A Brief History of Workplace Learning and Development

You’d be forgiven for thinking Leadership and Professional Development is a modern-day phenomenon, but it has been in existence for a surprising amount of time. And, as with most things, it’s important to understand where we’ve come from to understand the best way to progress. 

So, let’s take a look at the history of learning and development in the workplace. 

Where it all began

Even when you look all of the way back to prehistoric times there will have been a variation of workplace training taking place. Children will have had to learn how to hunt, what to eat, and how to avoid danger – basically how to survive – from the adults around them. This will have mainly been through observation, but there probably would have been some element of training and testing, possibly through rites of passage or gradual increases in responsibility. 

This method of observational-based, on-the-job training has continued to be used throughout history and became formalised into apprenticeships in some professions, such as blacksmiths, in the Middle Ages.

However, historical records show that this wasn’t the only kind of learning and development in existence from very early on. The ancient Greeks are renowned for their passion for learning and some of the most famous intellectuals had their own methods of teaching that are still utilised today. For example, Socrates liked to question his pupils to help them recall and understand his teachings, and Aristotle helped his students master skills through repetition. 

A major shift

When the Industrial Revolution began in the 1800s, a major shift took place in just about every aspect of working life for the masses. Industry became focused on the mass production of products and they needed to mass-produce a capable workforce to be successful. 

This change correlated with a boost in the number of service-based professions, such as accountants and lawyers, and meant that much of the one-on-one training was replaced with classroom-based training in groups to ensure the country had an appropriately skilled and qualified workforce. 

The industrial landscape was rocked by further radical changes during, and after, each of the World Wars. During each conflict, the country’s manufacturing focus moved to items required to support the war effort, such as munitions and military equipment, and would swing back to a new version of “normal” afterwards.

In each case, this meant not only retraining some current workers to cover these different roles but also inducting women into the workforce to cover those who had gone to war. This rush to quickly train people with no prior experience, often in factory-based or construction roles, meant classroom training was no longer effective and Job Instruction Training (JIT) was introduced in 1939. 

JIT is a form of on-the-job training where an employee is shown how to perform their duties by one of their co-workers or a supervisor through a step-by-step breakdown. It works particularly well for roles requiring the use of manual skills, such as factory jobs, and so was perfect for the country’s requirements at this time. 

Modern day training

One of the biggest influences on workplace training in the last few decades has been the development of computers and the launch of the internet. Online and computer-based training is now commonplace across most sectors and the different delivery and testing methods available can make it very effective, though it naturally has it’s limitations. 

The introduction of computers and the internet has also meant that the way that many professions carry out their duties has evolved, as well as the creation of a whole new array of job roles. And, as we have seen in recent years it has also reimagined the physical workplace and the ways that organisations work, with the advent of remote working.

Where do we go from here?

The work environment and the roles available to people is now more varied than ever before. Thankfully by looking back through history at the different approaches to training, as well as at the vast amounts of research that has been carried out, as training providers, we’re privileged to be able to pick and choose the methods of training best suited to the situation and the person. 

Here at Maze Training, we’ve also embraced the technology available to us in modern day society and we’re proud of the virtual versions of our courses that we deliver, but we’re conscious that the learning experience is very different between online and in-person.

We know that we need to go to these lengths to deliver the very best training solutions to you and your organisation. If you’d like to find out more about how we deliver our training, and why we use the methods that we do, then get in touch.

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