The Structure of Learning and Development

How do you structure a learning and development unit for maximum organisational efficiency, 

seems to be a question with as many answers as there are organisations and organisational structures.  Some argue that it should be part of HR, some that it should stand alone and have its own seat at the big table and a lot just have no idea where it fits.  I am not going to get into that argument to, though a lot of you I suspect already know where I stand.  What interests me more at the moment is the actual structure of the unit itself rather than where it fits in an organisation.

Essentially there are three models for the structure of L&D

  1. Centralised – Where all learning and development activities are managed through a single central unit,k
  2. Decentralise – Where the responsibility for learning is spread across the various departments, units, divisions or regions of the organisation, and
  3. Matrix – Where there is both centralised and decentralised aspects.

So which structure works the best is there one that has a better chance of maximising organisational efficiency in terms of consistency and cost.  I tend to lean towards the Matrix model over the other two because it seems to offer the best opportunity of maximising efficiencies, there is however a caveat that needs to go along with this.  It is clearly the most difficult to both create and maintain.

A centralised approach works well in smaller or single site or single ‘product’ organisations but as organisations grow in size and product diversity the challenge for the centralised approached is to be able to ensure that the various parts of the business are getting the training they require and that a ‘head office gets everything attitude does not develop.

Decentralised structures are often found in conglomerate organisations, with very distinct business units or product lines or regions.  They often occur as a result of mergers or through the development of new business opportunities.  The real issue for decentralised structures is that often economies of scale are not well utilised and consistency of content and delivery becomes more difficult to maintain.

The Matrix model however enables various business units to have a level of autonomy over their training spend and a level of responsiveness which may be lacking in a purely centralised model.  It also allows for great levels of control over organisational wide learning activities and programs as well as being better able to respond to issues around consistency of training content and delivery.

Or maybe I just like it because it is the model we us.

I would be interested to hear what everyone thinks, particularly if some is operating in a model which doesn’t match the three I have mentioned above.

So you need to Hire a Trainer? – Qualifications and Skills or a lack there of.

My recent post on the issues raised by the Review of Standards for the Regulation of VET around the area of Minimum qualifications levels for trainers has raised some interesting issues and quite a bit of chatter, so I thought I might make some further comments around some of the more interesting areas,  and look at it more particularly through the lens of someone needing to hire a Trainer/Assessor.

The first thing I found interesting was the number of people we suggested they either knew of or had experienced the situation where the people training the Certificate IV in TAE (or an old version), had only just completed their own Cert IV, or whose experience in terms of training and assessment was all related to the TAE.  So essentially they had become a trainer to trainer other people how to be trainers.   If I was hiring a new trainer, even one whose job role was going to be training and assessing TAE qualifications  I would want them to have some other training experience, other than just training the TAE.   If I did then decide that I wanted to bring them in for an interview, my first question would be so why did you want to be a trainer, why did you go down this career path?  The reason is that I am not sure how you could decide that you wanted to train people to be trainers without first having been a trainer yourself.  (I might be wrong, but it seems a bit weird to me).  I could understand if their response was that they been delivering non-accredited training for a substantial period of time, but even then it would be need to be outside the training area, because (and again I might be wrong here) it would seem that developing presentation skills, and the like happen as a result of training people, not as a result of being trained.  If there is someone out there for whom the vast majority of their experience in terms of Training relates to training others to be trainers, particularly in their early career I would love to hear how and why it was you decided on this career path.

