Defining Learning and Development

Every now and then it’s good to take a good long hard at yourself in the mirror and ask the question – just what am I for?

This profession I work in, Learning and Development. I’ve been at it for a while now, been writing about it for a while now, set up communities of interest around the topic, and get involved in various online discussions to promote the area and discuss what and how we do the work we do.

But, what is it?

It’s an odd bit of terminology that doesn’t really mean anything.

If you look at the Operations, Finance, Sales, Marketing, Call Centre roles of this world, you have an immediate sense of what it means to work in those fields – and you have a sense of what function they perform.

The most common response to saying what function I perform is – oh so you do training?

I shouldn’t really be surprised by this though.

It’s only those of us in the industry who care about the broader definition of what we do. And if you want a list?
– we do training
– we facilitate workshops
– we provide e-learning
– we use online and social learning tools
– we promote and market the organisation internally and externally
– we deliver management and leadership training
– we provide coaching

I’m not writing this to start a conversation about what we term ourselves or how relevant we are as a profession, just to make the point that I don’t think any term could actually capture what we do.

Even the term Organisational Development is nebulous. I’ve worked in some organisations where that terminology means the delivery of training, and in others where it means facilitating cross-departmental working, and in others where it refers to talent management and or recruitment processes.

And then there’s questions raised about what those words – Learning and Development, actually mean. To learn means to undertake a form of study in order to help me achieve some knowledge I didn’t have before. To develop means to take that learning and use it so that I may become a better craftsperson/practitioner.

Have a think about that for a moment. None of that describes the need for a person to fulfil that function. If anything, it suggests learning and development should be entirely a self-directed process.

It’s just a space we occupy which we understand is about people development but we think needs a better definition.

Hey, inadvertently. I think I’ve just coined our new name – People Development.

Published by

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.

14 thoughts on “Defining Learning and Development”

  1. I prefer People Development because frankly all these name changes confuse me. Recently, they wanted to call me “Consultant, Capability” – that way exactly. With the comma as well. I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had heard and naturally told them so. In the end, I call myself a Learning and Development Consultant (as this is what my clients know the job as) while colleagues call themselves with their commas.

    You can guess that in meetings, after we shake hands, the discussion ALWAYS leads to, “mmm that’s an interesting title, shouldn’t it be the other way around?” (eye roll)

    Rant over.

    1. “Consultant, Capability”. That’s just unhelpful, and confusing. Glad you stuch to L&D Consultant as at least people have an understanding of what it could entail!

  2. Sorry to crash the People Development (PD) party but what if, after reviewing the issue, considering options and evaluating potential interventions, it isn’t a people issue but a systems, structure, strategy or culture issue?

    Would activity under those topics fall into the PD space, or would OD take them away, leaving PD to become L&D again?

    1. This is a really good challenge, Andrew.

      I wonder if those things are naturally within the OD space, and therefore the very understanding of OD is misunderstood?

      And if that’s true, why wouldn’t L&D be called PD?

  3. Can you separate the people from the system and the learning?
    I’m curious… what happens if we just do stuff with the intention of pushing a learning agenda or a development agenda? How significant is the name in that instance?
    Would it matter if we called ourselves the centre for Devlearnament?
    Or is that just silly?
    I wonder.

    1. Another good challenge, thanks Julie.

      There’s something about being called the ‘Centre of..’ which doesn’t sit comfortably with me. It implies that that function is the arbiter of all information. The changing world means that is rarely the case anymore, and sharing is the key to success.

      So even if we just do stuff, what would we be called? The Achievement Team? Why couldn’t we call ourselves Coaches and leave it at that?

      Also, being silly allows for creativity, so it’s all good.

  4. I always liked the name Organizational Performance. That’s why we do all this right? Help people improve so the organization improves. It also positions it as not being about the soft, touchy-feely, people stuff, but the hard, difficult, messy results that only comes from people.

    1. It’s a good point, Broc. My main challenge to that is I’m an expert in learning and organisational development, not organisational or individual performance.

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