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.
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:
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).
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.
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:
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:
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.
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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