The other thing that came out of the discussions was the number of people who, had undertaken, knew of, experienced the result of, TAE training with no presentation component.  Where there was no requirement for the participants to actually stand up in front of an audience and present material.  Again this is a situation that I find bizarre;  how is it possible to deem someone as competent to be a trainer, if you have never seem them present training to a group of people.  This is why whenever I have interviews for trainers, everyone is told that they will need to do a 15 minute presentation to the interview panel.  They get to choose the topic, but presenting is mandatory and it is the first thing they do before anything else takes place in the interview.  The reason for this is simple, if you can’t stand up in front of a small group of strangers and talk about a subject of your own choosing for 15 minutes and do it well, then as far as I am concerned you shouldn’t be a trainer.  It is to my mind as simple as that.  There are two things about this process that have always amazed me;

  1. The number of people who look good on paper who are challenged by this process, who ask questions like ‘what do you want me to present on?  To which I answer ‘Anything you want it’s not about what you present by how you do it.  Others then suggest that they are not comfortable with the process, that they have never had to do that before to get a job, etc.  (I usually suggest at that point that if they are that uncomfortable presenting to people that they are probably not right for the job anyway and that unless they are happy to do the presentation then there won’t be an interview.)
  2. The number of people who are awful presenters, I don’t just mean ordinary, run of the mill, functionally competent or even nervous, it mean really awful.  Boring, uninteresting, full of um’s, ah’s and something I am seeing more of ‘like’s’, not confident, and the worse sin of all, given that they got to choose the topic, inaccurate, mistaken or wrong with the information they provide.

Sitting through interviews like this is an enlightening if quite challenging experience, because you come to know that for all of the good, high quality trainers out there, who are way beyond competent and who can create learning environments no matter what their surroundings there are a whole lot of people who call themselves trainers and have pieces of paper attesting to their competence who are just awful and an embarrassment to the industry.

Niche Marketing your Organisational Learning Offerings

Niche Marketing your Internal Training To External Stakeholders

What is your core Business?  For us it is Community Services Activities, in particular crisis support, counselling, Individual support work and Suicide Prevention.  One of the challenges I had when I first came into this role was around how to fund all of the training that it was necessary to deliver (both internally and through external providers) to staff and volunteers.  This was a particular challenge for us as a substantial proportion of our income comes from the provision of services for Government, with the rest being made up through donations and other income generation where necessary.  This meant that while training was both very important and highly valued by the organisation there was a significant challenge around how to fund both a fully functioning L&D unit as well as provide access to externally provided training where it was required as the vast majority of our ‘income’ goes to the delivery of client services.

It became obvious quite quickly that there was a subset of the internal training that we ran for our staff, for example ‘Psychological First Aid‘  that possessed a commercial potential in terms of its content.  It was just packaged in a way that wasn’t necessarily appealing to a wider, external audience.  It also became obvious quite rapidly that given the high regard for and visibility of a number of our services, particularly in the counselling, suicide prevention and mental health arenas, that we were often asked by organisations to come and speak to their staff about these areas.  It was an added bonus that we were also a registered training organisation (RTO).  It also got me thinking that given it was a challenge for us, a fairly large organisation to be able to provide the necessary training to our staff that other, smaller agencies and organisation in the sector might also be facing similar if not larger difficulties.

We therefore decided to look at the prospect of commercializing the training we did internally for our staff, around our core business (and this I think is a key idea if you are thinking of doing this) and offering not only to other agencies within the sector but to organisations and businesses outside of the sector as well.  Has it been worth it; I think that it has, we have managed to build a commercial training and training consultancy business, that while not large, provides us with an income stream to supplement the funding given to us by the organisation to provide training for our staff, which in turn frees up funds for the delivery of services to clients.

So I challenge those of you in organisational L&D units and the like to think about your organisations core business and training that you deliver around that and see whether or not there is a niche market there that you can utilise.  Remember though it should be about that core business, the things that you are known for and are good at, they are the things that are going to give you the best results.  So think about it, you never know just how good your bottom line might look next year.

Friday Linkfest

I thought today I would just throw out some love to some of my friends and some of the great content I have seen over the last few weeks.  Hope you all enjoy it.

