How do people learn? New CIPD research provides the answers


The latest research report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) How do People Learn? goes back to basics to explore what we know about how people learn. It provides insights into what organisations can do to make the most of their training and development budgets.

The research, which will be launched the at the CIPD's annual Scottish Conference on 14 March, to an audience of people management specialists, shows that the rise of e-learning and the heightened emphasis on knowledge means that organisations need to understand better how people actually learn at work.

Martyn Sloman, our adviser on training and development said: "Organisations are willing to invest in new technologies in the hope that training delivery costs will go down and learning in the workplace will be enhanced. But to achieve real success we would urge training professionals to develop new learning processes and in particular ones intended to kindle interest in self-directed learning.

"We also need to move away form the emphasis on training and place more on building learning into our everyday working lives. And the focus should be on the learner not the trainer."

The report argues that organisations need to develop a new "blended" approach to learning and in particular need to:

  • Introduce richer mixes of learning processes - conventional instruction-based, self-directed, experience based and group learning
  • Balance face-to-face and electronic learning
  • Encourage new forms of informal and collaborative working through special interest groups and teams

Says Sloman: "Today, human capital is the key organisational asset for competitive advantage - and human capital is based on employees' knowledge and ability to learn. Time is now the scarce resource in the organisation."

"Add to this the speed at which organisations need to make decisions and respond to change, and it is clear that employees need constant access to learning opportunities delivered quickly, efficiently and in line with their own learning preferences and styles."

The research undertaken by the Cambridge Programme for Industry also argues that theories of learning cannot be used in a prescriptive way. Instead, they can help organisations to develop unique approaches that take into account the distinctive context and environment in which they operate.

Says Sloman: " New ways of working, a more diverse workforce, and new technologies - especially e-learning - have made practitioners question established ways of training employees.

"CIPD training surveys show that more traditional, classroom-based learning events still predominate in most organisations. Clearly, we are in a time of flux for training and development practitioners - between the familiarity of traditional instruction-based systems and the enormous potential of e-learning".

The conclusion is that there is no single approach which can offer an effective solution to the "delivery" of learning in today's competitive environment. The message to companies is to experiment and mix traditional methods with newer online solutions. The results of such experiments must be rigorously monitored and success reinforced."

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has over 110,000 members and is the leading professional institute for those involved in the management and development of people.

Martyn Sloman is available for interview. Please contact Judith Cowan on 020 8263 3232.

How Do People Learn? can be ordered direct from Plymbridge Distributors Ltd on 01752 202301, from business bookshops or through the CIPD website on

If you are a member of the press and wish to view other CIPD information, please contact Mark Buckley: 020 8263 3240 or [email protected] for a username and password.