“Thinking Aloud”- What significant benefits would L&D professionals obtain through a postgraduate qualification?

‘Thinking Aloud’

This is my first official blog outside the confines of the University system and has been some weeks in gestation, for various reasons. The theme of the Blog is prompted by a series of tweets, blogs and comments, during and after CIPD HRD13, from connections in my twitter network.

A post by @mervyndinnen piqued my interest with his article questioning whether many in the L&D industry had a real ‘passion for learning‘. Mervyn’s view was that people had a poor view of attending programmes and that L&D conferences followed a well trodden path in terms of what was presented and by whom. The next post came from guest blogger for CIPD @sukhpabial who was clearly underwhelmed by what he had heard at the same event asking the question, Has L&D stalled? I responded by saying that, in my experience, the Google example is not the norm by any stretch of the imagination ergo it is innovative and different. As for in company programmes, I have reviewed over 30 in recent years and whilst the quality is often sound there is very little to distinguish between them in their use and critique of theories. If I had a pound for each of the organisation’s that use Honey and Mumford learning styles, Blanchard’s situational leadership and/or Whitmore’s GROW model, actually I would have about £40 but my point stands. I don’t have a problem with people using the models per se, I DO, however,  have an issue when they are used incorrectly, definitively and without critical evaluation of said theories.

A recent example of groupthink, bad theory and pure rubbish is the endless reports on Generation Y, they range from how to manage, train, communicate bore bore bore…… The topic has particularly vexed @mervyndinnen, @hr_gem and @perrytimms, to name but a few. I loved their Blogs on the subject because they demonstrated through superb deconstruction and critical evaluation that it was all utter rubbish, therefore they debunked the theory and refused to countenance such sweeping generalisations. All of this led me to ask the question below.

Do L&D Professionals need a specific postgraduate qualification?

I have no idea whether the people mentioned above have a Masters qualification or not, they certainly demonstrate the knowledge and skills required at such a level, however (might be controversial for an academic to say this) learning at higher level doesn’t just happen in the walls of a University and I expect they are well-educated (formally and informally) and extremely experienced.

There are a multitude of HR  and OD qualifications offered by professionals bodies, Universities and private providers at various levels (Level 2-Level 8 i.e. NVQ through to Doctoral study), however there is a paucity of specific qualifications for L&D professionals and few that I can find a postgraduate level (Level 7 or M level).

I will leave the architecture, content and mode of study for further posts (hopefully crowd sourced by fellow enthusiasts) and attempt to outline the generic skills, regardless of subject, M-level study (postgraduate study) would provide.

The Generic Skills at Masters Level Study

There is a robust process for developing and maintaining University standards through the use of University benchmark statements, which enable us to develop qualifications; in contemplating the question posed above I thought that it would be worthwhile sharing the generic key skills a learner on a Business and Management qualification should have upon completion. In the current system HR, Organisational Development and Business etc come under the Business and Management Benchmarks (download here, if suffering from insomnia).

I have selected a few of the skills that successful candidates need to demonstrate, which I believe would help address some of the issues outlined by Mervyn, Perry , Gemma and Sukhvinder. On completion we would expect that learners have:

  • a critical awareness of current issues in business and management which is informed by leading edge research and practice in the field
  • creativity in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to develop and interpret knowledge in business and management
  • conceptual understanding that enables the student to:
  • evaluate the rigour and validity of published research and assess its relevance to new situations
  • extrapolate from existing research and scholarship to identify new or revised approaches to practice

In essence the above knowledge and skills would allow our L&D colleagues to become lifelong, independent learners with a passion for personal and professional development. They would be able to read an academic article, a Blog or a piece of research and evaluate the veracity, validity and applicability of the topic to their workplace. They wouldn’t accept lazy theories or sweeping generalisations, instead they would take the best from a variety of resources and creatively apply the newly gained knowledge to their problem or issue at work.

