In 2003, MartynSloman, then adviser to the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, coined the powerful phrase “from training to learning”. This was a theme he debated widely in presentations with corporates and academics and his book “Training in the Age of the Learner” (2003). A focus on increasing use of technology-enhanced learning, and the work of Purcell et al (2003) and Hamel and Prahalad (1994) on distinctive competences and discretionary behaviour in organisational performance led to a renewed learner focus in HRD: a welcome move away from the ubiquitous application of corporate training courses which sometimes bore little relation to learning and greater relation to training games and activities plus PowerPoint™.Sambrook (2007 page 429) discusses a “discursive dissonance between the use of the terms training and learning” and this is not just confined to the workplace. This brief study will explore whether the movement from training to learning is consistent with the experience of delivering professional development programmes in HR in a UK Higher Education institution. While there is no debate about the need for an individual learner focus, a move towards self-directed learning (Brockett and Hiemstra 1991; Candy 1991; Clardy 2000; Greener 2008), and a need for engaging activities in learning (Chickering and Gamson 1987), the classroom feedback of part-time professional students is changing. The postgraduate nature of HR professional qualifications requires strong academic skills along with self-direction and substantial determination, especially when most students are studying at the same time as fulfilling growing demands in their professional HR roles. Heaton and Ackah’s study in 2007 of early career HR professionals suggested that an increasingly complex market for HR career professionals. This changing market plus changing HE fee levels are driving increasing demands for students to be treated as paying customers. Yet student demands on their preciously brief periods of study in the university among busy lives, are causing a dilemma in the provision and delivery of this type of education. Increasing and changing curricula, plus growing HR relevant legislation, plus the strategic repositioning of the HR function have all led to increases in the amount of knowledge required for graduation. Universities are good places to be taught to learn, and traditionally have used lecture and seminar mechanisms for this process as triggers to private guided study. As tutors provide more “training type” activities such as drama, role play, case analysis, guest speakers, reflective workshops, group activities etc, so the gap begins to grow in the capacity to find time for all the reading and study required to meet assessment. Student feedback is now consistently favouring more “activity” in university sessions, rather than traditional presentation of information and questioning discussion. Should teachers therefore provide activities to the detriment of guided debate on relevant vocational knowledge? Can teachers count on students to do the requisite and increasing reading outside class? This study will present summarised reflections on these questions in order to stimulate debate among teachers of HR in HE.
IntroductionIn 2003, MartynSloman, then adviser to the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), coined the powerful phrase “from training to learning”. This was a theme he debated widely in presentations with corporates and academics and in his book “Training in the Age of the Learner” (2003). In commissioning research into e-learning, ideas were developed which focussed the debate not on the technology itself, but on the learning it was trying to achieve. Although it seemed at the time that it was technology which engendered these changes, the technology was really a stimulus to re-examine what we knew about learning, how it happened, and the assumptions we have as trainers and teachers and learners about what constitutes learning. Only by clarifying these concepts for the twenty-first century individual and organisation, were we likely to understand better how technology in general and web technology in particular, which offered multiple affordances for learning (see, for example, Conole and Dyke 2004), could be turned to advantage. This refocusing on what it is to learn has been particularly evident in UK universities, as they make slow progress towards adopting technology-enhanced learning, through widespread use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) and growing experimentation with Web 2.0 social networks. It is not that institutions are slow in adopting VLEs, indeed despite many decisions to buy commercial rather than open source VLEs such as Blackboard™ rather than Moodle™, there has been a positive rush to offer such electronic learning environments. It is more that HE teachers have on the whole been reluctant to do more than upload documents such as teaching materials, or even just schedules of teaching. This raises the question of pedagogical development, whether in fact teachers were simply adopting a traditional paradigm of face to face teaching and importing it into a virtual learning environment, a “neutralitarian” approach (Fox and Hermann 2000). The challenges of Web 2.0 and the rapid adoption of social networking among digital learners outside the confines of educational institutions (Craig 2007) are increasingly forcing HE teachers to consider their pedagogic assumptions and the position of traditional lectures and seminars in relation to learning.
