What Is Learning and Development (L&D)? Definition, strategy, best practices

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Last updated:
November 16, 2021
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13 minutes
This is a complete guide to Learning and Development (L&D). Learn how to get started with this introduction.

Continuous learning is one of the most important crutches of an employee’s growth at your organisation. While there is no perfect employee or an exemplary manager, it is through persistent learning and development skill training that you can mould them into being one. By neglecting this, you run the risk of retaining inefficient employees in your organisation. 

Lifelong learning and challenging your employees’ abilities can surely lead to their philosophical development, especially for those working in a competitive environment. And when you give them an opportunity to improve their skills, they will stay with your company longer, achieve their performance objectives faster, and that will help reaffirm their role in your organisation.

Today, we will guide you through the meaning of employee development, different ways it benefits everyone, and how you can get started without scaling your costs through expensive courses.  

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What is learning and development (L&D)?

L&D is the continuous process of improving your employee’s knowledge, competencies, and skills to boost their productivity and job satisfaction, while reducing your turnover. This can be done through various learning programs that help upskill them in their desired area of work or switch to an entirely new role. 

5 key areas of talent development as a subset of l and d.

The terms “human resources” and “learning and development” are often used interchangeably. But one should refrain from doing so. Human resources is the bridge between a business and its employees, while overseeing the administrative and strategic operations. On the other hand, L&D is a branch of HR. Its main aim is to hone the skills of employees and train them to better suit the needs and goals of your organisation.

The two departments stem from the same root and cannot exist without one another. They are also strongly connected with employee experience, culture, and the recruiting process.

Benefits: Why is learning and development so important for your organization?

We intuitively know that every business, including yours, can benefit from a development strategy. To reaffirm this opinion, we’ve put together some points from our research. 

Millennials are leading today’s workforce. For this generation, having the opportunity to learn has become essential. So much that it has become one of the major deciding factors during their job application process. According to Gallup research, 59% of millennials will only apply for your role if you provide them with opportunities to learn and grow. Those numbers will be even higher for the following generations like GenZ.

When you hire people without an effective L&D strategy, your employees will see this as a roadblock to their growth, and quit. 94% of employees will simply leave a company if there are no opportunities to learn in the workplace. 

And that’s expected because the set of skills that got them hired will not be of much value in the coming years. According to the World Economic Forum, 42% of core skills needed to do the job will continuously change. This digital transformation is affecting us all, creating constant skills gaps across organisations.

Value chain of learning and development

In other words, you may hire someone for a certain set of skills, but with time, they will need additional capabilities to perform equally well or better at their job. That's why a basic learning strategy is not only a competitive advantage - it's a necessity in today's fast-paced world.

The insight here is that when you have a great L&D program, you’ll be able to easily  acquire new talent, retain them in your organisation, and help improve their performance with time.

What are learning and development activities?

Employee development can be designed into various structures and forms, depending on your organisational needs.

It’s not always about learning from a book and being bogged down into details. You can design your L&D program using engaging platforms and activities — depending on your goals, the time and the budget you have, and the preferences of your employees.

There are several approaches to learning methods and programs. What matters is that you create the right mix between formats like social learning, action-based learning, collaborative learning, and immersive training, so your employees get a blend of superior learning experience. Here are some to begin with:

  • Workshops - They’re interactive and foster team-work in your organisation. While they're affordable and easy to organise, they might not be the best option for individual learning. The reason being, 75% of employees fail to remember what they learnt within the first few weeks if they don't benefit from the learnings. 
  • Seminars and lectures - Best suitable for formal lessons. Short and to the point, but low potential for the knowledge to stick.
  • Video training - For example, online courses like LinkedIn Learning. They are helpful, but their completion rates are abysmal. Some employees might find it difficult to balance work with a multiple-hour course, making it difficult to retain knowledge over a longer period of time.
  • Webinars - Works best for training in a remote setting. They’re easy to organise and to use, but no practical application of knowledge. On the positive side, there is usually an interactive component like ‘Q&A’ at the end.
  • Peer-Learning - A classic example of intuitive exchange of knowledge. These include:
  • Social learning formats - They consist of face-to-face exchange sessions            between employees of the same rank. 
  • Training sessions - Participants either develop content together, or train each other consecutively. Can be highly effective but needs support with topics, content, and structure.
  • Coaching - Can be orchestrated in individual or in groups. Another social learning format with massive value and potential for learning, but can be time consuming for the coach. 
  • Mentoring - Offers complete guidance — at an individual level or in groups, however it can be time consuming for the mentor. 
  • Job shadowing - Following and assisting another person in their role. Highly effective but can take a lot of time for everyone involved.
  • Microlearning and nudges - Brief lessons that take less than 15 minutes to complete. Easy to learn while working, without going too deep into a subject.
Learning and development program tips

There is no perfect strategy here. What’s important is that you understand the ever-evolving way you work, and then design a L&D strategy that suits best for your people. And, we’ve just made it easy for you by bringing all the solutions under one platform. From setting up company-wide resilience training to peer learning routines and leadership training and onboarding. We, at Zavvy, are here to help you set up and optimise complex programs in just a few clicks.

How do you get started with learning and development?

Depending on how you look at it, there are four practical steps you need to get started with L&D.

Define your goals

Every corporate strategy begins with a specific goal in mind. For example, “We want to sign up our sales team for some webinars” is not a clear goal or a good one to get started. Here’s a better approach: “We want to sign up our sales team for a webinar to increase the conversion rates of our cold calls by 30% by the end of 2021.”

