Category Archives: Learning and Development

Thinking about development theories- why do we still make people sit through standard “inductions” or “training programs?”

From an adult educator’s standpoint, one of the first theorist’s who grabbed my attention was Vygotsky, with his ‘Social Development Theory’. Vygotsky believed that development is a lifelong process and that it is dependent on social interaction, as this directly leads to an individual’s cognitive development (Riddle and Dabbagh. 1999 [Online]).

He proposed that learning occurs in the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ and described it as ‘the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers’ (Vygotsky. 1978).

So what does that all mean? In terms of learning and change as development, this means an individual is able to best develop with the guidance, encouragement and/or collaboration of others in a socially interactive setting.

What? So this means a new starter won’t develop by sitting in a room being read information by someone else? Who would have thought!

Vygotsky’s theory says that learning and development needs to be a collaborative experience as opposed to the more traditional learning methods. For example, rather than a facilitator lecturing information to the group, the learner and facilitator should work in partnership in order to create meaning in ways that students can make their own (Hausfather. 1996).

Meaning making is an important part of the learning process

Meaning making is an important part of the learning process

In thinking about this in the context of my own workplace, I recalled a conversation I had with an adult learner in my previous job who said that she found her initial induction training experience to be ‘dry, boring and almost transactional’ as each speaker came in, spoke to the group about a designated topic and then left without inviting any interaction or stimulation of ones thinking about the presentation. It became monotonous and she found it was hard to recall the information presented because it was hard to remain focussed and engaged for long periods of time.

In contrast, she found the customer service training to be highly engaging due to its interactive nature. It involved group brainstorming and presentation of their ideas, role plays and quizzes. Moreover, learners were from a range of backgrounds and experiences so she also learned from listening to their customer service stories and how they dealt with particular situations. She felt that she learned much more and was able to demonstrate more key skills in this form of interactive training than when she was lectured to.

Now this isn’t rocket science, so why are we still using the same old techniques in our in-house programs?

More pertinent to my workplace, is this change in learning delivery a result of generational change i.e. Gen Y expect training to be interactive and engaging where as the boomers are happy with more traditional classroom style ‘listen and learn’ sessions? Keen to hear your thoughts.


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Chairing the Australian Employment and Workplace Relations Summit: A huge learning experience

A few weeks ago I was asked by Jo Knox of HR Daily if I would be interested in chairing the summit. My first instinct was, ‘wow that would be a great development opportunity’ and I said ‘sure put my name forward’.

I got an email from the organisers and asked my boss what he thought. Just like he always does, he reminds me of all the things I’ve not thought of.

• Given I have a background in Learning and Development/OD would I have enough knowledge about all of the areas covered in the summit?
• How confident am I speaking in front of a group of my peers (and possibly very experienced peers?)
• Have I ever done anything like this before?
• Have I ever facilitated a panel of experts before?
• Had I gotten from the higher powers at my workplace?


Although I was a bit disappointed by the reaction, he was right. I hadn’t really thought it through. That week I got shingles, I had my first HR Club Sydney event coming up, I was busy as hell at work, and working long hours.

I left it a few days, because work took over, I was sick and I really didn’t want to make a decision. I wanted to take the opportunity, but was it a risk I was willing to take?

A good friend of mine always says to me “the only way to get over scary things is to do them”.

Yep, I'd rather jump out of a plane than speak in public

Yep, I'd rather jump out of a plane than speak in public

In not really thinking about it too much and not wanting to pass up the opportunity, I spoke to my boss about it and in promising to study up on the topics he allowed me to do it.

So the week went on, I buried myself in work and found myself on my way to Melbourne for the summit. I kept thinking positive and reminded myself that I had done the research.

I woke up in the morning had some breakfast, and although I was feeling a bit nervous I was also excited about doing the job. The crowd took a little while to warm up but after the first speakers, and a few lame jokes on my part, I was happy every time I got up there, even when my boss came to watch!

I had a great time, I met some wonderful people from the audience, the speakers were engaging and I learned a lot.

I was however feeling a little ill all day. My stomach was cramping and I felt nauseous. My boss bought me some buscopan and I thought I’d be ok. I keep pushing through but with about ten minutes to go, I just couldn’t keep going and I rushed off to the bathroom just making it to be sick.

