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Workplace learning with coaching and mentoring
Workplace learning with coaching and mentoring

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2 The shift from training to learning

A gradual shift from training to learning began during the 1980s, mainly in the US and the UK. This was a time of high employment and labour turnover, when organisations were competing with each other for skilled workers and were keen to understand how to retain and develop employees. It was also a time when innovation in the use of technology and of increasing global competition started to be noticed, and there was pressure on organisations to respond quickly to these changes. To make this rapid response easier, organisations increasingly started to move to flatter structures and project-based working, with a marked increase on the outsourcing of work to contractors and agencies. Employees began to work in different ways as new technologies made flexible working and home working much easier and more common. Against this background, new ideas began to develop about how organisations could think strategically about individual and organisational learning and how both individuals and organisations could be helped to learn quickly and continuously in order to develop the new skills demanded by organisational change.

For those employed as trainers, there were major challenges to face, with a shift from delivering training in specific areas of knowledge to finding a range of ways to support and facilitate learning, often through coaching or mentoring. This sometimes meant encouraging individuals to decide for themselves how to learn, and even what to learn, rather than being told or led by the trainer. In this new world, those who specialised in learning within organisations had to think about how their roles have changed and the competencies they would need.

This shift is also related to the different understandings of learning: specifically, the development of theory from behaviourism, through cognitivist and humanism, towards social constructivism. In the social constructivist view, we make active sense of our worlds, we construct our own versions of ideas and we craft our own connections between them (Burr, 2015). This means that social constructivist learners are active, rather than passive; they take ownership of their own learning, rather than merely being recipients of the training specified and designed by others.

In this section you will explore, in a little more detail, the idea that learners take ownership for their learning. Although some of these ideas are quite conceptual and abstract, they do have direct relevance for the practices of learning and talent development. In particular, they signal a move away from relying only on formal training-based approaches towards seeing training as just one component in a suite of different learning experiences.