Explaining Learning & Development to my grandma

‘So what is your job now?’ My grandma asked me.

‘I’m a corporate trainer grandma’, I said. 

She looked at me perplexed and asked: ‘what does it mean?’. 

Hesitantly I answered: ’when we have new people joining our company, I welcome them and I deliver a few weeks of training to them, explaining what their job is and how to do it’. 

‘Ah, a teacher!’ She replied. 

‘Not exactly’, I said as I moved uncomfortably in my chair. ‘It’s kinda different from one another. 

‘Well,’ she said. ‘If people ask what you do, I will tell them you are a teacher’. 


It was 2015, and we were sitting in my grandparents' bright kitchen. I was promoted to a new role as a corporate trainer a few months before and was so happy and excited about getting it. I worked towards this goal for about a year before I achieved it. But once I became a trainer, and introduced myself to people in social or professional gatherings, I noticed it was rather challenging to explain what my role was , with all its responsibilities. In defence of my grandmother, she was not the only one who didn’t “get it”.

What’s the problem?

I didn’t see it from the very beginning, but over time I started noticing that a trainer’s job, my job, was misunderstood in our organisation.

My colleagues kept telling me things like: ‘Being a trainer is such an easy job! I wish this would be my job!’. Or : ‘You are so lucky you finished an onboarding group, and now you have nothing to do until the next one.’ 

Other times I would get questions like: ‘Isn’t it better if people learn from more experienced colleagues how to do the job?’. Aa as well as statements such as: ‘the training doesn’t cover all the information we have to deal with, and is a waste of time’.

Slightly different, but equally aggravating were the times I would get training requests at the drop of a hat. The request might state: ‘we have no incoming volumes and the team has nothing to do, so they might as well get some training about something’.

Through the occasional frustration, I tried to remember that none of these responses was ill-intended. But it made me feel like I worked in a position which was undervalued. All my hard work “behind the scenes” of delivering an onboarding phase had gone unrecognised and unnoticed. And in essence, nobody knew exactly what my job was, what responsibilities it included, what was its scope, and what was its purpose. And I won’t lie, oftentimes it made me question it myself.

Is being a trainer a vital job? Does it offer enough value? Is learning and development a valid professional sphere?

Why is it important to talk about this?

As this article is capturing my own views and experiences, it is safe to say that I found these questions important (to me). I do believe, however, that the significance of these questions goes well beyond my feelings and personal experiences. 

Learning and development is a massive industry, employing (I suspect) tens of thousands of people. 

Every year, companies' reports show increasing amounts of money spent on employee learning and development. Reports, such as Linkedin’s learning yearly report, indicate a growing industry with an increased demand for learning professionals. 

Going back in time to the beginning of the pandemic, every learning and development professional got a boost of confidence when L&D was deemed a necessity to millions of employees who suddenly found themselves working through “the new normal”. And it started to seem like things were looking up for L&D! Below is a chart displaying results from a survey conducted by Capterra showing that these numbers keep growing in 2022. 

At the same time though, with such a big and expensive industry, one might think there would be a bit more clarity on what can be expected of the learning and development function. But in my view, this is still not always the case. Moreover, this unclarity often results in the feeling of learning and development professionals, that we do not have a seat at the table. Sitting at the table is the goal of many movements and organisations which are aspiring to achieve recognition and influence. In my opinion, if L&D is not well defined, and more importantly- well explained, its unique value cannot be demonstrated and proven. This results in it being pushed to the sidelines in some organisations, and due to that, having limited influence on decision-makers. 

Since based on my experience, it was tricky to give a good definition for learning and development, I decided to reach out to others and see if together we can come up with a holistic explanation. 

And so, I asked

I reached out to ex-colleagues of mine from different companies I worked at. Some of them have experience working in L&D functions and backgrounds, and some do not. 

My question was straightforward and seemed as if it came out of a textbook: 

In your own words, how would you define Learning and development? 

I got a bit nervous when quite a few of them asked me to think about it for a couple of hours or even days. But, they slowly started to get back to me with their definitions and insights. Have a look at the answers they provided:

 Here are the answers I received:

  • A,Training manager: “It’s the process to gain or develop the required skills to perform a task, a role, a project etc…With L&D all participants (trainers and trainees) could improve themselves while they are learning subconsciously about organisational culture as well as the way to transform an environment. It’s a fundamental way of change within an organisation”. 
  • V, Operational readiness lead: “...always finding out something new, even if a small thing, but on a daily basis as a way of keeping your mind alert and engaged and not falling into a state of being on autopilot”.
  • P, Learning and development program manager:” L&D for me is about creating and curating content to enable the workforce to upskill themselves, with the aim to develop and retain key talent and establish a culture of growth”.
  • T, data scientist: “Learning and development support me to learn updates at work, tasks and procedures of the job. Also, guide me through the career development”.
  • V, training program developer: “L&D is what makes people stay at the company. Company that provides growth opportunities outside of the role’s job description always win”.
  • M, subject matter expert: “There are two aspects to it: the individual and the industry. For an individual, it is transformational because it can expand their universe of possibilities (bringing forth both “known and unknown unknowns” and making them “known”), to challenge misconceptions that they may have (unlearning -> challenging “known knowns”). In a pragmatic sense, if a vision already exists (as to what they want to achieve or who they want to be), learning & development becomes a crucial bridge to how they can get there... Then there is the industry. It’s intertwined with the individual because it’s the macro idea on the previous point: how can you achieve organisational goals if your processes don’t change? And how can processes change if people don’t learn why and how they should change? 