Velg Training – If you run an RTO or work in an RTO then these lovely folk are definitely worth a visit, particularly  their 12 Webinars of Christmas

ASTD –  10 Best Practices for Engaging Live Online Learning 

–  A nice discussion on the differences between ROI and ROE

Chief Learning Officer Magazine (CLO) – How to Build a Business Case and Measure the Effects of Leadership Development Programs

Learning Elite 2013 – The Deadline for entries has been extended until 15 November

IQPC Australia – 2nd Annual Organisational Learning and Development Forum – If you haven’t registered you should, the bonus is you get to hear me speak.


Thats all for this week folks, Have a good weekend.

Integrating Formal and Informal Learning in an Agile Organisation

A ‘choose your own adventure’ model for the delivery of organisational training

Now some of you may have read this article previously as it was published earlier in the year in Training & Development, the magazine of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD), but I was reading over it again today and thought it was worth sharing on here.

Delivering integrated workforce training which is able to quickly meet organisational requirements with minimal interruption to the workplace is a challenge faced by most organisations and in particular those organisations with highly geographically and culturally diverse workforces.

Can I have that as a ½ Day?

How often have all of us heard that from a manager, team leader or staff member?  The reality for organisations, as it has always been, is that the more time an employee spends away from their regular duties undertaking training the less time they are providing a service to clients.  There is a business imperative to ensure that staff are ready to work as soon as possible after they join an organisation and that their continuing training interrupts their day to day work as little as possible.  We, as Training and Learning and Development professionals, are tasked by our organisations with ensuring that staff are not simply ready and able to undertake their roles, but that they are competent and have all of the training that is necessary (and in some cases mandatory) for their position.  This is a balancing act that most of us face on an almost day to day basis, meeting legislative, regulative and organisational requirements as quickly as possible, yet still be able to ensure that participants are actually capable of doing what they have been trained to do.  The larger and more geographically or culturally diverse your organisation is the more difficult this is to achieve, particularly in very agile, entrepreneurial organisations, or organisations or roles with high staff turnover, where new staff often need to be upskilled rapidly in order to meet the demands of the business.

Utilising traditional methods of training delivery such as face to face, off the job, facilitated training is no longer able to meet all of the needs of either organisations or the individual participants.  Neither, however, is online learning the answer to all of these issues; while it does provide an answer, issues of access, bandwidth, computer literacy, assessing competency, ensuring learning transfer and learner preferences all impact upon its usability and application.  It is necessary to adopt a blended, or as I prefer to call it an integrated approach, not just to particular training courses learning experiences, but to organisational learning as a whole.  We need to integrate formal and informal learning across our organisations, we need to think about multiple delivery avenues for the same information and provide staff with a choice about how they access and interact with the materials.

Organisational Touch points

One way to make this integration more effective is to understand that employees often have multiple organisational touch points.  There is their line manager, who provides them with day to day support in the accomplishment of their tasks; Training and Learning and Development units who provide them with courses, workshops and e-learning opportunities; other staff, be they at the same or different levels, practice or process leaders who while not managers by necessity, have high levels of skill around their particular job roles.  All of these touch points offer opportunities for learning; more than that however they offer us the opportunity to integrate these learning opportunities to achieve the best possible outcome for the participant and their learning preferences and therefore for the organisation itself.  L&D provides the formal, off the job training in the mandatory skills required both to be job ready and to upskill staff.   Line managers take on a coaching and on job training and assessment role, providing evidence of competency through observation and training through stretch tasks team and group activities and one on one feedback.  The practice and process leaders become the subject matter experts providing further coaching and mentoring experiences in their area of expertise.  They provide answers, best practice solutions, allowing the learner to get the wisdom of their experience when they require it.  All of these touch points provide staff with the ability to access the information they need in the format that is easiest for them to learn from, this support and integration of the learning functions throughout the organisation reaffirms the skills taught in the standard classroom environment and embeds the transfer of learning.

