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what L&D could learn from other education sectors

L&D Managers: could you improve the performance and impact of your workplace educational practice through learning from other sectors?

As a keen follower of what’s happening across all areas of education, I’m always interested in how advancements or areas of focus in one sector could be applied to another. So here’s my take on a couple of things from each sector that could have some useful transferability to L&D and workplace education.

Pre K & Early Childhood

One thing that Pre K and Early Childhood educators do exceptionally well is focusing on the importance of learner centredness and maximising the power of play.

Learner centred instruction is based on the constructivist principles of Piaget, where learners use their prior knowledge to construct a mental model of the world, which forms a foundation for future learning based on experience and discovery.

A play based curriculum supports the constructivist theory of learning, by giving learners the space, time and scope to explore and experience a range of activities that lead to meaningful learning. Physical, emotional, social and academic development occurs through the learners participating in activities that provide the opportunity to:

  • Develop fine and gross motor skills,
  • Practice positive behaviours by engaging in and resolving conflict,
  • Use communication and negotiation tactics to advance their needs,
  • Develop curiosity, openness and creativity, and
  • Build resilience, optimism and empathy for others.

The academic requirements of the early childhood curriculum are oriented to be achieved in parallel, through the educators constructing and maintaining the appropriate environment, resources and activities required to provide a rich range of learning opportunities.


The K-12 sector is the broadest educational sector, due to the age range of learners and the highest engagement levels, and because it’s compulsory! Not surprisingly given their scope, this sector excels at maximising the engagement of school communities, encouraging collaboration between learners and educators to experiment and innovate to improve learning outcomes, and increasing learner self-responsibility through building social and emotional maturity.

Building learner, parent and community engagement to improve the focus on learning outcomes has a positive impact on student achievement. Increasing the transparency and communication of school-life, including target curriculum areas and results, behaviour expectations, decision making processes, current areas of challenge and progressing the creation of school-community partnerships all combine to create an atmosphere of joint responsibility for successful learning.

Collaboration, experimentation and innovation is also a major focus area, both within the implementation of school curriculum to build learner-learner relationships, but also between educators across the world. School based teachers are an incredibly generous and collaborative bunch, focused as they are on improving the quality and effectiveness of their individual and collective practice.

In addition to the more established opportunities for peer-to-peer collaboration, there are hundreds of regularly occurring Twitter Chats where teachers share ideas and resources with each other, and spark countless projects for innovation and experimentation that transcend school, specialisation and geographical boundaries. The exciting thing about Twitter Chats is that anyone from any sector is able to follow along and join in the learning fun.

Self-responsibility is also of increasing focus in the K-12 space. The sector recognises the importance of implementing strategies that create an environment for students to learn the social and emotional skills of self-awareness, self-management, building and maintaining relationships and making good choices. One small example of this is from direct experience – my local school has had a fantastic program in place since my daughter’s first year there, which support students to manage their own behaviours. The Behaviour Management Framework clearly and simply articulates five levels of behavior, complete with examples of the acceptable (and not acceptable) behaviours aligned to each level. Consequences are also clearly articulated, and consistently implemented across the entire school.

From a student’s point of view, it provides them with the transparency and guidance they need to understand what good and bad behaviour looks like, and what will happen to them if their behaviour causes them to move up and down the levels. From a parent’s point of view, there is no subjectivity or confusion about the implementation of rewards and consequences. It also instils greater confidence that the students who have experienced this self-managed-behaviour model in practice may be that much more prepared to function in the world outside of school. And perhaps most importantly, from an educator’s perspective, shifting some of the responsibility and ownership for behaviour management from teachers to students allows more time, energy and focus to be redirected towards creating a cohesive learning environment.

Vocational Education

The vocational education sector has long been focused on macro-level requirements to build workforce participation and productivity through skill development. The dual challenges of unemployment and underemployment, set against the background of the imminent retirement of baby boomers, is a situation facing many countries, including Australia.

What the vocational education sector does well is building and maintaining a long term view of labour force requirements, and focusing investment and funding to incentivise skill development across industry. The government architects of the vocational education sector are adept at creating a macro view of current and future trade-based geographic influencers on required workforce productivity and participation.

The establishment of evidence-based targets for achieving long-term skill development priorities provides certainty for employers and market providers, and by extension, navigable career paths for prospective students and employees.

Workplace Education

Workplace education has always been about skilling people for the work they do with whatever company employs them. There is some crossover between workplace and vocational education, but for the purposes of this exercise, workplace education is considered to be the internal strategies and frameworks an organisation puts in place to develop the knowledge, skills and abilities of their workforce.

Workplace education is one sector where there has been more variability in how effectively and efficiently employee learning and development has been implemented. Maybe this is because it’s the least regulated of all sectors? Or perhaps because it has been, and still is, highly dependent on company priorities and budgets, and more easily influenced by management, leadership and HR fads? That’s a topic for another post…!