My utopian view of a potential programme

I imagine it being very flexible in design, delivery and construction, it would have standard outcomes but the route to achieving the outcomes would be personalised and flexible with recognition of prior experience. Social and informal learning would be widely used to source, curate, assimilate and evaluate the latest thinking and to HACK dated and stale management theories.

Modules might include:-

  • Slaying the Generation Y myth
  • How to train your dragon (I mean a leader)

I could go on but feel this is probably already too long (and boring?) for a first Blog. I would love comments from the ‘L&D community of passion’ on the post and your views on the question posed as I passionately believe the L&D community could develop new skills which would help to dramatically improve the way we do what we do and regain credibility and relevance.

I look forward to your comments!

What significant benefits would L&D  professionals obtain through a postgraduate qualification?

PS I’m not saying everyone should do an Masters but would love people to have the skills outlined above.


23 thoughts on ““Thinking Aloud”- What significant benefits would L&D professionals obtain through a postgraduate qualification?

  1. Hi Connor, I completely agree with your observations and assertions above. As a former University Research Fellow who has made the jump into corporate L & D consultancy, I see evidence of the perpetuation of shoddy ‘research’ daily. I would be interested in talking further about your ideas of how to combat this, and ways in which we could look to support an injection of constructive criticality and rigour into L&D.

  2. Great way to start a new blog Conor and a meaningfully meaty topic!

    I have a concern with the five points (for learners) above… it’s not that they aren’t appropriate. I just have a strong gut feel that there are plenty of people who would tick those boxes and still maintain stale group think. In fact I think there are plenty of people in industry (beyond just L&D) who have attained that level through qualification but once they have their certificates it’s easy to leave behind the skills you mention. So I feel there is more that’s needed…

    Again going with gut & experience, the people who think, challenge & express the critical skills you’ve mentioned do it anyway. They have a desire to and generally find their outlets be it through friends, peers, social media, etc. It may need encouragement or nurture but it’s there and it will come out some way.

    So to me that says there are two further levels to deal with….

    1. How do we support, sustain & nourish those who naturally do this? Not just through a programme but on an ongoing basis? How can we embrace a range of different & challenging thinking without exclusion or perhaps even conclusion?

    2. How do we engage with those who don’t yet “get it” and help them develop that curiosity & challenge? How can we help them give voice to that? How can we help show that at it’s core this is learning?

    So if there is benefit in postgraduate qualification for L&D professionals then for me it needs to be about how you unlock these aspects and nurture them well after the qualification is over.

    Personally, I’ve seen Sheffield Hallam’s coaching & mentoringt ‘research days’ as a great way of nurturing this challenge & curiosity for students, alumni & anyone else who wants to join. It’s a beautifully easy model to replicate.

    Also I think there’s huge value in thinking about what David Bohm proposed “On Dialogue” (http://www.david-bohm.net/dialogue/dialogue_proposal.html).
    What we see to some extent on Social Media (I’m thinking of Gem, Merv, Perry, Sukh) indicates how this could be possible.

    Would be interested in your thoughts/reactions!

    • I will def give this more thought but my initial reaction is that I agree with you! The awarding of a qualification is not the end only the start and if a learner completing a degree or a Masters thinks that they have arrived then they are deluded. I didn’t share all of the statements or indeed the things they should be able to do for life, outlined below:

      Once they are in professional practice, master’s graduates should be able to:
      1. consistently apply their knowledge and subject-specific and wider intellectual skills
      2. deal with complex issues both systematically and creatively, make sound judgements in the absence of complete data, and communicate their conclusions clearly to a range of audiences
      3. be proactive in recognising the need for change and have the ability to manage change
      4. be adaptable, and show originality, insight, and critical and reflective abilities which can all be brought to bear upon problem situations
      5. make decisions in complex and unpredictable situations
      6. evaluate and integrate theory and practice in a wide range of situations
      7. be self-directed and able to act autonomously in planning and implementing projects at professional levels
      8. take responsibility for continuing to develop their own knowledge and skills.

