getting, an argument backed up by research conducted by Totaljobs in 2018 which found that 68% of UK workers have changed jobs because of a lack of learning and development opportunities. At a global level, City & Guilds found that 79% of employees would like to see a bigger focus on L&D at work.

This means that there is a huge opportunity for organisations to re-engage their employees, which in turn drives productivity and improves talent retention. Attrition costs have a significant impact on profit margins; the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates that every lost employee costs a company between 50% and 250% of their annual salary. This loss reflects consequent recruitment efforts, loss of productivity while the role stands vacant, and the measures taken to upskill a new worker. So, not only do effective L&D opportunities generate revenue, they also save money—it’s a real win-win situation.

As we’ve seen, designing and implementing effective learning solutions is crucial for the growth and success of every organisation. Now we arrive at our final theme: how to prove the value of learning and development initiatives.


How can we measure the impact of L&D strategies?

The Kirkpatrick-Phillips model of evaluation measures the effects of learning at five different levels:

The Kirkpatrick-Phillips model of evaluation
The Kirkpatrick-Phillips model of evaluation


The base of the pyramid considers the impact learning has on people (Satisfaction; Learning; Implementation) while the top concerns business outcomes (Impact; ROI). As the model suggests, the people-based benefits feed directly into the organisational pay-offs. This highlights the importance of evaluating learning programmes at multiple levels.

How do we go about this in practice? To measure the impact of learning from an employee standpoint, we can utilise methods like:

  • Satisfaction surveys for trainees
  • Pre- and post-learning quizzes to assess whether learners have gained new knowledge
  • Reflection forms for managers, with the aim of understanding if learning has affected the way team members go about their daily activities

Now, let’s consider the top of the pyramid. Below are some examples of methods that could be used to measure the impact of learning solutions on business objectives:

  • Tracking business KPIs over time e.g. revenue growth
  • Assessing company performance against specific targets e.g. error reduction rates
  • Evaluating efficiency through time-tracking tools
  • Analysing results of client satisfaction surveys over time

These approaches are not exhaustive and need to be (a) agreed in advance of learning programme implementation and (b) very closely aligned to specific learning outcomes, which will minimise the influence of other factors.

Something else to note is that all the methods mentioned so far lean towards the quantitative end of the evaluative spectrum. Unsurprisingly, there are myriad ways to understand the impact of learning solutions through qualitative data—especially if you ask the right questions. Consider:

How did you find the training today?


What were your main takeaways from the training session and how will you implement these in everyday life?

The first question invites any level of response. In other words, the answers received will be highly dependent on the trainee: one person may give a single-word reply while another may write a paragraph or two. In contrast, the second question requires the trainee to take time to reflect. Their response will give an insight into what they found most useful and the anticipated practical implications. Carefully-worded questions will also be beneficial for assessing the effect of learning solutions at an organisational level, for example, through eliciting client feedback.

As well as proving the value of L&D strategies, vigorous evaluative methods are crucial for informing future iterations of learning solutions. This will be explored in more detail in a future blog.


What next?

We’ve explored the basics of what L&D involves and why it’s crucial for organisations and their employees. Using an evaluative model, we’ve considered some simple, practical ways of assessing the impact of learning solutions.

Now that we’ve laid the foundations, in the coming weeks we will be building on these ideas. We will explore how to adopt a successful company-wide approach to L&D and consider how to establish a strong organisational learning culture.

See you next time!