man explaining idea to colleagues man explaining idea to colleagues

Approach to Learning

How We Enhance Human Performance Through Learning

Since our founding more than 55 years ago, Wilson Learning has been at the vanguard of advances in human resource development. We were among the first to introduce video modeling, the first to utilize multi-rater feedback instruments, the first to use group decision support tools in learning, and the first to use interactive video technology in teaching interpersonal skills. Throughout our history, we have employed some of the leading experts in psychology, education, communications, and technology to bring to our clients the best learning and development solutions possible. In this paper, we would like to share with you what we have learned about how to deliver effective adult learning.

Wilson Learning’s Approach to Learning Design and Development

Learning, the acquisition of new skills, knowledge, and capabilities, always occurs within the context of human performance improvement. Wilson Learning approaches every client situation from this perspective. That is, we begin with a process of understanding the client’s needs, expectations, situation, and problems. We do not assume that learning is the answer to every performance issue. Many performance issues that organizations and individuals face, however, do require the learning of new skills, knowledge, and capabilities.

Thus, the primary purpose of this paper is to address the question: How does Wilson Learning structure the learning and development process to maximize impact on work performance? Over the years, we have developed a comprehensive philosophy and processes for developing effective and meaningful learning and development solutions. We have based this philosophy on our own experiences as well as our understanding of the research on adult leaning—from the early work of scholars such as Knowles, Linderman, Bloom, and Mager, as well as contemporary researchers such as Swanson, Holton, Nicholl, Rothwell, Mayer, Seligman, Gardner, and others. We also recognize that the field of adult learning is constantly changing and adapt as new theories and techniques emerge.


Any discussion of our approach to learning needs to begin with the purpose of learning processes. We deliver learning to support the Development of individuals and organizations. We distinguish Development from Training and from Education, and summarize the differences in the following table.

Given our focus on performance improvement, Wilson Learning does not provide Training (or for that matter, Education), but instead provides individual and organizational Development services. Thus, we don’t create seminars as discrete events, but create learning processes that involve multiple activities and events. Our learning helps people develop a deep understanding of critical competencies they can generalize in a flexible, versatile way. Finally, our learning focuses on performance improvement, not discrete learning or skill objectives. We have found that true improvement in sales performance, leadership, and interpersonal communication requires learning that teaches people how to think and how to act in unique situations. Processes that focus on teaching discrete skills and actions fail to produce people who can adapt and generalize their learning. Thus, while training may be part of a development solution, it is never the whole solution.

To explain further how this perspective impacts what we do, the remainder of this paper is organized in four principle sections:

  • Our core beliefs about adult learning, focusing on the uniqueness of adult learners
  • Our instructional design principles, which recognizes that creation of effective development activities is both a science and an art
  • Instructional Design Methods
  • Learning Flow
People who regard themselves as highly effective act, think, and feel differently from those who perceive themselves as ineffective. They produce their own future, rather than simply foretell it. Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure.

— Albert Bandura