Learning and Development: The Ultimate Guide

Erin Biehl
Erin Biehl
Feb 22 2024
13 min read
Learning and Development: The Ultimate Guide

Any company that wants to succeed understands that learning and development (L&D) is essential. Effective L&D is key for empowering (and keeping) employees, future-proofing a company, and boosting business performance, to name just a few reasons. It comes down to choosing the right training programs, experts, length, and locale that lead to the measurable outcomes you’re aiming for. With all the new solutions and technologies out there, it’s finally possible to close threatening skill gaps – but only if you’re on top of the latest L&D insights. 

The Basics: Which L&D Programs and What Skills?

Professional development programs, especially in large companies, are the subject of a lot of discussion. They can be complicated to set up, and difficult to track in terms of the multiple goals that they serve. These can include:

  • Upskilling
  • Increasing employee engagement (and reducing “quiet quitting”)
  • Decreasing employee turnover
  • Enhancing company culture through continuous development

It helps to understand why there is so much confusion around L&D by looking at two central issues: the types of programs, and how they are delivered. 

Types of Programs

Employee development plans can be described in a few ways:

By skill – The easiest way to classify employee skills is according to hard skills and soft skills. Typically, it takes longer to learn a soft skill than it does to acquire a hard skill.

By setting – L&D programs can take place online, through one-on-one coaching, classrooms, and even by phone.  

By employee type – Development strategies naturally focus on employees as defined by their level in the hierarchy and their role in the organization.

Let’s look at this last category a bit more, as this is how Growthspace programs are organized. Over time, we’ve discovered that most companies build employee development plans in this framework, so it’s a common language that is already familiar to HR teams. In the Growthspace lexicon, L&D programs according to employee type are broken down as:

Delivery

Once you’ve defined the population that you are going to train, it’s time to source experts and organize courses. For any personalized learning initiative (which should always be the norm), Growthspace delivers L&D according to the following settings:

Putting it All Together

It may seem like a lot to understand when you look at all of those categories for course delivery and types of programs. But with the right process, it’s actually the best way to optimize individual learning. Here are the basic steps to guide you in creating a customized employee development plan:

  1.   Analyze skills. To figure out what kind of skills are present at your company, and to determine what’s missing, map out the capabilities of your employees and then decide what you’ll need in the future by examining strategy and industry trends. One of the best tools for this purpose is a skills gap analysis.
  2.   Define goals. Use a goal-setting framework like SMART and a template based on schedule, skills gap, performance, etc., to arrange your objectives visually. According to the Growthspace method, common goal types are organizational KPIs, HR metrics, and performance targets.
  3.   Build growth programs and match experts. The skills gap analysis will tell you who needs to be trained and in what areas. Now you’ll need to source those experts who specialize in the skills that your workers need; don’t forget to check that they have a good reputation and will fit on a personal level with employees. This is where using a talent development platform with an effective matching algorithm is vital. 
  4.   Measure. Assess the program and the expert at least twice – halfway through the process and after it ends. There are numerous measurement tools that you can use, such as Anderson’s, CIRO, and ROI. Common measurement targets include employee engagement rates, profitability levels, and overall business performance. 

Learning and Development Trends

As companies realize the huge importance of recently skilled workers, learning and development trends have taken off in many directions. 

  • What’s Being Taught – Skills are changing fast. But how are they changing? It’s truly a dynamic situation that requires HR to stay on top of what their specific workforce needs and be aware of movements in their industry. For example, here are some of the top soft skills as determined during 2023 – but it stands to reason that 2024 might be very different. 
  • How It’s Being Taught – In the face of advances such as mastery-based learning platforms, employees have new preferences. For example, multi-experience talent development actually relies on an L&D platform to determine the best ways for employees to approach their next upskilling initiative. In the near future, we’ll see more types of Next Generation Learning programs as envisioned by people like Bill Gates. Expect an even greater focus on data-driven performance and blended online learning experiences as organizations strive for a “one size fits one” objective.  
  • Who’s Teaching It – Some L&D programs have gone online and mobile, as trends like gamification and microlessons appeal to the growing numbers of younger generations in the workforce. Similarly, social learning, where employees teach each other, is another developing area. According to the CIPD, 28% of companies use social learning to deliver online programs. However, “traditional” learning and development specialists are still the main source of instructional expertise.  
  • Who’s Learning It – Many aspects of the modern workplace are changing as new generations take on more roles. Along with this growth comes a new set of expectations. Younger workers want an environment where psychological safety is a priority, so that they feel included, are able to ask questions, can make a meaningful contribution, and might challenge established norms. 