The 70:20:10 model of learning, introduced in the mid 90’s by McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger, proposes that learning best occurs in the ratios of 70% experiential, 20% through other people, and 10% formal training. This model has been adopted as a guiding framework for workplace education by many organisations. However, observers would say that it has been slow to get real traction, as many less progressive companies are yet to truly capitalise on the benefits and impacts of informal and experiential learning, and fall back on formal training as the basis for much of their focus and investment.

What is encouraging is the slow but steady shift towards improving the practical application of learning for higher performance. Strategies that focus on the measurable transfer and application of knowledge, skill and experience are being implemented in Learning and Development functions the world over. The adoption of performance support tools to support or even replace a more traditional learning process is on the rise. Think of performance support as processes, tools or systems that help people learn what they need to perform the job, or solve the problem that is right in front of them, in real time.

The broader learning and performance ecosystem of people, processes, content and technology, is increasingly being recognised for the important influence it has on the success and sustainability of workplace education initiatives.

Higher Education

With education as the core business and high levels of competition to attract prospective students, my observation is that higher education invests more than any other sector in the development of research, systems and infrastructure for successful graduate outcomes. There is a high focus on understanding and improving the impact that physical and virtual campus spaces have on learning, and the adoption of flexible technologies to maximize student engagement.

The higher education sector is also focused on increasing the accessibility and flexibility of learning by improving pathways for students from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and regional areas, removing educational barriers for students with disabilities, and targeting gender balance across areas of study.

Adult and Community Education

The community and adult education sector is a broad one, based around a learner centred approach to providing the necessary skills and abilities to improve lifelong and lifewide learning and participation.

With such a broad focus, the sector is excellent at recognising and working to remediate the challenges facing adult learners across all stages of life, with a focus on developing the underlying skills and abilities to improve access to learning and participation. Literacy and numeracy is one of the most significant barriers, with an estimated seven million adult Australians currently lacking the literacy and numeracy skills to effectively function in modern society.

The successful adoption of flexible and innovative learning approaches, in collaboration and partnership with community based organisations, councils, state and federal governments and adult learning practitioners is also a strength of this sector, as they work towards closing the gap for unemployed, underemployed and underskilled adults, and breaking the intergenerational impacts on children, families and communities.

Education Services

The education services sector encompasses all private providers who provide a learning-related services for a profit. This is another broad sector, ranging from small one-person operations, to large corporations operating across entire countries or internationally.

Operators within this sector have built their business by targeting areas of learning need not adequately met by the other education sectors, and/or creating a market for their services. Many providers focus on the ancillary or support areas of education, including the systems and technologies that are increasingly required to implement, manage and track learning in the digital age.

Not surprising for a sector at the mercy of market forces, the education services industry as a whole excel at predicting the future requirements of their own and other sectors, and by tailoring their services to meet the needs of their clients.

Open Learning

While open learning as a concept to enhance or extend opportunities beyond formal education has been around since the 1970’s, it is only really in the last decade that technology has enabled it to progress to what could be considered a sector. The rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has seen existing and new players provide free or inexpensive content, courses and qualifications that can be easily accessed by anyone with access to the internet.

The standout achievement of this fast-moving sector is the low or no-barrier-to entry nature of the learning it provides. It enables learners to experiment and engage with an increasingly broad range of topics, with no risk and often no cost. The use of learning badges is also a reasonably recent innovation, which provides a learner-centred approach to collecting evidence and external recognition for their efforts, and allowing people full control to create personalised learning pathways to career or professional advancement.

In a nutshell – what could L&D teams adopt from each sector?

Sector Standouts What L&D could do with it
Early Childhood Learner centredness and the power of play Deconstructing the curriculum to create more self-directed opportunities for learning, and building experimentation, discovery and fun into course design
K-12 Community engagement, collaboration and increasing learner self-responsibility Build greater engagement with learners and leaders to build the learning-through-work community, and develop learner self- responsibility for managing and monitoring learning transfer and performance impact
Vocational Education Macro-level workforce participation and productivity through skill development Improve long-range evidence-based forecasting of workforce learning and performance requirements, to prioritise focus and investment, set targets and smooth or remove implementation roadblocks
Workplace Education Practical application of learning and use of support tools for higher performance within the learning ecosystem Re-imagine the role of L&D within the learning ecosystem, and elevate the importance of performance support systems to optimise practical application and reduce off-the-job learning time
Higher Education Learning research, systems and infrastructure investment to improve student outcomes Invest time and effort into researching, designing and creating the capabilities, spaces and systems for L&D to support current and future learning and performance outcomes
Adult and Community Education Identifying and addressing underlying challenges of learning and working within and across communities Identify and analyse the underpinning challenges and individual differences of the workforce, and enable the creation and maintenance of communities centred around needs and interests
Education Services Predicting future requirements and customisation of services to client needs Work closely with internal customers to diagnose learning and performance problems, plan and deliver solutions, and track successes and failures
Open Learning Lowering or removing the barrier to entry and putting full control in the hands of learners Open up non-traditional cross-company learning opportunities, and encourage the collection of externally achieved badges for company recognition of learner-achieved knowledge and skill development


Have some ideas?

Please share your thoughts below and contact Open Access Learning if you’d like to continue the conversation about the opportunities for your L&D team to learn from other sectors.

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