Civil Service Learning’s “What does good learning look like?”

… a core concept in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107

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Concept description

The UK’s Civil Service Learning published a research paper in 2016 on learning and training for the workplace (reference below, pdf on right).

The paper describes its purpose as follows:

“The aim of workplace learning is to drive improved business outcomes. This paper sets out the evidence base for designing learning interventions that achieve this and a framework for designing learning…”

Four factors that influence whether learning leads to improved business outcomes

The paper sets these out as follows:

  1. The content needs to be right – The most fundamental requirement of good learning is to get the content right. This means having a very clear understanding of the capabilities we need to develop in order to drive business outcomes, then designing learning to target those capabilities. Each piece of learning should therefore aim to have a tangible influence on the skills, behaviours or knowledge needed in the Civil Service.
  2. Learning needs to have ‘transfer’ at the heart of its design – Research has suggested that, on average, people forget 70% of what they are taught within 24 hours of the training experience (‘the forgetting curve’), and as little as 10% of the expenditure on workplace training pays off in improved performance at work. Providing learning that leads to improved business outcomes for the civil service means we need to do better than this, and we need to provide interventions that lead to changes in the workplace. Fundamental to this is recognising that learning is a ‘process’, and simply attending an event will have limited impact. This is particularly true for learning a ‘skill’, given the very nature of acquiring a ‘skill’ requires practice. An event can simply introduce the skill, but being able to master it requires a longer term process …
  3. “Learning needs to use the most appropriate and cost effective method to meet the required outcomes – ‘Good’ workplace learning maximises the value added to the organisation, relative to the cost of providing it, and we should provide learning that uses the most appropriate and cost effective methods to meet the required outcomes. … Whilst we should seek to use digital methods where possible, face-to-face learning clearly has a range of strengths, and is particularly effective where learning is enhanced through high levels of interaction between participants and the instructor. A key consideration here is likely to be whether it involves learning a ‘skill’ or ‘knowledge’, given the need for interaction is likely to be limited for knowledge based learning (unless it is a particularly complex issue), whereas skills based learning is likely to benefit from a high level of interaction with others. This is because knowledge based capabilities are acquired through ’knowing’, whereas ‘skills’ (as mentioned above) are developed through practical application. Giving participants the opportunity to try out particular techniques in a ‘safe’ environment and receive feedback is therefore necessary, which requires face to face methods, whereas knowledge transfer can occur more easily through remote learning.
  4. The right people need to take up the right learning – An obvious condition for improving business outcomes through learning is that people in the organisation participate. Participation will be affected by a broad range of factors and we need to provide learning that people want to consume, and that they can consume. In-depth qualitative research with civil servants has suggested four further conditions are critical to driving take up:
    i. People must realise they need to do better. People will make time for learning if they know they can, and should, improve their performance. …
    ii. People must believe they will do better as a result of learning. To activate an individual to learn, they need to believe they will learn something of value to them as a result. In particular, they need to expect the time spent learning to have a tangible impact on their performance. …
    iii. People need more support and direction. Individuals do not have the time or knowledge to make the appropriate choices on their own. They need more support and direction from CSL, managers and colleagues, to identify their learning needs, and establish what learning is right for them.
    iv. Taking up learning must be easy and quick. Time is at a premium, and we need to make it easier and quicker for people to learn.”
Topic, subject and Atlas course

Promoting Learning (core topic) in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107 Implementation and Delivery


Civil Service Learning (2016), What does good learning look like? at Executive Talent Management Framework, at, and pdf at, accessed 12 November 2017.

Will Thalheimer (2006), Spacing Learning Events Over Time – What the Research Says, Work-Learning Research Inc., at, accessed 13 November 2017.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 13 November 2017.

Image: Civil Service Learning (2016), What does good learning look like? at, accessed 12 November 2017.