Sloman, who did not confine his focus to HE institutions but more broadly reviewed workforce development, spotted moves from a focus on training as a top-down intervention, using a systematic training model as a dominant framework, towards a focus on individual and team learning as an ongoing process in the workplace. He discussed the development of a new paradigm of focus on the learner who takes responsibility for his/her learning, forcing training providers to become proactive and to engage with individual needs rather than group-driven “one size fits all” training agendas with their focus on variety of practical activities to develop engagement, as well as offering information transmission.This perspective was in tune with the work of Purcell et al (2003) and Hamel and Prahalad (1994) on distinctive competences and discretionary behaviour in organisational performance which emphasized a renewed learner focus in HRD: a welcome move away from the ubiquitous application of corporate training courses which sometimes bore little relation to learning and greater relation to training games and activities plus PowerPoint™. This comment is perhaps a little harsh on training, some of which can be excellent, but the ubiquitous “happy sheet” method of evaluation has too often encouraged trainers to ensure enjoyment and satisfaction with the learning experience, sometimes to the detriment of valuable and transferable learning. “Evaluating reaction is the same thing as measuring customer satisfaction. If training is going to be effective, it is important that trainees react favorably to it. Otherwise, they will not be motivated to learn” (Kirkpatrick (1994 p27) cited in Dubinsky et al. 2001). Over the last two decades, management training has tended increasingly to favour interaction in group games and simulations over offering information alone in training formats. This has followed the theoretical focus on experiential learning based on the work of Kolb and Honey and Mumford which has radically transformed on and off-site training courses by incorporating a variety of tasks and activities in order to support participants with varying learning preferences and styles.What then is the relationship between training and learning? From an academic perspective, training (involving a set format of activities and information designed to change knowledge, skills and behaviours) would be a subset of learning, since learning can be both planned and unplanned (Bourner 2003) and training belongs purely to the planned element of learning. In the academic context, there is an increasing emphasis on reflective learning for students preparing for professional qualifications, as Schön’s influential notion of the reflective practitioner (Schön 1983) has gained influence. Sambrook (2007 page 429) discusses a “discursive dissonance between the use of the terms training and learning” in the UK NHS context and this is not just confined to the workplace. This brief study will explore whether the movement from training to learning is consistent with the experience of delivering professional development programmes in HR in a UK Higher Education (HE) institution.
DiscussionWhile there is no debate about the need for an individual learner focus, a move towards self-directed learning (Brockett and Hiemstra 1991; Candy 1991; Clardy 2000; Greener 2008), and a need for engaging activities in learning (Chickering and Gamson 1987), the classroom feedback of part-time professional students is changing. The postgraduate nature of HR professional qualifications requires strong academic skills along with self-direction and substantial determination, especially when most students are studying at the same time as fulfilling growing demands in their professional HR roles. Heaton and Ackah’s study in 2007 of early career HR professionals suggested an increasingly complex market for HR career professionals. Traditional “bureaucratic” careers which simply moved up an internal ladder were generally changing into cross-functional and cross-organisational moves in this study of HR part-time students occupying HR functional roles during their study. The advent of changed HR structures – shared services, outsourced functions, business partnering, were all making a straight-line, vertical career less of a possibility for the average HR professional. This changing market, and increasing HE fee levels in the UK, are driving increasing demands by students to be treated as paying customers. The study also stresses an increasing focus on developing experience and networking in the requirements of young HR professionals of their functional qualifications. Yet student demands on their preciously brief periods of study in the university away from busy lives, are causing a dilemma in the provision and delivery of this type of education. Increasing and changing curricula, plus growing HR relevant legislation, plus the strategic repositioning of the HR function promoted by the CIPD, have all led to increases in the amount of knowledge required for graduation. This means that HE institutions in one sense are falling back on the time-honoured tradition of encouraging self-directed learning; setting considerable reading requirements and expecting students to use the web and online library to research widely. There is simply so much content that there is little room to “teach” or “present” this content in face-to-face sessions.So what is the problem here? At postgraduate level, it is reasonable to expect students to do a substantial amount of self-directed learning through reading and research. Universities are good places in which to be taught how to learn, and traditionally have used lecture and seminar mechanisms for this process as stimuli to private guided study. This format has allowed for the presentation of current and wide-ranging material in lectures, and drills down into deeper understanding through seminar debate and exercises. However HR curricula are not simply increasing in breadth as new laws, regulations and codes of practice, and developments such as e-HR, shared service models, call centre provision of advice and guidance, sustainable staff development and policies, oversight of ethical practice and corporate social responsibility etc are added to required study. The CIPD’s new HR Profession Map now incorporates a greater emphasis on professional behaviours, classified into operational excellence, insight and influence and stewardship (CIPD 2010). For example, the behaviour entitled “Decisive thinker” requires the candidate to demonstrate the ability to “...analyse and understand data and information quickly. Is able to use information, insights and knowledge in a structured way using judgement wisely to identify options and make robust and defendable decisions”. Such behaviours are assessed at four different bands of competence. This increased focus on high performance behaviours assessable within HR qualifications relates clearly to the increasing demands of an HR professional, yet challenges further the way students are prepared for these qualifications in an HE environment.
