Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Human Resource Development: Process, Practices and Perspectives
Article Type: Book reviews From: Education + Training, Volume 50, Issue 4.
Stephen GibbPalgrave MacmillanISBN 13 97814039987327
The first edition of this book was entitled Learning and Development. The review in Education+Training applauded the author for capturing in the title and indeed in the text which followed the essence of the shifts we are seeing away from “training” and towards “learning”. This is still top of my teaching and research agenda and hence I was both puzzled and not a little disappointed with the title change. If it ain’t bust why fix it ? The author argues in his Preface the need to reflect contemporary usage. Whilst I think I can understand the pressure I am not convinced by the argument. Would other changes disappoint ? My conclusion here is somewhat ambivalent. There are some genuine enhancements but elsewhere the revisions leave me rather lukewarm.
There are new chapters on learning in groups; learning providers; diversity; and strategic HRD. I remain unconvinced as to the value of the first two. Much of the chapter on learning in groups addresses standard stuff on group formation and group dynamics. Important stuff of course, but the added value in terms of the relationship with learning appears limited. In particular the focus is upon formal learning and development in groups rather than informal where I would have thought group issues are even more influential. In contrast “Diversity themes and HRD” and “Strategic HRD” are welcome additions. Both incorporate a much needed “political” dimension to the discussion, albeit one that warranted expansion upon the in the strategic HRD chapter.
Revision is also evident in a number of the other chapters including, unsurprisingly, in the chapter relating to vocational education and training policy and practice. This is now called “Workforce HRD and public policy” and soundly reflects the ongoing debates and tensions within the UK (demand and supply of skills; voluntarism v. intervention etc.) and within the broader lifelong agenda being pursued by the European Union. It is a shame, though, that the chapter in the first edition specifically on Investors in People has been abandoned. IiP still figures within a strong concluding case to the Workforce HRD chapter but as one of the few alternatives to supply side intiatives it warranted much fuller treatment.
The shifting scenario affecting VET and public policy has also been very much a feature of the rapidly developing field of information and communication technology. In this context I was a little surprised to find no mention of “social networking”, or social computing”, within either the chapter on e-learning or for that matter the cahpters on knowledge management or workplace HRD. What is the potential of “Second Life”, for example, as a resource for learning and development or Facebook in realtion to induction ? Possibly, this is a theme which is simply too new even for this revised edition but as an emerging practice of informal workplace learning it is surely one new development that will have to be addressed by HRD managers wherever they operate.
The real strengths of the book remain largely those that were evident in the first edition. It deals with serious, complex issues in a rigorous yet accessible manner. The chapter “Knowledge Management and Communities of Practice” and which addresses knowledge management and organisational and workplace learning is still the best I have read on this whole area. The author should be gratified to know that “The Rep’s Breakfast” case study is firmly embedded in the mind’s of many hundreds of postgraduate and professional HRD students and I see little prospect of me growing tired of using this within a class setting. More generally, Gibb’s case studies throughout the book are strong, raising challenging and legitimate questions. The starting case study to each chapter remains an excellent device for a text book such as this. The one exception to the general quality of the case study material is the concluding case in Chapter 2 “HRD needs”, which rather oddly seems to be much more about delivery of learning and development than it is about the identification of learning needs.
Overall, this remains one of the best texts in its topic area. This said, because it is a second edition, it is fair to raise the question: “If I’ve already purchased the first should I buy the second edition ?” Difficult. My rather equivocal advice is “probably!”. However, the best strategy for those that have neither is this: purchase the new edition but look out for a cheap version of the first edition. Then you’ll be “well sorted” !