      The above indicates that learning shouldn’t stop and they now SHOULD have the skills to be self starters, reflectors and critics of bad theory. I would acknowledge that, at times, Universities have created learning and assessment that is immediate and serves the immediate purpose i.e. can this person achieve the qualification without fully using the innovative and varied approaches to assessment.

      Boud talks about sustainable assessment “Assessment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of students to meet their own future learning needs’.

      It’s great that you’re connected to the Coaching days and agree that more informal learning like this needs to be embraced by Uni’s to ensure they continue to be relevant and places where people can access again and again!
      I think another Blog on how you achieve a PG qual without being overly prescriptive is in the making.

      Will check out your link.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments

  3. I am not sure qualifications are necessarily the answer to this. I do agree with your points and sentiment behind your blog.

    To me its all about professional credibility and curiosity. I came into this business 10 years ago, by accident really as I wanted to facilitate but not sure what. Anyhow I fell into leadership development and have not looked back.

    What I am particularly proud about is that I have invested heavily on my development, collected a number of “cub scout badges” and love twitter as it has added to my depth and breadth of knowledge. Not just the theory but the application too. Being a Chartered Engineer that was important to me.

    I am often shocked and frustrated by my fellow peers. Many have not moved on in their thinking, “train” a model without really understanding it, and even using psychometric models they don’t understand and people getting the sense that they have had it “done” to them.
    As was said to me the other day, “oh I use psychometrics. Have you heard of X. Cost me £100 to become accredited”.

    There are few barriers to entry in this market, and I clearly have benefited from that. I might argue that market forces will win out, however I do worry that sometimes both providers and clients are often risk averse so its easy to keep on doing the same old stuff.

    Not sure I have an answer but hope that my perspective adds to the debate.


    • Hi Ian,

      Your story is not uncommon and it’s great that you are so engaged in being an excellent L&D professional. I suspect the skills gained in becoming a Chartered Engineer have stood you in good stead and enable you to be a lifelong learner with sustainable skills on how to critically evaluate, innovate and problem solve. Boud (an academic) talks about the need for education to create sustainable assessments “Assessment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of students to meet their own future learning needs”, in other words learners should have continued the skills post a qualification that sustains them in their career (whatever that may be).


  4. Not bad for a first post, Conor. I’m not an L&D specialist by any stretch of the imagination so I’m going to come at this from another angle. My concern relates to the notion of professional and professionalism when uncritically applied to any occupation or field. As we know, membership of a profession involves an agreed body of knowledge, barriers to entry, a code of conduct, lobbying power etc. Unfortunately, in erecting these barriers to entry (through setting a defined curriculum for example), there exists the danger that innovative and creative thinking, critical narratives and openness to new ideas and theories is dis-incentivised. One of the things I love about social media is that I can find myself connecting with someone from a different academic field in a country with a different educational system. I’m taken outside of my comfort zone (within my professional, perhaps) and made to think about why I do what I do (and why I don’t do what I don’t do). We increasingly co-produce learning, we collaborate, share, create, hack…perhaps attempts at bringing all of this together in a PG qualification under the umbrella of one institution is the problem – why not work with academic leaders within five different institutions? Of course we know the answer to that (resources, intellectual property, competitive advantage, blah, blah) but perhaps learners would benefit which is surely what we’re all in this vocation (replace with ‘business’ if you wish) for.

    • Hi David,

      I couldn’t agree more, technology is allowing collaboration across boundaries and we in the closed-off academic field need to understand a)how to embrace it and b) how to make it relevant for our normal vocation (business). I suppose the question was posed from the perspective of an industry which lacks structure, standards and a direct career path, consequently some individuals need the core skills to flourish and develop long term strategies to professionalism. I agree that any solution should try to avoid erecting barriers -economic, geographical and social- and hope the discourse that we’ve started can help address the issues. I have no pre-determined outcome in mind, other than something a little disruptive from the existing hegemony that exists in L&D.