So learning & development becomes one of the highest ROI activities an individual and organisation can invest in. Being creative, having more focus, anticipating risks, creatively solving problems and executing effectively are all built upon knowledge and a growth mindset. 

  • J, Global lead of L&D and quality: “Helping people to be open to learning new methods or skills in a way that leads to bettering oneself by continuously acquiring new knowledge through learning and development”.
  • C, Risk and compliance officer:“...Learning and Development is about stretching my comfort zone. I picture it like a Bronfenbrenner diagram… Right in the middle are things I know and am comfortable with - things that I think are kind of inherently with me and that I didn’t have to consciously seek out to learn…Then as you move out, each circle is a small extension of the one before until eventually, the comfort zone expands with it. When it comes to development, I think for me this is a little more about practising things that I’ve learned until I become more comfortable.

*She even drew a little diagram so I will understand :D

  •  V, Senior training and development specialist: “My definition of L&D stems from the idea that improvement is virtually endless. To me, it embodies recognizing and being conscious that knowledge and education fine-tune the personality, skills and attitudes of an individual (professionally and emotionally). L&D creates and ensures not only a chain reaction of learning possibilities. It gives space to creative approaches and most importantly also allows for being vulnerable and creating a community where it is safe to try, to possibly fail and have that encouraging push to go for it again

OK, so what lessons have I learnt?

By looking at the different answers I could see a few repeating themes, and also a few differences. Here is a summary of the key points I am taking away from these insightful responses. 

  1. Learning and development is a chameleon. By speaking to people from different industries and companies, I could tell the definition of learning and development is influenced by the environment. L&D takes on the different patterns and colours of the organisations in which it operates, and of the people who engage with it. As such, it fits beautifully anywhere it goes. The downside is that L&D could disappear into the background because of this quality. It is our responsibility and duty as professionals and advocates of L&D to make sure it is seen for its value and understood for what it is.  And we have so much to show and much success to stand over.
  1. L&D is transformational. L&D supports people through change. Acquiring new skills, building up knowledge, and improving oneself on a personal and professional level, are all key functions of learning and development departments. And it is fundamental in supporting and promoting organisational change.
  1. L&D deals with the known and the unknown. “I know that I know nothing,” said Socrates. Or maybe he didn’t, historians are still debating this one. What we see though, is that the process of learning requires self-awareness, while it also brings more awareness to our existing knowledge and abilities. Learning is not only about acquiring new information but also about unlearning wrong or outdated information. L&D functions as a safe environment in which people can feel more comfortable with the unknown. As dealing with the unknown can be intimidating, it is important to have supportive conditions to tackle it, and make “unknowns” into “knowns”.  
  1. L&D changes organisations from within. It influences and shapes companies’ culture, and is doing so by being a part of those organisations. Companies are composed of people, and these people are on their learning and growth journeys, which means of course that so are the companies. It’s a classic win-win.
  1. L&D creates more space. When we learn- our worlds grow. In learning, our world expands and changes in front of our eyes, and offers us more space to operate and exist in. And the real beauty is that this space is endless, as is learning.
  1. L&D supports companies in creating their employer value proposition. So many words have been spilt on keyboards across the globe when talking about Millenials and Gen Zs, and their expectations from their employers. Employees nowadays believe work is more than a way to pay for bills. It is a part of their lives which should align with personal values, and provide them with development opportunities as part of their employment contracts. Thus, companies which don’t invest in their learning and development functions and offer a decent level of development and learning opportunities, are regarded as less desirable for employees and candidates. Want to get great employees? Want to keep them? Here is one essential way to do that. This leads me to the last point.
  1. L&D is more than a cost centre. Constant hiring costs money. Skill gaps within organisations make them lose money. The world is different every day, if not every hour. Companies must change along with it, and if they neglect to do so, they break. L&D is an agent of change and therefore is an important risk countermeasure. 

So what is L&D?

After all this, I am sure you can’t wait to read the definition of learning and development. The thing is, in the process of my research I learned that there is no one definition which will capture it all. And I learnt that it’s actually fine!

The definition I will be using going forward is this:

Learning and development is a key stakeholder involved in the development and growth of people and organisations, and it is doing so by enabling and empowering people to learn.  

The end

Fast forward a few years, and I was no longer a trainer. I was leading the learning and development needs of a startup company, with many different responsibilities, a lot of growth and many learnings. Over the summer I went back home for a visit, and of course, I was lucky enough to meet my grandmother. As I expected, she popped that question again. But I felt a lot more ready to answer it this time!

‘So what is your job now?’ My grandma asked me.

‘I am a learning and development lead, grandma’, I answered. 

‘And what does it mean?’ She asked.

‘It means that I am responsible for managing all the learning and development needs of the company I work for, and making sure that people learn, grow and develop in their roles and as people. It also means that the company grows and achieves its goals’. 

She looked at me and said: ‘ok. If people ask I will tell them you are a manager’. 

Fair enough grandma. Fair enough.

A learning and development professional, with a curious mindset. I Go through life questioning what I know, and diving into what I do not know. My passion is supporting and coaching others through their learning journeys.  

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