The science of… Learning and Development

HA! I could really fall flat on my face on this one if I don’t get it right. Especially after many of my self-righteous rants over recent weeks. And here it is. The truth about L&D. Let’s dance.

Learning and Development has been around for a long time. You could argue anyone involved in delivering knowledge is an L&Der. You could also argue that L&D is not restricted to sitting in HR. You could argue that L&D should be lead by business leaders. You could argue that L&D is a mickey mouse department in a company. We’re not here to argue who should be involved in L&D. We’re here to discuss the mechanics of providing an effective L&D function.

Business Needs Analysis

Typically referred to as Training Needs Analysis. I’ve left the ‘Training’ piece off the subtitle and called it ‘Business’ as I don’t believe L&D is restricted to ‘training’. Purpose of the function aside, the place to start is by identifying what are the needs of the business. This doesn’t mean looking at the business objectives and then drawing a line of sight to L&D objectives. It also doesn’t mean analysing appraisals to identify what training has been requested.

It’s about looking at the way the business operates and identifying the areas where support is needed to develop further. For example, a production line may be efficient at the number of units it produces in an hour. It may not be efficient though at highlighting issues with machinery and reporting these. Or, a project team may work well according to instruction and direction from the project manager, but may not work well together. Or, an individual in a lone role may know how to network well and spread knowledge through a business but time management may be a crucial issue in delivering projects.

By looking at the way the business operates – and that’s the only objective place you can gain the information – you can confidently target the L&D intervention needed.

Design and Development

So you’ve identified the business need. Then comes designing and developing the appropriate intervention. This sounds like it’s the easy part. But you have to consider so much when designing an intervention. Be it e-learning, blended learning, training course, workshop, facilitated discussion, coaching, mentoring, job shadowing, accreditation, qualification based, or some other form of intervention there are some basics to be considered.

First comes understanding about the way people learn. There’s a lot of research on learning styles, memory (both short term and long term), models about change, the learning process, human behaviour, and it’s all relevant stuff. The intervention has to consider whether or not it has considered these variants, and how it will be inclusive of most if not all of them.

Then comes considering whether or not you’ve actually developed an appropriate intervention. What’s the best way for the group to learn the required skill? Is it what you’ve decided or what the business needs? You may well have a belief that a particular methodology is the best approach, but it may not be appropriate for the group. Take the production line example. Taking them offsite for in-depth case study review and training on risk management may work and be effective, but might be easier if it’s done on the job and with real life management of the situation.

Importantly, the design also includes the collateral. Workbook? Handouts? Deck? Flipcharts? Branding? These are all important and although may go unmissed, if done well add to the learning experience.


Ah the best part of the job. Well for me anyway. Standing up and showing off your knowledge and being the centre of attention (not like me at all *coughs*). The person delivering has a lot to learn about how to engage with a group on so many levels.

Do you get body language? Not just eye contact, nodding, pacing, proximity, boredom and obvious behaviours like that. But things like – curious looks, note taking, the tone of voice someone takes, the way one person reacts to another, and more – these are the key behaviours that need to be understood, so that they can be responded to.

Do you get language? It’s easy to miss the essence of what someone is asking if you just take it at face value. Have you listened to the way the question has been phrased? What about how they’re responding verbally to others? And the way they’re commenting on what you’ve said. It’s vital to be tuned in to these things so you know in what direction the conversation needs to be lead.

If it’s a course, then you may also need to consider the use of exercises. Should they be practical? (Yes) Can they be theoretical? (Possibly) What about role plays? (only as a last resort) Should I use case studies (If appropriate) What about theoretical? (Again, if appropriate). The aim of any exercise should be always to raise awareness of a missing skill that needs to be learned. Through the exercise there should be learning that says “this is how you do it”.


The oft missed piece of any training. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. Essentially though what you’re looking to confirm is – was the training effective and helped improve a skill or not? Read my previous post for more info as I’ll just be repeating myself.

And that’s the heart of any L&D function right there. I don’t think I’ve missed anything. I may have skimmed over certain bits, but this is all about looking at the science of it. The science piece here is about the process identified above. Pull me up if I’ve missed something and be sure to add your own stuff in the comments.

Posts in this series:

The science of… Assessment Centres
The science of… Psychometrics
The science of… Competency Frameworks
The science of… Ergonomics
The science of… Appraisals
The science of… Occupational Psychology


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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