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. Speaking from an Australian perspective we have a range of L&D/Training Qualifications ranging from post secondary vocational qualifications such as the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, which is the base qualification for the delivery of Qualifications under Australia’s Vocational Education and Training System (VET), up to a Master’s in Learning and Development, in which participants are able to focus on the area in which they work, be it organisation L&D, school’s, university etc. It provides a solid progression for people wanting to pursue a long term career in L&D rather than having to move over into more HR/OD related areas. (I have long believed that L&D should not be part of HR but should be its own separate entity)

    There are also specialist qualifications around Learning Management including Graduate Diploma’s and Masters level qualifications.

    Does this system produce significant benefits. I guess it depends on what benefits you are looking for. We have a very solid, well structured, well funded, vocational education system, which produces outstanding outcomes for both participants and for organisations and sits in that space between secondary and tertiary education, where workplace skills and knowledge is more important than theoretical knowledge. Part of the reason why this works is in the minimum qualifications requirements and regulation of the system.

    Does it provide a benefit to the L&D professional, I think that it does, particularly around as I like to say ‘being taken seriously at the big table.’ L&D has often just been seen as training or just another function of HR. Higher level qualifications add to the professionalism of the industry and give us a solid credible voice outside the confines of HR and OD.

    • Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the detailed insight into the Australian model. The UK has teaching quals related to work based learning, a series of quals for adult teaching, learning technologies and HR/OD programmes, however other than basic teaching/quals for adult learning then L&D isn’t well regulated. It appears Australia is more advanced in relation to the specific recognition for quals and a distinct seat at the table. I love the fact that the vocational system is both well funded and important for organisations and participants, the UK are trying but much to be done for vocational learners.

      Thanks for the great insights from Australia, gives us a challenge to help address some of the issues in the UK, particularly the professionalism and credible voice outside HR and OD.


  6. Great post Connor. I work in L&D in Australia and am currently studying a Masters of Education in Educational Psychology. Much of the work I do is instructional design and this course was a good fit for me. I only began earlier this year but already through interactions and discussions with others I’ve found out that – Matching instruction to a percieved learning style is a myth, Maslow’s hierachy of needs is largely unsupported by research and that a person can be extrinsically motivated and still be in control of their actions (self-determination theory).

    I use these examples because they highlight areas that previously I was lead to believe the opposite was true. If anything, post grad study provides an opportunity to question and critically evaluate topics not take things at face value.

    I agree with you Paul in that post grad study adds to the professionalism and increases the liklihood of being taken more seriously at the big table.

    • That’s exactly what I was getting at, PG level study, regardless of topic, develops your ability to assimilate, synthesise and critique models and theories. Note my reference to PG level I.e. higher level skills are not the sole domain of Universities, people up and down the country are working at higher levels each day!

      PS Learning styles are another poorly researched area, yet we take it as read that they are fact. Steve Wheeler has written extensively on this in his blog.

  7. Great post, Conor. I think it is interesting and quite telling that the Learning and Performance Institute has launched a diploma for L&D professionals in workplace learning. The message in that – that L&D pros don’t understand collaboration and collaborative tech etc. My view is that L&D professionals need to have a deep understanding of how adults learn (I’d like to set up a course on that) and then be the experts in the organisation who understand how people can be developed – how that impacts the business will fall out of being able to show this expertise. I think it is worth noting too that the only people who support learning AND have an understanding of how their learners learn are primary school teachers. After primary school, your ticket into education or L&D is based on subject matter expertise. The result? We are great at developing and pushing content and have polished lecture style learning to perfection. This may explain why there is new-found interest in what the natural sciences and neuroscience tell us about how we learn as we realise (rather belatedly) the realities of what Confucius said – tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, let me do it and I understand. I think L&D should be the most exciting role in any business and this deep understanding of how we learn is a key to making it so (I reckon!).

