The Learning and Development Handbook Book Summary - The Learning and Development Handbook Book explained in key points

The Learning and Development Handbook summary

Michelle Parry-Slater

A Learning Practitioner's Toolkit

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What is The Learning and Development Handbook about?

The Learning and Development Handbook (2022) is a practical guide for human resources experts who want to upgrade how people learn in their organization without slavishly following new fads. So what’s their best bet? Michelle Parry-Slater thinks companies’ can benefit from the digital revolution, but only if they embed professional development in wider cultures of learning. That means one thing above all: working with the grain of human psychology, collective as well as individual. 

About the Author

Michelle Parry-Slater is an award-winning learning and development professional with over two decades of experience in the industry. She is the founding director of Kairos Modern Learning, a consultancy dedicated to helping companies get the best out of traditional and digital workplace learning strategies. Parry-Slater has worked with a wide range of clients including the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the Co-op supermarket chain, and Girlguiding UK.

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    Organizations can’t rely on old learning models in a changing world.

    To start off, we’re going to be talking about learning in a particular context – organizations and companies. In other words, we’ll be looking at professional development

    Our question, then, is how professionals master new skills and pick up the know-how they need in today’s fast-moving workplaces. But before we get to that, let’s take a step back and think about learning in general. How does any learning take place? 

    From schools to universities, public talks, and office training programs, it often happens in a similar way. This learning model centers around the sage on the stage. Let’s break that down. 

    Although the specifics vary, the idea is usually the same. There’s an expert – an individual with special access to some kind of knowledge. Then there’s the audience – the people who turn up at a certain time and place to learn from that sage. This model is face-to-face: everyone is present in person. It’s also top-down. The teacher talks; the audience listens. 

    There’s a reason this model is so common – it can be very effective. As we found out during the Covid-19 pandemic, something important gets lost when traditional learning environments like classrooms disappear. And there are things you really only can learn if you’re physically present. Online-only courses aren’t a great way of acquiring first-aid skills, for example. You need the real-world, face-to-plastic experience of breathing into a CPR doll. It’s the same with learning to drive – you have to sit in an actual car on a real road with a bonafide instructor. 

    Thing is, though, face-to-face learning isn’t the only way people can learn. It’s a cliché, but, like so many clichés, it’s true: the digital revolution is a game-changer. The smartphones in our pockets give us unprecedented access to knowledge, bypassing that sage on the stage. The laptops in our bags meanwhile allow us to work remotely, eroding the old emphasis on physical presence. These are simple facts, Michelle Parry-Slater says, and neither organizations nor learning and development specialists can wish them away. The upshot? We need new approaches to professional development. 

    That doesn’t mean abandoning tried-and true methods in favor of fashionable gimmicks. Immediately adopting the latest tech isn’t a cure-all. But we can’t just keep doing what we’ve always done because, well, that’s how things are done. What we need to do, she suggests, is spend more time thinking seriously about learning in this new environment. In some cases, face-to-face will still be the way to go; in others, it won’t. Oftentimes, the best approach will be to blend different models. 

    Take just one example. When the author worked with the Girl Guides, she looked at their first-aid program. She realized that some 80 percent of the organization’s refresher courses could be taken online. You just don’t need people to be physically present to sit multiple-choice tests on basic medical knowledge. A skill like CPR is different – you need to practice it for real, with an expert. And that’s what the Girl Guides do. They keep the analogue stuff analogue and move the rest online. 

    The point, here, is that face-to-face learning isn’t going away – it’s too important. But it’s not the be-all and end-all of learning. That, Parry-Slater thinks, is the key lesson for organizations and their learning and development teams. In practice, though, that’s often easier said than done. 

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    Who should read The Learning and Development Handbook

    • Human resource managers 
    • Coaches and educationalists
    • Psychologists interested in learning

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