Talent Development Glossary Terms
Section Map

What Is Learning and Development?

Learning and development (L&D) is a function within an organization that is responsible for empowering employees’ growth and developing their knowledge, skills, and capabilities to drive better business performance. The function may be organized centrally, either independently or sitting under human resources (HR); decentralized throughout different business units; or be a hybrid (sometimes referred to as federated) structure.

The term, learning and development, encompasses any professional development a business provides to its employees. It is considered to be a core area of human resources management, and may sometimes be referred to as training and development, learning and performance, or talent development (TD). Onboarding and new hire programs, career development, ongoing training, corporate universities, leadership development programs, skills training, talent strategy and management, and required courses such as compliance training, are all initiatives a learning and development team or department might provide.


  • Skills for L&D Professionals
    Research found that the knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs) of effective talent development professionals, at every level of their career, fell into three major domains of practice.
  • Creating an L&D Strategy
    A L&D strategy should be aligned to the organization’s business strategy and goals with the aim of developing the workforce’s capability and driving business results.
  • Jobs for L&D Professionals
    There are many different roles that make up a learning and development team or fall under the umbrella of an L&D professional.
  • What L&D Does Right
    The role of the L&D function has evolved to meet the demands of digital transformation and a modern workforce.
  • How Can ATD Help You With Learning and Development?

Learning and Development
capability model

Skills for L&D Professionals

In 2019, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) conducted a competency study to assess needed talent development capabilities. The research found that the knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs) of effective talent development professionals, at every level of their career, fell into three major domains of practice. These domains encompass ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model:

  • Personal Capabilities derive from building interpersonal skills
  • Professional Capabilities come from building professional knowledge and skill related to developing people and helping them learn
  • Organizational Capabilities affect an entire organization’s ability to drive results and mission success.

A comprehensive collection of the concepts, definitions, and methodologies for the profession can be found in the Talent Development Body of Knowledge (TDBoK).
Current and aspiring talent development professionals can enhance their skills with the various professional education courses offered by ATD Education. Practitioners who want to validate their capability may consider a talent development credential, including the Associate Professional in Talent Development (APTD) or the Certified Professional in Talent Development (CPTD).

Creating an L&D Strategy

Learning and development strategies will differ based on the unique needs of an organization but do share some similarities. A L&D strategy should be aligned to the organization’s business strategy and goals with the aim of developing the workforce’s capability and driving business results. The solutions a L&D team provides are driven by the goals of the business to close gaps, enhance performance, and adapt to the changing needs of the organization.
In his book, L&D’s Playbook for the Digital Age, author Brandon Carson, vice president of learning and leadership partner at Walmart, proposes several steps, or key objectives, to building an L&D strategy:

1. Mission: Establish a mission statement to guide decision making. This statement defines what your team does and why your L&D function exists.
2. Vision: This is an aspirational declaration of where you want to go. As with your mission statement, ensure your team is aligned to your organization’s vision.
3. Assess the Business Landscape: Conduct a strategic needs analysis in the organization to identify key focus areas, skills gaps, how digitial transformation is impacting business practices, and perceived needs from senior leaders, mid level managers, and employees themselves.
4. Assess the Learning Team’s Capabilities: Discover what skills you have on your team and those you need to accomplish your goals.
5. Identify Processes to Add or Modify: Find out what you need to add or modify to existing processes (such as design standards, content strategy, development guidelines, etc.) to align with your strategy.
6. Inventory Your Tools and Systems: Ensure your employees have the proper technology and tools they need to deliver your learning solutions. There are many different tools to assess, including those for project management, collaboration, creation and design work, administration, quality assurance, and more.
7. Examine Your Employee Engagement Programs: Consider the role your L&D team plays in overall employee engagement by examining recruiting and onboarding programs, career pathing, and employee feedback and satisfaction outlets.
8. Employee Wellbeing: Establish health and wellness programs your company offers and/or supports.
9. Promote Lifelong Learning: Facilitate continuous learning for your employees. Identify opportunities for programs to develop personal skills and lifelong learning that promotes retention and promotability.
10. Create Short Term and Long Term Strategy: Determine how to restructure your strategy based on business needs, gain visibility with key business leaders, invest in your technology stack needs, and establish a governance process to consistently re-evaluate the strategy and stay connected to business leaders.

