In a comment to Niklas Angmyr’s post on the subject of learning, corporate learning and the article Making Corporate Learning work by Shlomo Ben-Hur  and Nik Kenley, Niklas get one of the authors to comment, namely Nik Kenley, and a very interesting point is made:

Corporate learning has behavioral change as its main goal – not learning. The clinch is that the L&D departments across the globe DO have learning as its main goal – not behavioral change.

Why does this matter? It’s similar to leaving your car at the mechanic’s expecting a tune-up and getting it washed, because the mechanic didn’t have tune-up as her main goal but to get your car as good looking as possible. Not only will the car malfunction as before, but you’d probably still get charged for the washing you didn’t ask for.

Arguing about how to best make sure people learn is therefore all beside the point. Is it more effective to extract learning from work than to add learning to it? This is a totally meaningless debate. What the discussion should be about is of course how we get people to change. The thing is, this also makes the 70/20/10 model moot as it’s about how people learn. Even if it is correct in describing the ways of learning to the very last percentage, it doesn’t really matter if it’s the 10, 20 or 70 if we’d be better off not looking at learning at all.

Learning should be seen as one of many possible inputs to a change process. The outputs are the motivation, commitment, behavioral change and result.

I attended a three day certification course/workshop on the New World Four Levels of Kirkpatricksome months ago and one of the biggest revelations for me was that the model wasn’t at all that focused on learning and its measuring as I’d previously thought. There’s belief to the contrary but I suspect that this depends on them not researching the newest version of the model but just basing their opinions by assuming that it’s the same as it ever was when it was created 50+ years ago.

Stating this revelation out loud in class didn’t go that well though. Here’s what I said: “If we’d make sure we get an optimally stated end-result and also get the proper leading indicators, their critical behavior and their supporting organizational drivers down… Then we could produce bad training, or even skip it completely, and still get that end-result!” Jim Kirkpatrick smiled and nodded in silent agreement when outcries where heard from around us in the room.

“You can’t eliminate training! That’s what L&D do! That’s what our companies want!” with mutters of agreement going around the room…

Jim answered this training assuredness onslaught with an anecdote about his father, Donald Kirkpatrick, saying the same thing to him. I don’t think that anyone else got the message but me. Jim agreed but we let the subject rest right there and then.

The new world Kirkpatrick model isn’t about training or learning. It’s all about making sure the changes we want are identified, analyzed, measured, supported and met. (And “supported” does not mean Learning as the only option by far.)

Nik Kenley continues the comment of Niklas Angmyr’s post by saying:

“The methods and mechanisms of how to change behavior are different from how to help people learn, and therefore, by seeing Corporate Learning as being about learning rather than behavior change, Corporate Learning Functions have been approaching the task ineffectively.”

So, should we really bask L&D for not getting any real organizational result? No, because that would be like asking the car washer to tune-up your car.


More blog posts on the subject can be found on my blog

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  • If this seems like a useful debate, and I can assure you that it is, you will need to read my next book being published in January. I have been saying for some time now to learning and development people that learning is a red herring. It distracts them from what they should be focusing on which is performance.

    I encourage learning and development people to redesign their role and focus on being a “capability manager”. It is fascinating to watch their thought processes change as they start thinking about their various training or development interventions in terms of how it affects the capability of people at the point of work, at the time and at the place that someone is working on a task in the workplace.

    I see it as something quite simple; when a worker has a task in front of them, can they respond to that task adequately to get it done, or not. If they can get it done, they are capable at that time, at that place, at the point of work. If for some reason they cannot get it done at that time and place, then they are incapable at the point of work.

    When you look at capability in this way, there are many more factors to it than just the skills and knowledge a worker has. It also involves motivation and engagement, it involves systems and processes, it involves availability of tools and resources and much more.

    So if L&D wants to become a bigger and more valued player in the organisation, it needs to start focussing on capability, which is what matters to the business, rather than learning.

    My best wishes to you all :-)


  • Hi Mike,

    You're correct in saying that we need to get our own organizations, the L&D/P&D or what-you-will, to see that we cannot just continue in old tracks but have to start afresh with new directions. I'm a bit worried that it'll be harder to change this within the L&D than within the organization as a whole though... How do we do this? That's the million dollar question.

  • One of the things that strikes me about this blog is that we have created a whole cottage industry where training is the focus and as per your last blog it is really outcomes that should be our focus.

    Learning & Development - OK so you learn new knowledge, new skills and change your behaviour. How do we measure this development? Well you can't really measure development as such so let's focus on the process of training instead as that's visible and tangible and we can put a cost to. Development is the issue here....

    Learning & Performance - OK so you learn new knowledge, new skills and change your behaviour. How do we measure you're talking

    We can measure against objectives, KPI's, sales conversion, efficiencies, accuracy, procedures - all of which can be linked to training through leading indicators as described in the New World Kirkpatrick Model.

    We shoot ourselves in the foot every time by focusing on the training instead of working out the best solution to solve a business problem then working collaboratively to ensure that this solution or whatever transfers in to the most important thing in business terms

    Improvements in performance.

    I agree with every bone in my body that learning / training shouldn't be the focus and we need to educate and raise awareness in our own organisations to this fact. It's difficult changing perception and even culture in many places. However it can be done and the KP model is an excellent model to use that will help you do this

    Thanks for the post it's rattled my L&P cage ;-)

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