    • Just had an interesting debate with @timbuckteeth on twitter about PG education and teaching quals and the PTTLS/DTLLS suite of programmes, he correctly points out that the provide the pedagogical insight on how we learn and how to structure learning. However, those quals are going through change and your point about taking it into the workplace to transform learning is on the money re: what those programmes don’t do.

      Thanks for the comments and feedback.

  8. Interesting blog. I’m going to go slightly off on a tangent here. I’ve studies at post grad level twice, and on neither occassion was there sufficient practical application on the skills learned. For example, when studying for my CIPD, you are taught theory on management development, organisational design etc, but very little teaching on how to do ‘stuff’ back in the office. Learning theory – tick. What to do when you get an unruly or disruptive delegate, not so much. A detailed understanding of what amounts to a legal offer of employment, yes. How do sit in front of an employee with 30 years service and make them redundant – not on the subject list. You get my point.
    I’m not sure if we need more qualifications or not. What we do need is to be able to give developing HR professionals tools for the day to day challenges. Many of them work in small HR departments of just a few people. Many HR professionals don’t specialise and are very generalist – trying to cover L&D, recruitment etc, without the luxury of every leg of the fabled stool. How can we help them?

    • Thanks for your comments and this is why the debate is so great ! I don’t think any academic course, regardless of content, will give you the skills to cope with making a person redundant . Your courses may have helped you to structure a conversation and hopefully your critique of bad theory is in some way a result of your academic experience. I don’t believe PG education is the panacea or silver bullet, however I do believe that such skills need to be practiced either formally or informally.

      Would be great to answer your question but perhaps a Friday evening is not the time !

      Cheers again,


  9. Pingback: Is Learning and Development Really Dying? | Activate Learning Solutions

  10. Whilst it may be possible to slay the Gen Y thing, it’s certainly true that our lives are filled with many more distractions than say 40 years ago. The impact is on ‘thin slicing’ our time which has the same effect as some of the claims made on attention span.

    I agree that we need much better learning. We also need much better learners. All the while we have a system of ‘carrots and sticks’ re qualifications, we will get instrumental learners, who learn the stuff to pass the exam and then forget about it.

    At a pragmatic level, I don’t have too much of a problem with people getting Honey and Mumford et al a bit wrong. That’s at least better than not trying to engage all learning styles and so on. I use this as a design principle for my own online learning programmes at Udemy but think you are right, £40 is about the limit for those using such ideas! 🙂

    • Hi Peter,

      Thanks for the comments. I take your points about use of some theory in the appropriate way; my substantive point was less about those particular theories than the need for L&D’s to be more questioning of the status quo (see what I did there) and try to innovate how L&D is done and how it is consumed.

      Thanks again and was inspired by your blogs!



  11. Interesting blog Connor.

    Isn’t part of the problem that many ‘fall into’ L&D and don’t start from a L&D perspective. As a consequence, we refer back to the models we used before we became L&D and look to education to find a suitable solution.

    How many apprenticeship/trainee programmes are built for L&D? We EXPECT someone to have a level of professional competence before they join our specialist ‘club’. As a result, they bring the baggage from their previous industry, along with their baggage for how they learnt it…in a classroom/lecture hall/workshop environment. Is it any wonder L&D moves so slowly!

    I believe part of the problem is that their is too much fragmentation in learning qualification – CIPD, PTTLS, PGCE – all valid qualifications in their own right but the ability to achieve 1 of them doesn’t (at present) count as achieving the others.

    Good first blog – keep it up!

    • Hi Andrew,

      Great points! When I was at Uni of Derby we were awarded development funds from the Higher Apprentice Fund (National Apprenticeship Service) to develop a qual for Work based trainers that recognised their personal and professional development I.e. if they had PTTLS then the credits would be counted etc. Our premise was that the government wanted to increase the amount of apprentices on L4&5 quals
      yet some work based trainers hadn’t got higher quals themselves or a teaching qual that was at 3/4.

      The programme starts this summer and hopefully it can help address some of the issues around supporting higher apprenticeships.

      Cheers for the comment.


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