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Manage learning without apology: an economist's perspective

David Vance (Former and Founding President of Caterpillar University.)

Industrial and Commercial Training

ISSN: 0019-7858

Article publication date: 14 March 2008




The purpose of this paper is to review the current state of corporate learning from a business perspective and make specific recommendations for improvement.


Conclusions are reached based on personal experience at Caterpillar Inc. (Caterpillar University was named Best Overall Corporate University in 2004 and ranked 1st in ASTD BEST Awards for 2005), from numerous benchmarking visits with other companies and from discussions with other learning professionals.


It is found that learning is not managed like a business in most organizations which reduces its impact and influence. Worse, many in the learning profession continually apologize for the lack of rigor and discipline, believing that it is too hard or too difficult to manage learning like other lines of business. It is concluded that learning is not any more difficult to manage than the rest of business and two key requirements for success are suggested. First, the learning function should create a written business plan with specific, measurable objectives that are strategically aligned to the organization's overall goals. Second, the plan must be executed throughout the year with discipline, rigor, accountability and transparency. Examples of alignment and measurement scorecards are included.

Practical implications

Specific recommendations to run learning like a business, including sample reports.


The paper brings a business perspective to learning which will be valuable for HR and training professionals without business line experience. Intended for those who want to improve their existing T&D function or start a corporate university.



Vance, D. (2008), "Manage learning without apology: an economist's perspective", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 40 No. 2, pp. 67-74.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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