As professionals, we know the value of lifelong learning — it’s how we got to where we are today!
But implementing learning and development (L&D) at a company is no small feat. And often, these projects fall into the domain of HR professionals who might not have handled L&D before.
If that sounds like you, you’re not alone — according to research from Deloitte, just 10% of HR professionals feel equipped to handle an L&D project.
So in this article, I’ll share everything you need to know to jump into L&D head first.
I’ll start with the basics — what L&D is, and why it matters. Then, I’ll get into learning and development methods, the skills you need to administer them well and strategies that will set you up for success.
Click to jump ahead:
- What is learning and development?
- What’s the purpose of learning and development programs?
- What skills are important for learning and development professionals?
- Learning and development methods
- Strategies for success in learning and development
What is learning and development?
Everyone knows what ‘learning’ means. But in a professional context, learning and development (L&D) has a specific definition.
Employers offer learning and development programs to facilitate the professional (and personal) growth of employees. Often, learning and development is a specialized branch of a company’s human resources department.
L&D may also be called training and development, learning and performance or talent development.
One example we likely all remember from childhood is getting a day off for teachers’ professional development (‘pro-d days’). Another common example would be company trips to research conferences or industry conventions.
Learning and development encompasses many different functions, programs and goals. If you’ve had a job, you’ve participated in L&D, even if you didn’t realize it.
A few examples of learning and development include:
- Employee onboarding and training
- Leadership and new manager training
- Upskilling and reskilling
- Compliance training
- Group development retreats (like Landmark Forum)
As I touched on earlier, learning and development programs are often managed through the HR department. But they can also exist as their own business function, especially at larger organizations.
How are learning and development different?
The term ‘learning and development’ can sound redundant at first. Isn’t development all about learning?
Well, yes — they’re similar. But in organizational L&D programs, there are some key differences that set them apart.
- Learning is a general, umbrella term for the process of gaining more knowledge and skills. All professional development involves learning.
- Training is a specific type of learning. It refers to strictly job-related material — onboarding or compliance training would be two good examples.
- Development is learning that helps you grow as a professional and reach your career goals. You’ll likely be learning things that are outside of, but adjacent to, your existing specializations.
Here’s an example of a checklist L&D managers could use to support training compliance.
Or, an L&D professional might share an infographic like this to educate a new manager on leadership styles.
The benefits of learning and development
Curiosity and an appetite to learn are positive qualities in all areas of life, in and out of the workplace. When we readily master new skills and information, we become flexible and adaptable, able to continuously improve how we work.
Here are a few reasons companies might embrace learning and development programs, and build a culture of lifelong learning among their people.
The most obvious reason to emphasize learning and development is to produce better business results!
Some forms of learning and development, like compliance training, are necessary to maintain a baseline level of performance. Others might help companies learn to take on new kinds of work, or do their existing tasks faster and more efficiently.
Attract and retain talent
Talented people have more employment options than ever. The remote work revolution and global labor shortages have put power in the hands of job-seekers.
Learning and development is proven to improve employee satisfaction, engagement and experience. In a competitive hiring landscape, it’s a powerful way for employers to stand out and show prospective employees they’re supportive of their growth.
Agility and future-proofing
We live in an age of exponential technological advancement. That means the skills it takes to get work done are changing faster than ever before.
Learning and development programs are a critical way for companies to keep up, make the most of their peoples’ talent and adapt as industries change around them.
As brand-new technologies keep emerging, there will be a limited supply of people to hire who are already proficient in them. The most cost-effective, not to mention ethical, strategy for employers is training the people they already have.
Here’s an infographic that goes over the different ways to approach internal training:
What skills are important for learning and development professionals?
What does it take to deliver an incredible learning and development experience? Closely related to human resources, great L&D professionals have many of the same people-centric, highly transferable skills.
Here are three of the most important.
Learning can’t happen without effective communication. Communication skills are critical to nearly all team-based work, but they’re truly essential when planning and implementing learning and development programs.
Great L&D professionals use communication skills to:
- Understand employees’ goals, interests and dreams
- Take feedback from employees and use it to improve the learning and development experience
- Give learners the individualized support they need to get value from L&D programs
- Explain the value of L&D to senior leadership and share results
Just like many other professional projects, learning and development is a set of organized activities undertaken to achieve a goal.
L&D professionals use management skills at many stages of the process, from designing a program that’s aligned with business objectives to keeping learners on track towards goals.
Instructional design is exactly what it sounds like — creating the actual content employees learn from! That could mean designing a full course, or creating materials like videos and infographics.
This skill isn’t strictly necessary for learning and development professionals, because there’s so much exceptional educational content already available online.
But instructional design skills are still an incredibly valuable asset, allowing managers to tailor and customize learning content to their organization’s needs.
And instructional design has never been more accessible. With tools like Venngage, you can quickly make custom job aids, one-pagers, training plans and more to supplement learning and development programs.
For example, the following presentation template would be perfect for a quick training session — simply edit the content to suit your needs:
Learning and development methods
Just like there are many different learning styles, there are many ways to help employees pursue professional learning and development.
One influential learning and development framework is the 70/20/10 model. Based on a 1992 survey of nearly 200 high-ranking executives, the model breaks down workplace learning into three components:
- 70% of learning happens from challenging assignments
- 20% of learning happens from developmental relationships
- 10% of learning comes from formal L&D courses and training
Here are some major examples.
