The 5 Learning Models: Partnership

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve covered the Performance Support and Mass Distribution learning models, both of which focus on the Information Dissemination Pattern. This week, I’d like to introduce the Partnership model, a flexible framework that mixes both content-heavy and skills-centric approaches to learning.


Flexible Alliances Inside and Out

L&D organizations in a Partnership learning model employ a coalition of key internal and external partners to design, develop, and/or deliver learning experiences to extend their available expertise or resources.


As the name implies, the central identifying feature of the model is the relationship between the key partners providing a combination of resources: the central L&D unit, trainers in the field, third-party content providers, game developers, MOOC’s, systems integrators, and others.

In this model, individuals (or entire business units) recognize gaps in existing training, and either self-customize content to fit their needs, or work with an external third party to find a ready-made solution. For instance, a generic customer service training course may not satisfy the specific needs of a sales division. Learning leaders can either customize the content themselves and dispatch a regional instructor, or source a more appropriate course from an online library. In either case, the guiding principle is remaining open to find the best solution, rather than sticking to a rigid learning procedure.

This isn’t just an enterprise-level learning model, but a common arrangement for small business as well. Without a massive L&D infrastructure, smaller companies must take on learning challenges as they come, with whatever resources are available to them.


  • The Partnership Model provides content that is localized and more relevant to the needs of individuals as compared to the Mass Distribution model.
  • Partnerships allow the cost of training development and delivery to be shared among business units and the overarching L&D organization.
  • In this model, there is added convenience associated with sourcing solutions through external third parties rather than trying to develop content internally.


  • While it can be a benefit to localize content, thereby making it relevant to individuals, standardizing that content becomes difficult or impossible.
  • As in the Mass Distribution model, delivering skills practices requires excellent facilitation capabilities in planning and execution.


To operate in this model, organizations need strong relationships between the central learning organization and their partners. This is particularly important to help identify the common goals between L&D and those doing the learning, so that all parties are satisfied with sharing the costs.

Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that third parties are not directly responsible to L&D. When dealing with them, organizations must perform due diligence to ensure that they have expertise in the field, and can deliver their services on time and within budget.

Connection to the Learning Revolution

One of the key trends in the learning revolution has been the decentralization of L&D activities. This is very apparent under the Partnership Model as departments, business units, and individuals are all taking on more responsibility for their own training. Again, speed is the motivating factor: Employees tasked with delivering results can’t wait around for L&D to provide guidance in every conceivable situation at the speed expected of modern businesses.

To keep up, L&D’s purview in this model is geared less toward creation than it is toward curation; what learning leaders need now are the tools (such as LRSs and xAPI) to monitor the ways people are customizing or sourcing content. In this way, lessons and solutions individuals develop can be shared seamlessly throughout the organization.

Questions to Qualify if Operating in a Partnership Model

  • Do business units in your organization have a dedicated L&D professional responsible for training initiatives?
  • Does your organization maintain a team of trainers assigned to specific departments or regions?

If you recognize that your organization follows the Partnership model, you should be asking these questions to smooth the sometimes bumpy road to decentralized learning. Next week I’ll be looking at the University Model of learning. Keep following along as I cover more learning models, as well as transitional strategies to move your L&D organization in the right direction.


Organizations that do not plan for learning sufficiently often find themselves devolving into a reactionary, or ad hoc, version of the Partnership Model by default. Stumbling into it thoughtlessly can lead training initiatives to become disjointed, contradictory, and ultimately counterproductive. To help avoid this, you should try to keep your central L&D team small and agile, while maintaining strong lines of communication with field trainers, and other learning stakeholders. Failing to plan is planning to fail.