These touch points work in the opposite direction as well, they provide Learning and Development units with the ability to assess competency and ensure that the training being provided centrally meets the needs of the end users, the business.  Line managers can be provided with checklists of skills they should see in their staff after attendance at training, allowing them to evaluate not only the participants but the effectiveness of the course as well.  If they see over a period of time that staff attending particular training are having difficulty with certain aspects this can be easily raised with the learning and development unit and if necessary the training content or delivery modified to better suit the needs of the participants.  Practice leaders can provide moderation and validation of current content and assessment, become training resources in the area of expertise and administer and lead discussions around their communities of practice.

Piecing together the Jigsaw

Learner driven but organisationally directed learning is the key here.  L&D and training departments need to understand the purpose of the training being undertaken by staff.  Is it to acquaint them to the organisation, ensure compliance, assess competency, provide them with necessary skills, give them access to answers or to build knowledge and capacity?  It is the business driver that will to some extent determine the delivery model and content.  If staff need quickly accessible information about solving specific problems an online book supplier, where they can instantly look up the definitive text on the subject, an organisational wiki or a shared discussion forum are all going to provide a better outcome than having to attempt to remember something they were told in training six months previously or flip through pages of notes (if they can find them).  Introducing a new hire to the organisational structure, and the faces and names of their Managers, Directors, Team members and Mentors while at the same time ensuring that high level polices around areas such as health and safety and workplace harassment and internet usage may be better served by a video presentation followed up with an e-learning module and concluding with a quiz.  A staff member working through a Certificate IV or Diploma program in a remote area, may get the most value out of having all of the learning materials and assessments burnt onto a CD or even printed out and posted to them so they can work through them in their own time, with this supported by regular telephone contact with the Assessor and development of a relationship with a workplace mentor.

Often organisations have a lot of these things in place in various areas, or they have a blended model of delivery for different programs, or collaborative wikis and workspaces but it is not integrated.  It is not learner driven.  If a new hire without a computer can’t access orientation and inductions prior to commencement, we lose valuable time on their first day.  If a learner’s preference is for collaboration and discussion, yet the course material consists of 100’s of pages of reading they are likely to lose interest and drop out.  As much of the material and training on offer needs to be in as many forms as possible to increase the learners in order to maximise learner engagement yet still provide us with the opportunities to assess them and ensure their competency.

Video presentations and e-learning induction modules need to have paper based equivalents, backed up by a workplace buddy and formal face to face learning.  The pages of written material need to be available online or on a CD and searchable, computer skills training needs to be broken down into bit size chunks that answer specific questions and  line and practice managers need to be engaged and motivated to observe, give feedback and respond to their staff.

It seems daunting when you first consider it, but most of us don’t have as far to go as we think.  It is a small shift in perception from blended course delivery models to an integrated organisational learning model.  A small shift with huge payoffs however, not just for the organisation, but most importantly for the learners and staff themselves.

Weekend Linkfest

Here is my selection of the best things I have seen this week.

The likelyhood of completing a VET qualificiation (NCVER)


One  of the best Trainers Trainings around

One of the Best Forums for L&D professionals in Australia  (and I am even presenting at it so you can come and say hello)

How Technology is shaping the future of Learning (ASTD Webcast)

Creating a Learning Environment for the Modern Mobile Worker  (Bersin Webcast)

The Value of a Virtual Academy  (Chief Learning Officer)

Taking on the Social Media Frontier (Queensland AITD Council)

Have a good weekend everyone

Weekend Linkfest – The best of the past few weeks

Welcome to the first of my Weekend Linkfests. This is a bit of a jumble of things I have come across recently from places like CLO Magazine, ASTD, AITD etc that have piqued my interested enough to make me want to share them with you.

Hope you all get some value out of them.

Running Learning Like a Business

Measuring Social Learning

Online Training keeps things Moving

Where are we going and How will we get there

Are You wasting money on Training

Employee training key to reviving Best buy – A nice juxtaposition to the previous article.

10 Steps to capture learning ROI