One of the fundamental qualities of leadership is the ability to support and maximise the growth and development of others. Therefore, ensuring people are able to learn and develop as individuals is critical in the transformation of people and organisations.
This article aims to emphasise the need for a progressive and developmental approach to training and developing within the workplace. Although you may find various opinions on the different levels and categorisations of learning I have decided to try and simplify this topic as much as possible without neglecting its key principles. I will therefore be using and exploring the following six levels of learning and development.
Knowledge refers to an individual’s ability to recall previously learned information. It could be something as simple as recalling a date or a person’s name or something slightly more complex such as detailing the events of the previous week or specific facts about a business. While having outstanding knowledge may make you a favourite amongst pub quiz teams, knowledge arguably represents the lowest level of learning. However, knowledge is an essential starting point for learning and development as it provides the foundation for everything else to be built upon. For example, if a business has a customer service policy it is important that the staff have knowledge of that policy in order to adhere to it.
Comprehension refers to an individual’s ability to grasp the meaning of knowledge they have acquired. This is an important distinction to make as it ensures a greater depth of understanding is present. Sticking with the example of the customer service policy, your staff will undoubtedly deliver a better service if they can actually comprehend why the customer service policy has been created and why it to be implemented in that way. This greater understanding of purpose considering why, how and when, will enhance staff learning and ensure they develop their understanding further.
Application refers to an individual’s ability to actually use the knowledge and comprehension they have obtained in an effective way. Once your staff are able to fully comprehend the customer service policy they will then need to apply the guidance and requirements it provides. If specific action is required following a customer complaint then the staff member should be able to practically apply the correct action. This is the difference between knowing what do to and actually being able to do it.
Analysis refers to an individual’s ability to break information down into its component parts so that each can be better understood. Analysis demonstrates a higher level of thinking as it sees the individual digging into the information to draw out specific aspects for greater exploration. Using the example of the customer service policy a staff member would divide the policy up into smaller sections and isolate them. They would then proceed to explore each distinct area of the policy to identify aspects that work and aspects that could be improved. This moves the staff member from having a general comprehension of the policy to a more detailed comprehension of each individual component of the policy.
Synthesis refers to an individual’s ability to combine different aspects from different topics to create a new whole. This involves a process of selecting beneficial aspects and omitting superfluous aspects in order to create a superior outcome or product. An example of this may be a staff member who has analysed the current customer service policy, reviewed the customer service policies of other organisations and considered customer feedback and other methods of assessment in order to create a new customer service policy. The synthesis of all the information obtained by the staff member would result in a new and improved version of the policy.
Evaluation refers to an individual’s ability to make an informed judgement of the value of an outcome product or piece of information. Aspects of evaluation would creep into analysis and synthesis as an identification of the advantages and disadvantages is required to fulfil these skills however a full evaluation requires slightly more depth in understanding. An evaluation need to be informed and this would involve the staff member justifying their judgement based not on their opinions or attitudes but rather on sets of objective information. An effective and accurate evaluation needs to be evidence-based and the individual conducting the evaluation must be critical in their approach.
Why is this relevant to leadership?
I started this article by highlighting the importance that development and learning have in effective transformational leadership. In order to be transformational people need to have the guidance and support they require to develop and grow over time. By understanding the different levels of learning leaders will be able to effectively progressed through each level and greatly improve their ability to achieve this.
If you are leading an individual and you never provide them with challenging opportunities to apply their knowledge or analyse information you will be preventing them from developing. Similarly, if you ask an individual to evaluate some information without providing a supportive and progressive route to develop this skill they will be unlikely to be effective.
Developing people is all about assessing their competence and identify areas that require improvement. It is about providing an appropriate level of development activity to ensure they are challenged but capable of achievement. It is then about reviewing the progress they have made and repeating the process. The crucial aspect of this process if that the development activities are set at an appropriate standard as this will enable to individual to progress along the levels of learning effectively.
One final consideration is that each person will be at different stages for different things. They may be able to critically evaluate one topic but only have basic knowledge of another. Although the skills of evaluation and analysis are highly transferable, to be truly effective knowledge and comprehension need to be obtained first. Leaders need to maximise their staff and if they can develop advanced performers and advanced thinkers they will be on a progressive road to success.