The definition of L&D

The definition of L&D

Velites blog

The definition of L&D

L&D is the abbreviation for Learning and Development and often part of the human resources department as a training arm. An important arm as training is vital to any organization. If an organization is able to learn and translate that into action rapidly, they have the ultimate competitive advantage (1). And as Henry Ford once said: “The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

The history and development of L&D

Learning and Development is something that exists as long as we do. In ancient times we learned from our predecessors what we could eat what and developed our hunting skills by practicing them. It was in 1812 when we saw for the first time a more formalized training program by the development of the war game ‘Kriegsspiel’. The game was developed to train Prussian and German armies.

When the industrial revolution started, there was a high need for training. The labor force was under-skilled (2). In order to get up to speed with all new technologies, the Hoe and Company established the first documented factory school to train machinist in 1872. And soon many companies followed by setting up their own factory schools (3).

As training programs arose, the need for evaluation increased. It was Donald Kirkpatrick who fist outlines the Four Levels of Learning Evaluation in 1954. After that, the model was expanded and it is still used as a basis for evaluating training events like a personal development day.

Download 10 ways to evaluate your personal development day.

Offline & Online Training Methods

In the 1980s, computer-based training emerged. Instead of classroom training, employees were trained on an individual level. However, people realized that e-learning and computerized learning on its own didn’t work. Therefore blended learning started to grow in the 1990s. This is a mixture of different ways of training. E.g. like a mixture of classroom and computerized training.

Mobile learning enters the training world in the early 2000s and grew from that perspective. Nick Peiling introduced the term gamification in 2002, although game elements were already used in many applications for two centuries. The MOOCs (massive open online courses) came up in 2008 and focusses on distance education. However, more and more people saw the need for peer-learning or social learning as well. Same time, the different training providers enable a world where personalized learning is no longer a challenge. That’s why we see companies starting to use Personal Learning Clouds (4).

Learning versus development

We use learning and development often in one phrase. However, there is a difference. Learning is a process that increases our knowledge. We can learn for example a new language. However, development is more about gaining new experiences. It’s about the process and most of the time a long-term activity (5). In business settings learning aims at a specific job or role requirement, while development focuses on the person.

L&D as a strategy

A learning and development (L&D) strategy supports the organization’s strategic and operational plan. The primary objective for developing the strategy is to explore and select options for addressing learning and development needs (6). It ensures that staff learning and development needs are effectively met and the company’s skills requirements are being developed. However, using L&D as a strategy covers more areas (7):

  • Attract and retain talent;
  • Develop people capabilities;
  • Create a value-based culture;
  • Build an employer brand;
  • Motivate and engage employees.

Learning culture

Companies without staff engaged in learning are likely to experience poor business performance. Next to that, it is also twice as likely that staff will leave the organization before three years (8). However, having your L&D strategy in place doesn’t mean automatically that there is a culture of learning within the organization. And organizing a couple of training days a year doesn’t help either. In a learning culture, learning is a constant process that is happening at both events as well as on-the-job. You should foster a continuous approach to learning. Encouraging a learning environment and learning mind-set not only improves skill levels, but it fosters greater creativity and innovation too.

L&D: Leadership and development?

You don’t just implement a learning culture. It requires engagement and support at all levels within the organization. Instead of learning and development, I would suggest using L&D as an abbreviation for leadership and development. Leadership is a shared responsibility, also called distributed leadership. Members trust their own skills and that from others in performing certain tasks. When you have the required knowledge and skills to add value, understand the moments where you can add that value and takes the ownership of taking action at that moment, we talk about leadership. You can learn and develop as much as you want, but a learning and development strategy fails if there is no ownership taken, when you don’t know when to apply certain skills or knowledge or if you forgot what you’ve learned. Therefore, I would suggest changing L&D from Learning and Development into Leadership and Development.


(1) Straight from the gut, Jack Welch, 2003

(2) The history of learning and development, 2015

(3) The history of training and development, 2016

(4) Cherry-picking content: your personal learning cloud, 2019

(5) The difference between training and development, 2016

(6) The 5 critical Cs for a comprehensive L&D Strategy, 2019

(7) The essential components of a successful L&D strategy, 2019

(8) How to make sure your L&D strategy has real impact (research), 2018