L&D Professionals and Mentors

There is an important “value chain” in learning programs according to what skills need to be taught, often under the direction of the HR/L&D team. There are countless instructors to choose from, and that choice will depend on the skills defined by career paths and similar initiatives.  

Different L&D Roles

Many types of people are involved in workplace training, from diversity consultants to new employees with outstanding Excel skills. L&D experts can be divided into three categories:

  1. Trainers are both external contractors and internal specialists who teach a specific subject for a course of limited duration, usually with a focus on hard skills. An example of a trainer would be an instructor for a programming language. Trainers are ideal when it comes to a precise area of knowledge, but don’t go far beyond that–a fact that makes them less suitable for complex subjects like soft skills.  
  2. Mentors have expertise in a certain field of business, and they impart these lessons to employees who are now “in their shoes.” There are two types of mentors:
  • Internal mentors work with the employee in the same company, so they are not professional instructors. They have the advantage of exact knowledge of the organization and can be involved with the employee for a long time. 
  • External mentors are hired as part of an engagement. They might not know an employee’s company thoroughly but have been in similar situations, and probably have a much stronger teaching background.      
  1. Coaches are all professionals who guide an employee in pursuit of better performance. Coaches are not meant to tell their clients what to do. Instead, they use a neutral mindset to look at the employee’s situation and then rely on a question-answer format to lead the employee toward their own conclusions. 

When it comes to personalized employee development, there is probably no better option than a coach, who tends to specialize in areas like communication and negotiation. However, in order to approach an engagement without a bias towards how the employee should behave, coaches often have no work experience in their client’s industry. 

Required Skills and Certifications

Another important issue regarding coaches and mentors is that they do not require any learning and development certification. Still, many companies have started their search for coaches through the International Coaching Federation. This group requires all of its members to have taken at least a few central coaching courses, so the ICF promises basic certification. Other coaching certification groups of note include the Center for Coaching Certification, the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, and the Co-Active Training Institute. Keep in mind that certification doesn’t equal quality, so finding the best match for a coaching relationship (which tends to be close and relatively personal), demands effective research. 

HR’s Role in Learning and Development 

When they are separate departments, cooperation between the human resources department and the people at L&D is vital for making the most out of your efforts. There’s a lot riding on the importance of skills related to many HR initiatives, including onboarding, succession planning, and change management

The learning and development manager is the address for making sure that these activities are linked to a training component. But HR can also go a long way towards promoting and leveraging L&D programs. Because they are in constant contact with employees and managers who need skills, HR people are the link, in a way, between suppliers and buyers. For example, HR should coordinate between employees and L&D for:

  • Career development
  • Listing skills required for open positions
  • Getting management on board for upskilling programs and internal recruiting
  • Ensuring that employees are aware of talent development opportunities

In the case of organizations that can’t justify an independent L&D department, this support is even more essential. In smaller companies, where people often “wear many hats,” up-to-date skills are a necessity. HR learning and development programs must pay even more attention to effective L&D concepts.   

L&D Strategies and Best Practices

When you think about how many skills are involved in each role, and for each employee in an organization, the task of L&D can be a bit daunting. However, by getting organized and using the right tools, HR/L&D professionals can accomplish this mission with ease. 