Jobs for L&D Professionals

There are many different roles that make up a learning and development team or fall under the umbrella of an L&D professional. For individuals in small organizations or lean teams, your role may necessitate wearing several hats and taking on the responsibilities of several different functions. In a larger organization, you will see more clearly defined roles. Some of the most typical roles include:

  • Trainers or facilitators are individuals who facilitate learning in a traditional or virtual classroom, one-on-one, or on-the-job in an organization. A trainer will want to develop their training delivery and facilitation skills, one of the capabilities identified in the Talent Development Capability Model.
  • Instructional designers are professionals who implement systematic metholodies (rooted in learning science principles) to design and develop content, experiences, and solutions to support the acquisition of new knowledge or skills. This may include presentation materials, participant guides, performance support tools, templates, or other materials. They also create mechanisms to evaluate learning and it’s impact on both indiviudals and the organization.
  • Learning and development managers play a strategic role in overseeing the learning function. They also may be referred to as talent development managers, depending on the organization. They oversee the work of a group of people and processes responsible for fostering learning and employee development to drive organizational performance, productivity, and results. This individual may serve as a department of one in small organizations.
  • OD/HR professionals may serve in various roles aimed at optimizing talent and organizational processes or systems toward the achievement of business goals. These might include employee development, engagement, retention, or culture intiatives. The role requires coaching skills, consultative skills, and expertise in change management, human capital, and human performance.
  • E-learning professionals serve in a range of roles that support the creation of structured courses or learning experiences delivered electronically, including online or computer-based learning, virtual classrooms, performance support materials, and digital collaboration and knowledge sharing.
  • Coaches are credentialed professionals who partner with individuals or teams to maximize their potential by establishing goals, using strengths, pursuing development, and achieving results.
  • Talent development director or executives lead a talent development unit within an organization that may be comprised of multiple functional areas that have broad responsibility for developing talent in the workplace.
  • Chief talent development officers are individuals who represents the talent development function at the executive level of an organization. Known in some organizations as chief learning officer, this role often reports directly to the CEO.

What L&D Does Right

Historically, L&D teams existed to provide employee education in the form of instructor-led, curriculum-driven experiences that were often event based. Because of this narrow lens, these learning initatives alone lack a holistic approach and may not yield the desired level of behavior change or business outcomes. The role of the L&D function has evolved to meet the demands of digital transformation and a modern workforce. In addition to a foundational understanding in learning sciences, author and workplace growth and development consultant, Julie Winkle Giulioni, identifies the following skills a successful, modern L&D team can develop to adapt to the changing needs of their workforce:

  • Agility. The ability to continually adapt and harness a willingness to try new approaches, and reconsider how things are done.
  • Business acumen. L&D professionals should understand the business and the key factors that influence and affect it. Also referred to as business insight, this is identified as a capability in the ATD Talent Development Capability Model.
  • Curation. The volume of information available multiplies by the moment. Strategic L&D professionals can cut through the noise and highlight useful and relevant resources.
  • Design thinking. Design thinking is an effective approach to tackle learning challenges, consider the user experience, and quick start projects that need pilots and rapid prototyping.
  • Evaluation. L&D must be able to measure, analyze and validate the value of its programs to business leaders.

Modern L&D teams harnessing these approaches offer creative solutions that align with their businesses’ needs. They empower their workforces to access information and resources, where and when they need it, and leverage technology and curation systems to facilitate both formal and informal learning. And by utilizing data, they create a continuous feedback loop to evaluate the effectiveness of their offerings, and ultimately boost performance results, increase innovation, and reduce reskilling and rehiring costs.

How Can ATD Help You with Learning and Development?

ATD is the world’s largest association dedicated to those who develop talent in the workplace. We provide world-class professional development resources that equip and empower trainers, instructional designers, and other learning and development professionals. Becoming a successful L&D practitioner requires a variety of skills and continual professional development. ATD provides a number of tools, resources, and development opportunities to help you on your journey.

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