Primary Patterns and Models in L&D

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In my last post, I described the revolution taking place which is moving the workforce away from monolithic LMS fortresses to a more decentralized learning environment. Just as employees are finding many different paths to educate themselves, businesses too are aiming for different goals and approaching Learning & Development (L&D) with distinct values. Even within organizations, separate business units might employ different training models.


Despite this divergence, all of L&D is still built around two core activities. I’ve described these activities as broad “learning patterns”: Information Dissemination and Skills Development.

Here are brief descriptions of both:

  • Information Dissemination — Providing information, often in the most efficient way (email, webinars, CMSs, etc.) but occasionally including richer experiences (eLearning modules and videos).
  • Skills Development — Cultivating workforce capabilities through practice or actual use. The critical element here is in the delivery mechanism which may be immersive role-plays, on-the-job training, or games/simulations.

As you might infer from my previous posts, the Information Dissemination pattern is shrinking in importance as employees seek and demand knowledge beyond the LMS. Still, all organizations continue to devote at least some of their time and resources to both activities. How much they put into each pattern is what determines whether or not they achieve their intended business outcomes. Moreover, when L&D departments are considering major changes, it usually involves shifting resources between the two patterns.

Having consulted with L&D units for many years, I’ve noticed that the learning patterns organizations display often dictate more specific “models” of learning, five of which I’ve seen become the most prevalent in the business world:

  • Performance Support – “What I Want to Know, When I Want to Know It”
  • Mass Distribution – “One-Size-Fits-All Learning”
  • Partnership – “Flexible Alliances Inside and Out”
  • University – “We Are an Institution of Expertise”
  • Innovation – “Practice Makes Perfect”

I’ve actually found that in addition to the two Learning Patterns, these models are differentiated by the time pressures (or lack thereof) placed on their processes, which looks like this:


In the coming weeks, I’ll be devoting a post to the strengths, weaknesses, dependencies, and challenges of each model in the hope that you’ll be able to identify your own organization from among them. But while it’s a nice exercise to recognize learning patterns and learning models, what’s the value in having this information?

First, these models help organize your transitional roadmap. When considering a major policy, system, or direction change for your L&D unit, it’s important to know what your current learning model is and where you see it heading. Implementing each model has its own set of dependencies that must be considered when executing a transition. Often, your first step should be to chart how you’ve allotted resources between learning patterns previously, and how you would like them to be split up once you’re finished.

The second benefit of understanding learning patterns and models is more political. When presenting learning initiatives to executives, you’ll often have to overcome the view of L&D as a mere expense. We know learning is an opportunity to support business objectives, but how can we present that to others? Learning patterns and models (as well as the Learning Model Canvas which I’ll be covering later) are effective representations to boil proposals down into high-level concepts ideal for pitching to upper management. These outlines work well in one-pagers, executive summaries, and lend themselves to visual presentations, all of which will help you gain buy-in from stakeholders to allocate greater resources to L&D.

The following posts will help you find out where your organization stands among learning models and how you can make those models work for you. In the meantime, for your own information, sit down and consider what how your L&D unit typically allocates resources between information dissemination and skills development.

If the breakdown isn’t where you want it to be, contact us at Saltbox, we can help. Keep following the Saltbox Savvy blog series and find out where you stand.