L&D Programs and Tools

There is a whole range of frameworks, models, and software that make L&D programs easier to design. As an example, for the crucial task of identifying what skills your people need, there is a skills matrix. In addition, L&D requirement analysis often occurs alongside other projects. It might just be the case that you have already looked at employee capabilities during other HR initiatives such as an end-of-year review. 

You’ll also find that learning and development metrics are an essential aspect of every L&D program, and for that, you’ll need to set goals using a model like GROW or OSKAR. Finally, in order to manage the entire effort, there are software solutions like a multi-experience talent development platform.     

DEI and DEIB in L&D Programs

One special area of L&D is programs that educate employees about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). To address issues such as institutional racism and unconscious bias, all employees should undergo this type of training. It is important as younger generations see DEI as an essential aspect of a workplace, while these initiatives also provide business benefits. 

Employee Development vs. Leadership Development

Employee development is a general field that is dedicated to improving the skills of all workers. Within this activity is leadership development, which seeks to build the skills, knowledge, and talents required to lead people. In short, leadership development is a part of employee development.

L&D Programs vs. Training & Development Programs

Similarly, training and development is a subset of learning and development. Trainers are those who teach specific skills, often during short courses. However, the skills they teach are still part of overall L&D programming, which also includes long-term learning objectives.  

How Long Does an L&D Program Last?

Some programs, like workshops or group sessions, can last a few hours, while other programs such as Growthspace sprints can take anywhere from 4 to 10 weeks, with about an hour per session. There are also long-term L&D programs that teach different skills continuously. The length of an L&D program depends on the type of program and if the program goals have been met.

What Makes an L&D Program Successful?

If there is one single factor that leads to success, it is setting clear, personalized goals for every L&D program. Once effective segmentation of individual employee learning requirements is in place, the focus shifts to defining meaningful objectives for each L&D program. This involves transitioning from vague goals to specific, measurable, and achievable outcomes.

For example, if the goal of an L&D program is to enhance leadership skills, setting a specific objective like “improving team conflict resolution techniques” provides a clear direction and a tangible outcome to measure success. This clarity helps in not only guiding the content and structure of the program but also in communicating its value to the participants, thereby fostering greater interest and engagement.

Employee performance during or after a course is not the only goal to watch. Employee satisfaction and value are two other key success indicators. If employee careers aren’t benefiting from training in the long run, either because they don’t have support from their managers or because the programs themselves aren’t helpful or easily accessible, that’s an indicator that your L&D program isn’t working properly.

Personalization and Scale

One issue that underlies many of the above concepts is personalized learning. L&D programs should be adjusted to meet precisely the skills that a worker needs, instead of “one size fits all” courses that are easier to administer. 

But this causes an issue with scale. Many learning professionals aren’t managing development programs for ten employees – they need to roll them out for hundreds or thousands. That’s why L&D teams should work with platforms that are designed to function at enterprise levels of scale. A quality platform will leverage the power of artificial intelligence in order to make employee growth for hundreds of workers possible. These systems are based on an L&D skills taxonomy and matching algorithms to engage employees on a personal level by linking precise skill needs with top experts in those areas. 

Growthspace has developed an L&D platform that delivers individualized programs on a wide scale. It’s no longer necessary to put workers who want development initiatives into one basket and give them a learning program that does not focus on the needs of each individual. With technologies like that at Growthspace, organizations of any size can easily implement effective, scalable, and measurable L&D initiatives. 

Erin Biehl
Erin Biehl
Over the past 20 years, Erin Biehl has led teams in the education, hospitality, and technology sectors, excelling in customer success and as a Learning & Development manager. In her L&D role, she designed a leadership framework and developed a comprehensive L&D program for a global company from scratch. Certified as both a DISC and change management facilitator, Erin merges her professional expertise with her academic background, holding a degree in education. Beyond work, her enthusiasm for teaching shines through as a group fitness instructor, specializing in barre and dance classes. Also, a proud mom to her son and two lovable pups, Erin relishes her family life in the beautiful state of Maine

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