Professional Development through Learning Centers

By Tuck, Joyce W. | Training & Development Journal, September 1988 | Go to article overview

Professional Development through Learning Centers


Tuck, Joyce W., Training & Development Journal


Professional Development Through Learning Centers

In the past five years, foreign competition and rapidly changing technology in the United States have made training and retraining critical to the success of organizational productivity and effectiveness. Never before has the training profession had such opportunities to make an impact on organizations. Trainers are being called upon as a critical resource for restoring America's competitive edge.

Among the challenges before trainers are to design and deliver quality programming based on need and to stay abreast of an explosion of information and new training technologies while scanning the environment for future training needs. Yet as trainers try to meet the growing HRD demands of corporations, it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to obtain the development they need to stay current in the profession itself.

One educational option that has worked well as a training support to training and development professionals at Sun Company, a Fortune-100 corporation in Radnor, Pennsylvania, is the individualized learning center (ILC), a self-directed approach to education and training that combines technology and adult learning theory.

The purpose of a learning center is to offer a variety of resources and teaching technologies, such as video, audio, computer-assisted instruction, and interactive video, and to tailor their use to a person's preferred learning style. Some approaches emphasize visually oriented learning; others focus on listening skills or hands-on learning. Still other approaches combine sight, sound, and hands-on for people who learn best with a mix.

The many educational options of an ILC let busy professionals decide how, when, and where to learn. At Sun Company, 45 percent of those participating in its ILC program reported an interest in video-based learning; 30 percent preferred audio, particularly sales and marketing people who were frequently on the road. Only 10 percent noted a special interest in computer-based instruction; these people tended to be financial and systems professionals. Seven percent, primarily upper-level managers, requested educational books and periodicals to read on their own time.

Traditional learning methods are still valuable, of course. Yet according to John Naisbitt's Reinventing the Corporation, formal classroom education accounts for only 10 to 20 percent of all learning that occurs within corporations; on-the-job training, along with self-development, accounts for the remaining 80 to 90 percent. The rising interest in individualized education reflects the national trend toward self-sufficiency, as people increasingly enjoy the freedom of making their own professional and lifestyle choices.

For training and development professionals, for whom keeping pace with organizational change requires an ongoing, consistent effort, a self-directed and flexible learning program is especially attractive. At the 1988 ASTD National Conference, Ford Motor Co. CEO Donald Petersen emphasized to trainers and consultants the necessity of a strong commitment to lifelong learning. "As a society, we must develop, in concert with the opportunities available from the business community, a system of lifelong learning of high quality that will encourage our citizens to invest in themselves," he said. [See the interview with Donald Petersen in the August 1988 Training & Development Journal.]

Planned success

Successfully planning and implementing an internal learning center that will serve the specific needs of trainers and their clients requires clear objectives. The key components of the ILC concept are: ] Quality programming based on need. Groups and individuals can address specific training concerns as well as organizational issues and strategies. ] Cost-effectiveness. A core selection of courses, such as time or stress management, computer literacy, and communication skills training, available in various formats, can be used as many times and for as many individuals or groups as needed. …

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