HE teachers involved in HR provision at high quality institutions have long been offering more than just simple lectures and seminars. At the University of Brighton, the masters programme in Personnel and Development offers delivery methods which include drama, role play, case analysis, professionally experienced guest speakers, reflective workshops, web activities and quizzes, group research activities and presentations, e-lectures for revision and private study, peer review activities, personal response systems in class, activities with formative feedback and various networking opportunities. Many of these activities address directly the increasing focus on practical skill acquisition alongside academic development.Such activities and methods are very popular with the student group, this is regularly demonstrated in student feedback. However there is some cause for concern. Demand for skills activity, from both the professional body and the student group, places considerable pressure on contact time between student and teacher. These activities could be seen to be closer to a training paradigm than an academic paradigm. The desire for more “activity” in class is a feature of some student feedback. Clearly it is more satisfying for students to take part in interactive and engaging activities in class, than simply to listen to and note down a series of ideas and theories from a lecturer. A more dynamic notion of learning is gained and students feel they have “done something”, rather than being talked at. However, as tutors accede to demands for more “training type” activities, so the gap begins to grow in the capacity to find time for all the reading and study required to meet the needs of postgraduate assessment. Student feedback is now consistently favouring more “activity” in university sessions, rather than traditional presentation of information and questioning discussion. Should teachers therefore provide activities to the detriment of guided debate on relevant vocational knowledge? Can teachers count on students to do the requisite and increasing reading outside class?
In addition, there is the pressure of available technologies which can readily support increased interaction, peer review, peer discussion and online tasks to stimulate learning. Figure 1 below presents these three pressures in graphical form, suggesting that classroom time is being squeezed into an increasingly “training” focussed format. Figure 1. Drivers towards increased “training” focus in the HE classroom. It is noticeable that analysis of student responses to induction questionnaires over the last five years (part-time UK HE professional development course at postgraduate level in the HR field) consistently identifies academic skills (handling examinations, critical analysis of published work, searching for learning resources, planning study activities) as the ones they are least confident about on beginning their postgraduate course, while workplace behaviours (including networking, report writing, problem solving and ICT skills) are those in which these students display most confidence.Why, then, do the same students demand more activities in class time, and as little as possible of the academic practice (for example, researching and discussing published work from a critical perspective, academic writing, handling balanced debate, developing theoretical models to explain or shed light on practical HR dilemmas and problems) which they have chosen by opting to take a postgraduate qualification in their chosen field? Is this simply that familiarity with “training-type” activities offers a safe zone for students who remain uncomfortable with academic skills? Or do practical activities in class offer more salience to their perceived needs in HR careers? Are they perhaps reluctant to engage in academic activities in which they perceive the teachers will be the experts, preferring to remain in practical debate in which their professional experiences gives them perceived advantages such as recognition and status?
Concluding thoughtsThis discussion leads to some interesting questions. Perhaps an increasing focus on training-type activities in the HE classroom is a way to avoid more challenging academic work. On the other hand, by this focus on practical activity, there is less and less time to develop the academic skills which students need in order to complete the qualification.The dilemma for HE teachers delivering this type of part-time HR qualification at postgraduate level is that academic standards must still be met as well as increased demands by technologies, students and the professional body for a skills focus. What seems to be happening is a move from “learning” in the traditional academic sense, to “training” in the classroom. This is a very good development in one sense, if the student experience moves away from one-way communication in lectures and simple information transmission which does not stimulate or encourage learning in the listener. However, standards of academic work can easily fall when there is little time to role model and practise academic search and analysis, and the development of logical argument and balanced critique of published work. The latter requires the student to read, and preferably to read widely, and to bring to class the result of reflecting on that reading, applying it to appropriate professional contexts. Could this increased focus on “activity” in face-to-face and online sessions be construed as a backwards step for HR professionals? If we look at the current demands of the professional in HR, then surely not. Engaging and participative styles of learning and teaching must make sense to both student and teacher. Yet there remains a concern that such professionals want the validation of a postgraduate academic qualification, but are less willing to engage in forms of learning which will take them into creative and original academic work. The “student as customer” is more likely to require fun in the classroom and a good grade for attending, than be interested in genuine enquiry and the development and deconstruction of theoretical constructs. Herein lies the challenge to today’s HE teachers of HR. Learning can of course be acquired through planned activities, but our job is surely to develop academic synthesis and evaluation of ideas as well as practical judgement and tool-kits in the potential HR professional if they are to survive in the career jungle of the twenty-first century.
From learning to training: a backwards step for HR professionals? Dr Susan Greener Brighton Business School University of Brighton UK UFHRD 2010 S.L.Greener@brighton.ac.uk
“neutralitarian” approaches? Fox and Hermann (2000)
Purcell et al (2003), Hamel & Prahalad (1994) distinctive competences, discretionary behaviour, renewed learner focus in HRD Improved evaluation of learning and development at work though: “Evaluating reaction is the same thing as measuring customer satisfaction. If training is going to be effective, it is important that trainees react favorably to it. Otherwise, they will not be motivated to learn”(Kirkpatrick (1994 p27) cited in Dubinsky et al. 2001). experiential learning – “discursive dissonance between training and learning” (Sambrook 2007)
Academic skills: handling examinations, critical analysis of published work, searching for learning resources, planning study activities – areas of least confidence on entry to HE courses (postgraduate HR study 5 year induction survey analysis) Is training type activity in class just a safe zone? Are practical activities seen to have more salience to HR careers? Do they want to move away from areas where they don’t perceive their own expertise?
student as customer teacher as facilitator Moving from academic “learning” to “training” in the classroom?
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