Ah well. These things happen and as another friend said ‘everyone gets sick’.

Anyway the moral of the story? Try your gut instinct and go for it. The only way to get over scary things is indeed, just to do them.


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The Top 12 Leadership Training Mistakes

Good morning everyone- I’m back after a few days of being ill. Rather inconvenient actually, but in the spirit of moving onwards and upwards with the week I attended a short seminar in the city this morning which was about “The Top 12 Leadership Training Mistakes”.

Hosted by James Adonis of ‘Team Leaders’, the seminar went for about an hour at Circular Quay and James mentioned a lot of good points about why leadership training often fails us. Some of the reasons include the course being too basic (we’ve all been to courses before that tell us how to suck eggs), the facilitator might not be experienced enough to manage the audience appropriately, it’s boring (i.e. delivered in a way that is not engaging or focuses on ploughing through the content not the learner experience) and the leadership training may not cater to each individual learning style.

James also mentioned one of the biggest mistakes which I think is true of most formal learning/training programs- “no reinforcement”. If we send people along to a training program and then just expect that they’ll behave differently when they get back, we are setting ourselves up to fail.

We can't just plant the leadership seeds, and expect them to grow on their own!

We can't just plant the leadership seeds, and expect them to grow on their own!

We can’t just send our terrible people leaders on leadership courses and expect them to have some giant Oprah ‘ah ha’ moment and return the manager of the year. The leader will need reinforcement of the correct behaviours and feedback when they aren’t meeting the expectations. It may help for the individual to set goals at the end of the training for ways in which they are going to change and review these regularly with a manager. They might also need ongoing coaching or mentoring and regular, specific feedback in the moment is imperative.

As a HR professional, do you actively follow-up with clients after they’ve attended a training program to evaluate its effectiveness and ensure that the learning has been transferred to the workplace?

**Check out the Team Leaders website and download the free stuff**

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E-learning in the workplace

E-learning involves things like online, electronic or web-based learning. Many Universities now offer distance education courses utilizing e-learning so that all the materials are available online, assessments are submitted electronically and there are online discussions with other students.

Generally the content is available anytime, anywhere and it’s personalized towards the individual via some form of technology.


The benefits of delivering education via e-learning include:

1) Cost- it’s inexpensive and travel costs (flights, accommodation) can be eliminated
2) It’s convenient because it is available anywhere, at anytime.
3) It is self-directed which means learners can work at their own pace and when they are ready to do so.
4) Its private and learners can study in an environment which is comfortable for them.
5) It is consistent- delivered the same way for each participant
6) It is easily updated- changes to legislation etc can be changed quickly and with minimal cost
7) It helps learners to developed solid computer literacy skills

I’ve had two experiences with e-learning. One good and one bad, and not just because of the way in which it was delivered via e-learning.

The first was my Masters in Adult Education with UTS. It was fantastic. I felt supported by my lecturers, I interacted with other students online and I really learned a lot. The systems were easy to use, easy to access, and it really suited me because I was working full-time and I could study when I had the time i.e. according to the peaks and troughs of my job. I knew what I needed to learn, and why I was learning it from the interaction with others in my program and the online conversations with the teaching staff.

The second was a Cert 4 in Training and Assessment. It was delivered online in such an appalling way that I ended up withdrawing from the course. It was clunky, difficult to use (and I’m Gen Y and pretty good on the interwebs!) and not-interactive at all. I would read through the content and then it would ask me questions where I would just need to regurgitate the answer. Most of the time, I didn’t even know why I needed to know some of the content.

In thinking about how adults learn and Knowles theory of andragogy, I think there are a few basic principles that should be followed for e-learning:

Adults need to know why they are learning something, and this is enhanced when it is reinforced by dialogue with others
Learning should be an activity- not content to be ‘covered’ or ‘memorized’. The learning ‘experience’ is important
It should be self-directed and allow adults to discover or find out things on their own, but with support of others
Adults will be more interested when it is relevant to them- ‘what’s in it for me?’ – will it help me in my current job or help me get the next promotion?

What are your experiences with e-learning at University or in the workplace?

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