Workplace Performance and Learning: Where Does Canada Stand?

By Joan Vanden Hazel, M.Ed., CTDP and Rob Pearson, Ph.D., CTDP


Why Research is Important

Research is an important activity for any professional association. The Institute for Performance and Learning is no exception. While our individual experiences as professionals (both good and bad) often reveal important insights, research – whether primary or secondary – allow us to validate and generalize these insights against empirical data. And because our practice is so varied, the research we reference must not only come from our own field but adjacent ones as well – such as neuroscience, experience design, marketing and social economics to name a few.

Research demonstrates the link between our work and meaningful business impact. Research validates what current techniques are effective while suggesting new approaches that extend professional practice. Research helps leaders make better decisions about how to invest in performance and learning. And research helps all of us better understand who we are as a profession and where we are headed. Indeed, Saul Carliner in his article for this inaugural issue of P&L calls out the need for a definitive study on the “state of the profession” here in Canada – one that will give better definition to who we are, the work we do and our aspirations for future growth and recognition.

Research accomplishes this through a variety of approaches and techniques. These include: controlled studies that attempt to isolate the effect of specific variables on outcomes; the aggregation and analysis of opinion through surveys; focus groups and interviews; the curation of existing studies that reveal trends across a body of research as well as the startling and often counter intuitive research finding that bears further examination; and, benchmarking studies that compare trends over time.


The First Global Study on Performance and Learning

Since its inception as OSTD in 1946, The Institute for Performance and Learning has a long and successful partnership with the Association for Talent Development (ATD). This spring, Laurie Miller, Director of Research Services for ATD approached The Institute about participating in a global study that would benchmark workplace performance and learning activities in Canada against other regions of the globe. The Institute eagerly accepted.

Through survey research, the study assessed respondents’ opinions against five broad themes:

  1. characteristics of working professionals;
  2. trending topics;
  3. practitioner challenges;
  4. strategic priorities; and
  5. current practice.


In addition to Canada, the other countries included in the survey were the United States, Mexico, China, Japan, Taiwan, and Kuwait. In June of 2015, The Institute sent a 22-item survey to every member and received 336 responses (a response rate of 9%). Canada’s total number of responses was second only to the United States at 460. ATD generously offered The Institute the opportunity to examine and report on the Canadian data while they compiled the comparative analysis, to be released in September in all participating countries. While acknowledging all the limitations associated with survey results from a sampling frame made up of Institute members and a response rate of 9%, here are insights and generalizations from the Canadian data set:


Characteristics and Structure of the Profession:

  • We are a highly diverse profession working in a wide variety of sectors and we wear many hats rather than act as specialists. Organizationally, we tend to not report to a common entity. Performance and learning professionals are as likely to report to HR as they are to a line of business.
  • We tend to work for smaller organizations and within small performance and learning departments, with respondents indicating most often that their organizations deliver between one and five days of training per year, with many organizations choosing to outsource a portion of their performance and learning services.
  • We make a significant investment in our own development as performance and learning professionals, either self-funded or funded by the organizations for which we work. While many resources were rated highly, formal training, mentoring, and membership in a professional association were selected most.
  • And when asked to what extent our work is aligned with the business, there was a stark divide. Half indicated it was and the other said it wasn’t.



Biggest Challenges:

  • When asked about our biggest challenges as a profession, we said knowledge transfer, building a culture of trust that supports performance and learning, and leveraging technology as the biggest challenges facing workplace performance and learning professionals.


Strategic Priorities:

  • Our greatest strategic preoccupation – and consistent with our concerns regarding building a culture of trust – appears to be with showing the link between our work and the business results of the organizations for which we work, followed by closing the skills gap and frontline leadership.
  • The breadth of our strategic priorities as working professionals is significant, with respondents rating ten priority areas relatively highly. Yet our most highly scored priorities can be best described as those traditional to the profession, including training delivery, performance improvement, and managing learning programs, with more emergence strategic priorities – such as integrated talent management – trailing the pack.


Current Practice:

  • Our current practice appears deeply rooted in traditional delivery practices with most respondents rating live instructor-led classroom training as high or very high usage. However, self-paced online learning and live instructor-led virtual classroom learning were rated by about a third of respondents in terms of high or very high usage. Emergent technologies, such as mobile, appear not to be in wide use.
  • Consistent with these results were those showing that the number of hours of formal classroom training far exceed the number of hours of formal learning using technology or blended learning.




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