According to Pilbeam and Corbridge Human Resource Development can be defined as the activities involved in organizing individual and collective learning processes aimed at the development of both employees and the organization. This is concerned with the provision of learning, development and training opportunities in order to improve individual, team and organizational performance. The Human Resource Development process main intention is to improve employees’ career goals and achieve the organization’s objectives in the long run.
Organizational learning and development is defined as, the organizational process of developing people which involves the integration of learning and development processes. This process involves enhancing personal competence, adaptability and employability. Human Resource Development seeks to improve the skills of the workforce which would positively contribute to the overall success of the organization. A Learning style refers to an individual’s habitual and preferred way of perceiving, organizing, and retaining knowledge and it explains individual differences for stimuli recognition and processing.
The learning styles preferred and adopted by individuals often differ therefore, HR must be aware of individual preferences in learning, employee training and development programs in order to design and implement effective programs. The two learning style models that has the most relevance in management are Kolb (1984) and Honey and Mumford (1986). David Kolb a leading researcher in learning strategies and learning processes developed the Kolb’s experiential learning theory and the learning style inventory which utilizes the Lewin Cycle of adult learning. Kolb states that learning occurs in a cycle that is made up of four stages.
The initial stage Concrete Experience is where the learner experiences something directly. This is followed by Reflective Observation, where the learner reflects on the experience, comparing it to what he/she already knows. At the Abstract Conceptualization stage the learner, then thinks about his/ her observations and develops new ideas. Finally the learner acts on what have been observed (Active Experimentation) which is the basis for future learning. Learning is said to occur when the learner completes all four stages and new knowledge, skills, and attitudes results in new behaviour.
The Peter Honey and Alan Mumford theory have been directly derived from Kolb’s experiential learning theory. These theorists have also indentified four main learning styles and preferences which highlight general behavioural tendencies. The four learning styles proposed by Honey and Mumford are Activists, Reflectors, Theorists and Pragmatists. Activists are often involved in new experiences and new ideas. Activist’s prefers the challenges of new experiences, they learn best when they are actively involved in tasks.
Reflectors on the other hand, prefer to learn from activities that allow them to review and analyze data carefully before drawing conclusions. Theorist prefers to analyze problems in a step-by- step manner and they learn best through linking their experiences with theories. Pragmatists which is the final style, likes to apply what was learnt to their jobs. In order to detect the learning style preferred by employees a LSQ (Learning Style Questionnaire) which is a self administered questionnaire utilized to determine the learning style preferred by individual’s can be used.
In order to effectively design and implement a training program for the client services department in an organization a training need analysis must first be conducted. This process involves collecting data, assessing the capability of the performance gap and making recommendations. The training need analysis determined that the newly appointed customer service representatives needed to be trained on the standard procedure required in dealing with dissatisfied or disgruntled customers.
Next, the learning outcomes were defined these included the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are required by the customer service representatives when they are dealing with customers, management decided to use a pre- program cost based strategy, since they found it to be the most appropriate technique. Once the broad planning strategy was determined the final planning and design of learning activities commenced where the organization utilized an instructor led delivery session off the job site.
The organization selected the most recent hires in the client services department to undergo a one (1) day training session. The learning styles preferred by the employees that were selected were firstly detected, through the administration of the LSQ. It was established that the preferred learning styles were Activists and Pragmatists (Peter Honey and Alan Mumford theory). Upon acquisition of this knowledge the specialist trainers provided relevant content on how to effectively deal with disgruntled customers after which a live demonstration took place.
The employees were then given the opportunity to discuss the information that was provided and compared this information to their current way of coping with such situations. After the discussion the employees were allowed to partake in several simulations and or role playing activities where they were able apply what was learnt to different scenarios involving disgruntled customers. This process would be preferred by Activist and Pragmatist (Honey and Mumford) whose preferred learning styles are linked to real life experiences that are applicable to their current job.
Furthermore, experiential training methods, which requires trainees to involve themselves in some activity (active experimentation), is generally designed to elicit affective responses (concrete experience) consequently, these methods facilitates learning among activists and pragmatists, who prefers to apply their knowledge to practical problems and generate their own insights and feelings. Finally a training and learning evaluation was conducted this is concerned with establishing the success of development activities, and with assessing whether the associated benefits justified the investment (Stuart 1999:178.
Evaluation is a key activity for learning, training and HRD specialists. Perhaps the best known evaluation methodology for judging learning processes is Donald Kirkpatrick’s Four Level Evaluation Model. The first stage of the model Reaction, refers to what the employees thought and felt about the training, the organization acquired this information through the use of post training questionnaires which yielded positive results. The second stage learning refers to the extent to which the learners gained knowledge and skills this was assessed by interviews that took place both before and after the training program.
The third stage of behaviour deals with the changes in job performance that resulted from the learning process was continually observed by management and positive changes in how the employees dealt with disgruntled customers were observed. The fourth stage results, refers to the effects of the trainees performance this also showed positive results since the employees were able to effectively deal with dissatisfied customers and the organizations customer complaints were rapidly reduced after the implementation of the training program.
Most learners or employees have elements of more than one learning style and by identifying their preferred style; employees can apply this to learning new things. If employees are able to use their natural learning style, they may find learning a lot easier and may be able to develop strategies to compensate for their weaknesses and capitalize on their strengths. An employee’s knowledge of their learning style can accelerate learning and they would be able to undertake activities that best fit their preferred style.
HR needs to be flexible in the different learning approaches they provide and not limit employees to a narrow range of methods. They should integrate a blend of methods and materials that incorporates opportunities for practice, sessions that includes a mixture of theory and practical processes and also formal and informal learning opportunities. The Kolb and Honey and Mumford models can be used as a basis for designing and implementing training and development programs that capitalizes on the preferences of employees as this would allow the employees to become competent at all stages of the learning process.