One size doesn't fit all

4th Nov 2015

In my recent post here on skills analysis I made two bold statements:

  1. That whether it is through competency frameworks or job descriptions, there is no excuse for an organisation not knowing what someone is expected to do in their role.
  2. That by using the LMS to carry out a skills analysis the organisation would have a much better view of organisational and individual learning needs.

I also said that setting this up would require effort, so I’d like to take the opportunity to explore why that effort is worth it.

First, a little background. Since corporate training functions came into existence in the mid twentieth century the default approach has been to provide the same training to everyone doing a particular role.

When my father left school in the 1950s the majority of people from his school went to work in the same factory - the boys on the factory floor and the girls in administration - things were very different then.

At the time, and in that kind of environment, the one size fits all approach may have been good enough. Many jobs were clearly defined and relatively simple to describe. Workers were expected to do a specific job, with little room for autonomous thought.

Has anything changed?

Fast forward to today and the idea that most pupils leaving a particular school would go off and work for the same employer (and that girls and boys would select roles based on gender) seems ridiculous and anachronistic.

And yet… if we look at much of today’s workplace training, it doesn’t look that different to what was being delivered 50 or 60 years ago.

The tools and technologies have changed, but the approach hasn’t. There is still a tendency towards the ‘sheep dip’ approach in which everyone goes through the same training activity with the expectation that they will all come out the other side with the knowledge and skills to do their job.


Treating all jobs and workers as homogeneous denies the reality of the modern workplace.

-              Today’s job roles are more diverse, more likely to change and require a much greater level of autonomy.

-              Today’s learners live in an on-demand world in which they have access to information and support at the point of need.

When jobs and learner expectations change so rapidly the problem isn’t just that one size doesn’t fit all. When we try to stretch the same training solution across too many roles and individuals we end up with one size that doesn’t fit anyone.

An example

This isn’t just about highly skilled or ‘professional’ roles either. Think of the example of national retailer:

They may have hundreds of stores and tens of thousands of employees. The stores will vary in size and staff level. Some staff will work full time, others part time. People may have the same job title, but their location and circumstances mean they will have different needs.


I think we have to acknowledge that LMS vendors had a role to play in this. In the late 1990s and early 2000s much was made of the ability of the LMS to deliver content more efficiently than in the past. It’s not surprising then that many LMS implementations of that period were focussed on reducing costs, with little thought given to the effectiveness of what was being delivered.

However, things have moved on and we can make use of the LMS as a route to delivering content effectively and efficiently. As I said in the earlier post:

Every learning activity should offer value to the learner and the organisation

Everyone benefits if both the learner and the organisation have better visibility of the required skills, the current and future gaps and the solutions available to fill them.

It would be easier for us to adopt the one size fits all approach - but should we be focussed on making our own lives easier, or making it easier for learners to get to the materials they need to do their job well?

About the author
Barry Samson

Barry Sampson is a consultant focusing on the use of technology to improve workplace performance. In 2009 he co-founded Onlignment, a consultancy specialising in organisational communication and learning. Previously he worked in a range of delivery and management roles in HR and Learning & Development before becoming Learning Technology Manager at B&Q where he led a number of award-winning elearning and blended learning programmes.

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