Mentorship and coaching
Mentoring and coaching is a classic learning method for a reason. Done right, mentoring and coaching is a powerful way to set employees up for success and harness the developmental relationships mentioned in the 70/20/10 model.
Learning directly from an experienced teacher, one-on-one, is an experience that’s hard to replicate. The resulting professional relationships can be surprisingly meaningful, both for the coach or mentor and mentee.
Reverse mentoring is a valuable option, too. In this model, younger or junior employees coach those with seniority on their special skills (like social media). Everyone, no matter their age bracket, has knowledge and experience to share.
Here’s an infographic that covers the value of coaching in more depth:
eLearning platforms are the classrooms of the digital age.
Of course, in-person learning isn’t going anywhere. But today, online learning systems like Learning Experience Platforms (LXP) or Learning Management Systems (LMS) let employees learn when, where and how it works for them.
Modern elearning systems, like Storyline 360, are device-responsive, beautifully designed and can accommodate a wide range of educational materials, from text, to video to infographics and interactive activities.
It’s a much better way to approach the 10% of learning that happens through formal coursework.
In many industries, proper certification is a serious matter — it’s required to prove people can do their jobs competently and safely.
Certifications are typically required to prove compliance. They might also be necessary to advance professionally, even within an organization.
Before hiring a new employee, it’s always a good idea to verify any required certifications, as outlined in this infographic:
Hands-on, or on-the-job, training might be the most classic way to learn.
People have always learned by doing — and it’s no less relevant in a remote-work or hybrid environment. Hands-on training epitomizes the fact that 70% of learning happens through practical workplace challenges.
Hands-on training is a crucial part of many other learning and development methods, like onboarding, mentorship, certifications and even eLearning.
A huge amount of hands-on learning happens organically, outside of formal initiatives. But there’s no reason teams can’t intentionally dedicate time to on-the-job learning.
For example, managers and employees could check in for a one-to-one after learning-intensive days, making sure important skills and concepts were grasped correctly. Or, employees could fill out a training assessment checklist like this one to pinpoint any skill gaps:
Strategies for success in learning and development
Not every L&D program is created equal. Great learning and development programs should feel like attending class with your favorite professor — inspiring, interactive and focused on the learner’s unique journey.
Have a clear objective
To get a good return on investment, learning and development programs should have clear objectives. If you don’t know what you’re striving for, it will be impossible to evaluate the program’s success.
Does your organization need L&D to stay ahead of industry disruption? Attract more high-quality talent? Improve performance, and in what specific way?
Ideally, the objective should be broken down into objectives and key results (OKRs), and reassessed regularly to monitor progress. Here’s an example of how a marketing team might break down their goals, but you could easily customize the content for L&D:
Align learning with peoples’ individual goals
Employees need an incentive to engage with learning and development. If taking part doesn’t personally benefit them, these programs just feel like an extra obligation.
That could mean that learning and development helps people pursue skills they were already interested in. It could also give them a chance at a higher-paying internal promotion or make their existing job faster and easier.
Whatever the case may be, make sure you frame your L&D programs accordingly. Including an infographic like this one that outlines the benefits of L&D in the onboarding process can be a good way to set the stage for future growth:
Build learning into regular workflows
If learning and development is an expectation piled on top of existing tasks, it will feel like a burden, rather than an inspiration. So, either build your learning and development program into employee’s regular duties, or make sure they have plenty of time to complete it.
For example, you could assign a project that will require new skills — and make learning them part of the fun! Or, you could introduce a new eLearning course, and dedicate two mornings a week to completing it.
Make sure to follow up on any training courses, too. Sharing a one pager with an overview of important takeaways is a great way to ensure employees retain information long-term.
For instance, if you were doing a product training for customer service representatives, you could leave them with a one page comparison of key products:
Integrate L&D and HR
Human resources and learning and development don’t necessarily need to operate as one single function. But for best results, they do need to be closely connected.
When HR and L&D are well-integrated, you have the data to make sure learning projects are well-aligned with peoples’ own career paths and goals. Plus, it’s easier to assess the outcomes of these programs as part of an employee’s workplace performance.
The following infographic outlines a holistic high performance model, but you could easily edit it to be more specific to HR and L&D:
Cater to different learning styles
Everyone learns differently. Designing your LD program around different learning styles doesn’t just make it a more fulfilling experience for employees — it creates better outcomes and results!
Pay attention to how your people learn. One person might prefer hands-on exercises, while another might be a highly visual learner. Not sure what kind of content your employees prefer? Just ask them!
Tailoring L&D to different learning styles doesn’t need to be hard. With Venngage, you can make complex information accessible to visual learners by creating beautiful training materials, like this ADDIE model presentation:
The best L&D programs are learner-centric. Instead of just throwing information at people, they present it in a variety of interesting ways, to appeal to different learning styles.
Visuals are one particularly easy way for professionals to make L&D accessible and exciting. What would you rather read — a colorful, well-designed document, or a basic PDF full of text?
In the past, time and skill constraints held L&D professionals back from using this kind of content. But Venngage makes it possible for anyone to produce custom training materials like presentations, manuals, handouts and more.
So go ahead, browse our library of templates and bring some life and color to your learning and development programs.