The new learning paradigm

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Written by Tim Baker on 25 September 2013

These is a lot of discussion in Australia at the moment about the virtues or otherwise of virtual training and learning. Like all industries, L&D is going through profound and sustainable change particularly regarding technological innovation.

Apart from the rapid technological changes occurring in our industry, I think it is timely to consider the changing learning paradigm. While technology and efficiency issues abound, we shouldn't lose sight of the keys to effective learning. I recently addressed the annual national conference of the Australian Institute of Learning Practitioners. During my presentation, I introduced a new model I called "The new learning paradigm". Here it is below:

The New Learning Paradigm

The middle column represents the core concepts in our profession. On the left-hand side, we can see the traditional approach and the right-hand side illustrates the corresponding new approach. Many L&D professionals, their clients and the programmes they run are in flux between the traditional and new approach. In particular, countless clients - whether internal or external to the organisation - still have a perception that is more in keeping with the traditional approach. Our role to maintain effectiveness and relevance is to professionally embrace the new learning paradigm. Also, we need to educate those that we work with to adopt the new approach is their interests, and ours.

Let's take a brief look at the concepts of the model.

End user

Most of us, but perhaps not our clients, adopt the view that we are dealing with people not human resources and that our training delivery is centred on the learner. But it still surprises me how many training rooms are set up in lecture theatre style! Focus

I think we spend too much time training people to do something such as learn a new skill or develop a competency and not enough time teaching people to change their thinking. Arguably, sustainable behaviour change comes from developing new mindsets. We also are obsessed with developing people's job skills. Yet non-job skills such as being a team player, growing and developing our skills-set, and being innovative and continually improving are becoming more and more critical to work performance.


We still get caught up in an approach that is technically-based, linear and top down rather than multi-dimensional, cyclical and bottom up. Person-centred and problem-centred learning is often a poor cousin to technical-centred learning and development. What's more, learning is often conceptualised as an event rather than an on-going process based on an action learning cycle. And we still mostly persist with the top down approach to change when a bottom-up approach maybe more suitable.

Learning experience

Using a variety of learning experiences in a blended fashion caters for the inevitable diversity of learning needs in a group. Moreover, in a climate of accelerated change and uncertainty, our learning experiences need to teach people to think about contingencies, possibilities and deviations. The world is too complex for a complete emphasis on convergence.


Systems thinking is helping us to consider performance as the sum total of all the interdependencies within and without the organisation. It is too simplistic to consider that enhanced performance is about squeezing more out of each individual. The traditional performance appraisal approach is outdated and flawed and give way to a more systemic approach to managing performance.


Not necessarily unfairly, there is more and more pressure on our profession to demonstrate a ROI. The 'happy sheets' are not enough. Regrettably, many of my colleagues in Australia either don't get this, or don't want to get this. We are in the business of sustainable change in behaviour and thinking. We need to challenge ourselves, our colleagues and clients to consider learning from a new paradigm.

About the author
Dr Tim Baker is an international consultant and managing director of WINNERS AT WORK. He can be contacted via

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