When In Doubt, Learn

When In Doubt, Learn

Self-efficacy, in the context of L&D programmes, must incorporate observable traits and be directly linked to the business. Returns are often best captured by way of anticipating and determining the future.


Insia, a teenager, dreamed of becoming a singer. And after a lot of hardship, she manages to get the attention of a music director, who eventually becomes her mentor on her journey to become a YouTube star. That is the story of the movie Secret Superstar.


In the real world, David Karp, a teenager bored with formal schooling, eventually dropped-out and started spending his free time learning newer things on the internet. He found his true love, computer programming, by learning it all by himself from his bedroom. He went on start Tumblr, (later acquired by Yahoo), a microblogging site in 2007. On the contrary, an English teacher from China, who was also into international trade, got exposed to the internet in 1995 when on a trip to the US, and started an e-commerce business in China. While the business operated out of an apartment, everyone employed there mostly picked up skills online. That is how Jack Ma came about to establish Alibaba - by integrating his trading knowledge with technology.


Leveraging online modules


Similar to how founders learnt and acquired skills through computers and smartphones, without much emphasis on traditional lecturedriven-training modules, organisations, either large or small, are arguably leveraging online learning. Such initiatives may not be institutionalised, but after the emergence of the internet, individual employees have been leveraging online modules to upskill themselves. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that YouTube was declared as the most popular L&D tool by in 2018.


Similarly, a child was forced to rely on home-schooling, albeit informal and unstructured, owing to illhealth. This child mostly read books that were given by his father, and soon, became engrossed in literature and fiction. The child is Ruskin Bond, a celebrated writer.


The above illustrations, however, do highlight the extent to which self-learning, be it online or offline, has impacted individual behaviour. And clearly, the marker here is the success in their respective careers. The question is whether it is possible to determine the efficiency of online learning when it is institutionalised.


Several online learning modules are typically assessed in terms of their return on investment (ROI) based on training measurement tools, mostly borrowed from traditional learning. The Kirk Patrick model, along with tools such as CIRO, remains as the popular tool to assess ROI. Although these tools are good at assessing the impact of L&D modules on employees, and subsequently on the organisation, such tools have also found their ways in the assessment of online or web-based learning.


Capturing the efficacy


Within the context of online learning, can efficacy be captured? Can these tools capture the efficacy which otherwise is not a conventional way of learning, unlike classroombased or lecture-driven sessions? Efficacy is about getting the desired outcome from an activity or task. While learning from online platforms, behavioural changes may not directly or solely contribute to one’s current job, which seemed to be the area of attention. Online learning is boundary-less, and the primary source for employees to upskill and reskill themselves, often at zero investment. However, online learning modules, freely available on the internet, have been co-opted by several organisations and universities, formally integrating these into their learning and development programmes, thereby saving resources. It also helped employees to leverage their working hours amidst fulfilling their KRAs to learn on the job. On the contrary, organisations are encouraging their employees to assume the ownership of their selfdevelopment, thereby making learning & development an individual endeavour rather than an organisational mandate.


For a long time, learning & development programmes were executed upon the fulfilment of training hours, meant for each employee. This has led the L&D department to function in a manner similar to the sales function, where L&D executives are assigned certain numbers (nominations) for respective programmes to be subscribed from and across departments and functions. Hence, it became a number game, where training is fulfilled by the calendar and modules year-on-year. However, this model is disrupted by the changing global business landscape that primarily emerged from the gig economy, where organisations became lean and agile. In a recently concluded HR Tech conference, Kelly Palmer has said, “Skills are hard to predict, so learning agility is in high demand.” This has resulted in the creation of what is known as the start-up culture. The impact of this culture is such that the traditional calendarbased training is up for questioning.


Questions are also raised on the self-efficacy of L&D modules, which employees have undergone as a part of enhancing their skills, and more importantly, fulfilling the mandatory training hours. Hence, it is no surprise that organisations once famous for their chestthumping announcements of their premium training budgets, had to introspect on their existence and business. Among other significant changes, the gig economy has taught organisations to neither imitate nor become a big corporation. A few years ago, Larry Page, the CoFounder of Google, had stated that Google should go back to its startup days and operate like a startup. This indicates that even an organisation like Google can fall into the zone of becoming a traditional corporation, thus enabling bureaucracy to creep in. Hence, the moment such a thing happens, a critical function such as L&D becomes an administrative function rather than a business function. Like the popular quote ‘what can be measured, can be managed’, shifting our attention to numbers since these are easily captured and assessed.


Unlike self-efficacy, which is envisaged as a psychosocial functioning of an individual by Albert Bandura, where an individual without or little incentive produces the desired result. This is how an individual function, that when one believes that their knowledge and skill-set are not only restricted to perform a certain task. However, self-efficacy is too qualitative as a topic, and it cannot be easily captured through traditional training assessment tools, especially in the context of online learning. For example, a financial analyst learning to code from may not necessarily directly contribute to one’s current job. However, coding as a skill is inevitable due to global surge of new technological developments.


The Holacratic model


Organisations must consider making learning & development an individual endeavour, while aligning individual learning to the organisational vision and mission. This, perhaps is possible if organisations choose to be agile and work in a Holacratic model as proposed by Jacob Morgan in his book The Future of Work. The Holacratic model is a distributed work structure without direct supervision, where individuals are accountable for their own work and development. According to Morgan, information in such a work structure is openly accessible, and issues are addressed during meetings. Such model, even though not recognised officially, is what is being followed in most technology enabled organisations, who are conscious of their move and immediate future. They would want to keep their practices agile and informal, while infusing and driving new technology at work and for their customers.


The idea is to recognise and appreciate an independent work culture where employees are not bossed but are self-developed while performing their task. In this selfdevelopment, online learning, plays a significant role with unlimited supply of learning material, simulations and expert advices. Hence, self-efficacy in the context of L&D programmes, must incorporate observable traits, and be directly linked to business and not to be treated as a mere ROI driven initiative. Returns are often best captured by way of anticipating and determining the future. 


Mrinmoy Majumder is a faculty member of People Strategy & Industrial Relations at the International Management Institute, New Delhi. He can be reached on


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