Try not to set vague business goals, such as, “improve our project management”. Here, is no measurable way to test the efficacy of your program. Especially if you combine several activities (as we’ll recommend in a minute), tracking their overall success will be difficult.

Bonus tip: Get your mid-level and senior leaders onboard and align your corporate goals with them. Your learning strategy will be more effective if the leadership team is involved. And you will notice this when tracking engagement levels across your organisation.

Identify fitting activities

Finding skill gaps in your organisation and understanding your employees needs will help you create programs designed for success. For example, ‘improving your project management skills and reducing your sprint time’ is a goal that you can achieve with dedicated group training and coaching. Start with researching materials required to achieve your business goal, followed by creating a blend of practical experience and theory in your L&D program.

Compare and combine your activities

There is no one-size-fits-all approach here. Learning has many shapes and forms and not everyone learns in the same way.

Some of your employees will learn better through theory, others will pick up new skills through mentoring and practice. Mix up your organization's activities to give room for different learning styles and methods.

Include the 70:20:10 approach

This is one of the most famous models for adopting a L&D strategy. This is what it entails:

  • 70% of the learning should come from the job itself
  • 20% should be imparted from colleagues (managers, coaches, peers)
  • 10% should be grasped from structured training (workshops, courses, books, webinars, etc.)

The main takeaway here is that most of the learning should be practical, with only 10% in the form of education. This is because, through practical lessons, employees can easily apply their knowledge into real life situations, receive immediate feedback, and learn from their mistakes. 

It goes without saying that these ratios are flexible to the needs of your organisation and specific roles. 

Consider employee development plans

Aligning business goals and individual career paths creates buy-in from your learners. They will value the offering more - and derive more value out of it. To get started, here are top examples on employee development plans.

Examples from other companies

Fast-growing and always evolving, Freeletics is Europe's #1 fitness app. The company relies on a comprehensive leadership development system, using a combination of 3 different people development activities:

  • Detailed onboarding for new people managers on values, tools, and key competencies.
  • Regular peer-learning format where leaders share ideas on various topics.
  • Microlearning format where participants receive a short, interactive lesson each week via Slack.
Examples for microlearning lessons at Freeletics for leadership

If you’re interested in learning more, you can find the entire leadership training case study on Freeletics here.

SAS is one of the world's biggest organisations in the sphere of business analytics. Their L&D program is called ‘Early Career Programs’ and it’s catered towards fresh graduates. On meeting the necessary skill requirements, one can apply to any of their talent programs and choose from roles in sales, customer support, technical enablement, and others. 

Etsy is a world-renowned company that prioritises continuous learning. The company founded its own Etsy School where employees can teach, and learn. As they say, one of the biggest benefits of such a program is that one can experience being on both sides of the learning process.

Another example comes from Paychex, an innovative company in the payrolls industry that works in a hybrid model. This means their L&D programs are delivered in two parts.

  • First, employees learn from home using their virtual toolkits. 
  • Next, employees visit the company’s training facility in Rochester, NY.

Mistakes to avoid with learning and development

Mistakes are a part of the learning and development process. But there are some you can easily avoid when setting up your own strategy. Here are some to keep an eye on:

Not measuring employee satisfaction. Besides measuring business results, you'll want to ensure that your employees are benefiting from your L&D program. 75% of managers are unhappy with the way learning and development are handled in their organisations.

Not checking in with your employees. The findings from another research include: 70% of employees say they don’t have the necessary skills to do their jobs. Instead of relying on resumes, make sure to use practical tests before you hire. Moreover, keep checking in to see if your employees still have the skills they need, months and years after you hire them. 

Not checking if the skills can be applied. Only 12% of all employees can immediately apply the knowledge gained from corporate training. For this reason, it’s crucial to carefully choose the right L&D program - one that will bring practical benefits and performance to your company.

Not having measurable goals. McKinsey ran a survey that revealed — only 25% of employees believed that training measurably improves their performance. The mistake here is that measurable goals were not defined at any point in time. This, of course, makes it difficult to optimise key performance indicators, or to measure success.

One of the biggest dilemmas faced by organisations is not designing the right L&D program. Where they fail is not knowing what skills their employees need to achieve the organisational goals. 

How do you measure the success of your learning and development efforts?

Measuring the success of your development strategy isn’t always easy. Taking a quiz before and after will not answer all your questions to development objectives. It all depends on the specific types of programs you choose.

However, these are some great ways to check if your learning and development efforts are paying off:

  • Employee satisfaction surveys
  • Post-activity quizzes
  • (Anonymous) surveys
  • One-on-one and group conversations
  • Official certification exams
  • Pre- and post-assessment and comparing the two scores
  • Measuring engagement during the learning and development process

The best example of a complete measurement of learning success is probably the Kirkpatrick model. It divides the learning process into 4 stages, which are considered separately:

Reaction: How did participants feel about the training?

Learning: To what degree were employees able to improve their knowledge, skills or abilities?

Behavior: To what extent did the behavior of the training participants change?

Results: What effect did the training have on long-term performance?

Since these steps may span over a long period of time, measuring them is tedious, but can be easily automated using our tools. As a general rule of thumb, the more specific your goals are, the easier they are to measure.


Learning and development should not be an afterthought, irrespective of the type of business you run, the strength of your employees, and whether you have an HR department or not. Lifelong learning is the only way to ensure your employees’ skill sets stay relevant to industrial standards.

When your employees are happy with the results of their performance and hard work, they would love to stay connected with your organisation. It is only through efficient learning and development where everyone in your company wins.


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