Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
In the preface to the fifth edition of Learning and Development Rosemary Harrison, a prominent academic and former Chief Examiner for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), stresses that “in its organisational context, L&D no longer constitutes an area of work for beginners”. Something of this complexity is reflected in the tone of the book; throughout, the focus is on the integration of L&D with corporate strategy, the encouragement of high professional standards in the field, and a critical evaluation of the challenges facing the L&D sector today.
The text has been substantially revised since previous editions and draws heavily on CIPD research available at the time of writing in mid‐2008. While this largely pre‐dates the global economic downturn, Harrison explicitly recognises the pressures on L&D in times of recession, and her calls for the function to add value to business processes seem both relevant and timely in the current business environment.
In common with many academic works, the book is often prose‐heavy and the text demands careful study. However, Harrison's writing is refreshingly opinionated and reads like a considered, well‐argued literature review. Each chapter follows a broadly similar pattern, opening with a brief commentary before going on to develop the subsequent content. Although the concluding chapter summaries could be clearer and less descriptive, the text frequently includes references to ‘key tasks for L&D professionals’ which are more effective in drawing the content into focus.
The book is divided into four main themes. The first of these, “Understanding the Field” sets L&D in its historical context before going on to discuss the National Skills Strategy and issues around reforming vocational education and training. Whilst these areas are particularly sensitive to political change, the text is detailed and provides a narrative overview of UK policy (including the devolved administrations, in a short appendix) up until the time of the last General Election.
As the title of the next section suggests, the theme of “Getting to Grips with the Practice” deals with the implementation of learning in the workplace. However, the strategic theme of the book continues, making this section less of a handbook for trainers than a discussion of best practice for L&D managers. The section includes chapters on learning theory, promoting workplace learning and knowledge, performance management and ethical practice. In addition, the section contains two chapters which outline a six‐stage training cycle to co‐create value. As a working trainer, I found these to be the highlight of the book, and would recommend the associated case‐study to anyone tasked with implementing a large‐scale management development programme throughout a company.
The following section deals with strategic issues in managing the L&D function, and includes chapters on structure, strategy, partnerships and adding value. In keeping with the rest of the book, the discussion focuses on larger organisations where there is a degree of organisational complexity and established access to L&D resources. However, there is also a brief but welcome discussion of learning in smaller businesses.
The final section is forward‐looking and covers the subjects of L&D's role in change, talent/career development and management development. The book closes with a commentary on current challenges for the profession.
In addition to the main body of the text, the book contains a helpful glossary of some of the more arcane jargon associated with the L&D field, an extensive reference list, suggestions for further reading, and appendixes that will be particularly useful to those using the book as part of their studies. Tutor resources are also available via the CIPD website.
Overall, the book provides an excellent resource for those concerned with the management of Learning and Development as a strategic function. While many students enrolled on CIPD courses will already be familiar with the book, I would also recommend this updated edition for the continuing professional development of those who hold (or aspire to hold) senior corporate L&D positions.