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Learning as a Process

Monday, December 31, 2018

There is so much focus today on the pace of change, increasing demands on people, and technological advances. Are we forgetting—or at least not giving enough consideration to—the fundamental human processes associated with learning?

Let’s go back to the basics. Learning comprises a cycle with several key processes: acquiring new information, acting, reflecting, and providing feedback.

Acquiring New Information

Access to information is greater than ever. However, more is not always better. The future of talent development will have an increased emphasis on and capabilities for content curation. Although there is some focus on these today, we will find better ways to find that proverbial needle in the haystack when it comes to learning. We’ve already come a long way in our abilities to quickly find relevant information, and I envision a new age of tailored learning. We will continue to find ways to filter learning to the ideas we need, when we need them, and how we prefer to consume them (whether that is reading, listening, watching, or experiencing). We also need ways to determine the merits and accuracy of the information we receive.


We have made some dramatic shifts from what may be called traditional learning—that is, lectures in a classroom—to far more emphasis on applied learning. The classroom environment will continue to be the hub for the interpersonal—social and emotional—connection associated with learning. It also provides a level of accountability and focus that other mediums do not. Despite emerging methodologies and new technology, for many, the in-person classroom continues to be the preferred approach to learning.

Meanwhile, technological advances will continue to significantly alter individuals’ ability to experience a wide variety of activities. This is already taking place with games and simulations, virtual reality, and smart technologies. These performance support tools will continue to evolve and become more readily available and cost effective.



While access to information, pace of change, work demands, and performance expectations have all increased exponentially, our physiological abilities to process information have remained consistent. Our brains still require us to pause and reflect to make sense of the information coming in.


In the future, we must build in more time for reflection. We need to find ways (and time) to make sense of all the information coming at us. How can we do that? I don’t believe there is an impending technology that can help speed or otherwise enhance the reflection process, but those technologies that incorporate reflection will show elevated learning outcomes. Additionally, progressive companies will make reflection part of everyday business and perhaps even cultural imperatives. These people and companies will shift from a constant state of action to a dance of action and reflection.

Providing Feedback

Effective feedback is critical for employees to understand how to make corrections. Because of the social and emotional side of learning, feedback from people is always difficult. No one wants to give bad news, and it is difficult to separate opinion from fact. The future of talent development will continue to hone coaching as a core competency so that we are better equipped to give and receive feedback on an immediate and regular basis.

The Cycle of Learning

I am all for innovation and continuing to advance the field of talent development. However, be careful of chasing the latest fad or shiny new object at the risk of missing the essential fundamentals of learning. After all, innovation is about results, and the best talent development innovations of the future must consider the fundamentals of how individuals learn. These innovations will allow for highly tailored experiences. There will be an elevated focus on content curation and tailored learning experiences, and technology will be an enabler of the most fundamental human processes associated with learning. The evolution will continue from talent development being event-based or transactional to an ongoing cycle of activity that incorporates action, reflection, and feedback. For the most progressive, talent development will be built into the fabric of who we are, our everyday activities, and our culture.

Editor's note: This post is excerpted from the Winter 2018 issue of CTDO. Read the full article here.

About the Author

Timothy J. Tobin is a learning and leadership development professional with over 25 years of experience. He is committed to helping people and organizations achieve their greatest potential. Throughout his career, he has been directly responsible for the development of thousands of leaders from C-level to first time leaders across multiple industries. He is the author of Your Leadership Story: Use Your Story to Energize, Inspire, and Motivate (Berrett Koehler).

Tim is Vice President, Franchisee Onboarding and Learning, at Choice Hotels International. Previously, he was vice president for global learning and leadership development at Marriott International. Tim has also held senior learning and leadership development roles in multiple professional services organizations both as a consultant and internally as a department head. He has stood up and elevated multiple corporate universities.

Tim has led outstanding teams throughout his career. Programs developed under his leadership have won multiple awards including Chief Learning Officer awards for Global Leadership Development and Innovative Learning, Bersin & Associates awards for Leadership Development Strategy Excellence, Enabling High Impact Learning, Learning and Talent Initiative Excellence, and Operational Excellence, and the Helios HR Apollo award for outstanding employee development programs. In 2017, Tim was recognized for Outstanding Services to the Learning Industry by the Global Council on Corporate Universities.

Tim received an Ed.D. in Human Resources Development from George Washington University, an M.A. in Organizational Management from University of Phoenix, and a B.A. in Psychology from University of Delaware. He also maintains both a SHRM-SCP and SPHR certifications. He has been an adjunct professor spanning over 20 years at several universities including University of Maryland, Catholic University, Trinity University and George Washington University. He has also been a member of several academic and professional advisory boards.

Tim is a frequent invited speaker and panelist and has presented his work at numerous regional, national and international conferences. His writing has been published in diverse outlets such as Harvard Business Review Blog, The International Journal of Strategic Business Alliances, Drucker Forum, SmartCEO Magazine, Leadership Excellence, Organization Management Journal, and Social Psychology and Education, among other academic and popular press outlets.

On a personal note, Tim has completed numerous endurance athletic events including a 4.4-mile open water swim, multiple century bike rides, over a dozen marathons, and more than five ironman triathlons.

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Great info, Tim!
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