Is It Time For Learning And Development To Go Their Separate Ways?

Start Separating Learning From Development: How Wise Is It?
Kevin George/
Summary: "Training and development". The terms roll off the tongue as if a single word. In fact, in many organizations, they are treated as one item—a single noun. In this article, I make the argument that they aren’t the same, and it’s time some space be put between them.

Start Separating Learning From Development: How Wise Is It?

In the training domain, best practices are becoming increasingly results-driven and focus on a much tighter alignment between employee behaviors and business outcomes. This is a welcome change and it is driven by the availability of more data and deeper analytics tools that allow practitioners to tie training results directly to those business outcomes.

Development best practices are also continuing to evolve. Today’s employee development programs focus more on curating holistic resources that empower employees to grow personally and professionally, to truly develop their skills, abilities, and potential.

So, when an organization treats "training" and "development" as a single practice a move toward the practices of one undermines the other. I think it’s long overdue for us to ask if we serve either of these practices by lumping them together.

Results-Driven Training

Training by its nature has a short or mid-term point of view. As a business, we identify a business problem and through analysis determine that employee behavior or skill deficiency is, at least, part of the cause. The purpose of training is to get employees to start, stop, or change something in the name of a better business outcome. To accomplish this, we provide a set of interventions to teach or change those behaviors and to provide any supporting information needed for the change. This has always been the case, but the tools we now have available to implement these practices are changing the game.

We don’t have to look any further than to our peers in marketing to understand the transformation of training practices. It wasn’t that long ago that the John Wannamaker wrote, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half". This iconic quote summed up the marketing industry’s grasp of return on investment and business impact. Today, any marketing professional worth their weight will provide detailed metrics on a campaign that not only includes activity metrics like clicks and views but also ties that campaign back to hard dollars in the form of resulting proposals and closed sales.

This same dynamic has always existed in training. Performance consultants work closely with a business to identify gaps then architect training solutions to address them. What’s different today, is that we now have a more robust set of tools to tie training activities back to business results. We can collect detailed data about how employees interact and perform in training then correlate this against the reams of data the organization is already collecting about business outcomes and employee behavior. The end state is a lean, virtuous cycle that delivers transparency to our efforts, so we identify success and revisit and refine where we’ve come up short.

Empowered Employees Drive Development

Development programs take a longer-range view than training. Rather than focusing on a specific skill or knowledge gap, development is about allowing and nurturing employees to grow in ways that are meaningful to them. In contrast to outcome-driven training solution, development is more and more shifting to an employee-centric approach. This is a change from the historical, employer-driven approach of organizing development around predictable career progressions to fill an organization’s talent pipeline. Today, development is increasingly about making resources and experiences available so empowered employees can plot their own career path. As Deloitte describes it in their 2018 Human Capital Trends report: Instead of a steady progression along a job-based pathway, leading organizations are shifting toward a model that empowers individuals to acquire valuable experiences, explore new roles, and continually reinvent themselves.

To meet the needs of the modern employee, organizations are currently in a period of intense experimentation to discover how to create the so-called "invisible learning" [1] organization—enabling and assisting learning throughout the organization, wherever and whenever it happens. This typically involves experimenting with a number of methodologies and approaches to empower the self-learner that include some combination of tools that rely on search, Artificial Intelligence, social, and curation and plugging these into work systems where employees already spend time like SharePoint,, and Slack. The end goal is to provide a robust set of resources and interfaces that allow the modern employee to seamlessly acquire knowledge and develop their skills and abilities where and when they want it or need it.

What Do You Think?

Can Learning and Development live happily ever after or are they heading for an inevitable divorce? Does it make sense for one team to cover both domains? Is your organization making structural changes to separate these practices? Are you finding a common set of tools that can be leveraged to meet both practices or are the needs too different?


  1. Invisible L&D