Book Review: Revolutionize Learning & Development

“I am on a mission,” Clark Quinn’s first words in his new book Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age. I had heard this title bantered about over the past weeks from Association for Talent Development friends. I, therefore, pushed it up on my reading schedule. It is a very good read, one I would recommend to all educators and trainers. 

Quinn pulled together a lot of discussion from prominent educators in the learning and development (L&D) field on the topic of L&D educators inability to deliver quality training in rapidly changing times. As Quinn noted, this book outlined why L&D must change and how to do it. Revolutionize Learning & Development has 11 chapters dispersed across four sections: Status Quo, “To Hand”, Aligning, and Path Forward. Each chapter is neatly summarized with key takeaway points. Chapter 1 sits independently of the four sections and began with a frank statement, “Let me be blunt: the current state of the learning & development (L&D) industry is failing” (Quinn, 2014, p. 1). He went further to point out that we are wasting time and resources using improper methods to teaching obsolete things. He stressed that we should be focusing on improving performance in the moment.

“Let me be blunt: the current state of the learning & development (L&D) industry is failing”

Section 1: Status Quo

This section focused on two areas: our world and our industry. Quinn pointed out that our world is rapidly changing and that employees must adjust to the change quicker and quicker. As L&D organizations currently deliver instruction, they are not agile enough to react to the changes. Some industry sections are adapting to changes and are circumventing L&D because they are finding a quicker way to gain the knowledge and skills. Because of the nature of the information age, there is an abbreviated planning stage to delivery. Workers need to be trained to learn on their own to meet increased productivity, and many lack the learning skills. As Quinn analyzed the industry, he notes that we set up training as events rather than experiences. He added that formal learning events are primarily geared for novices whereas informal learning is better suited for experts. Yet, we primarily set up formal learning events rather than address informal learning needs. Quinn stressed that we need more opportunity to practice skills and learn through social learning methods.

Section 2: “To Hand”

In this section, Quinn focused on our brains, our organization, and our technology. He began by pointing out that our brains are great at recognizing patterns but are really poor at memorizing information; yet, our schools typically want students to memorize things. To compensate for our poor memories, we have created tools to help us remember better, e.g., video, audio, imagery, data, etc. We should be learning how to leverage these tools for higher learning. Quinn discussed how we learn from novices to experts. As L&D experts, we should be assisting learners in their different stages of learning by providing applicable resources. We should be helping employees to learn where they work. We should also be helping employees to learn how to learn. We should be focusing on the experience.

While looking at the organization, Quinn stressed that organizations need to empower their people to continuously improve. To help facilitate this, they should provide necessary resources as well as remove barriers to blocked resources. Quinn also advocated for “working out loud,” a concept that I am in favor of. This increases communication across the organization for the purpose of learning. It is just in time learning. Quinn noted that this may require a change in organizational culture.

We are currently living in a time where we can learn anything, from anyone, anytime, and from anywhere. As Quinn noted, we should be learning using the tools we work and play with. He listed a number of tools that help develop active learning such as virtual worlds, simulations, modeling software, etc. We should also be encouraging employees to create and share their own learning resources. Quinn advocated for more performance support by creating resources that can be used during the moment of need rather than developing full-blown courses. Learners may only need support for a specific aspect of learning, and a course would just waste their time. Perhaps the most important point that Quinn stressed was using social media tools to work and learn out loud by sharing with others. Leverage everyone in a discussion to get the best ideas. He listed a number of tools to help develop an organizational learning environment (OLE) such as wikis, blogs, microblogs, and others. Quinn also added the importance of making content mobile ready. I noticed this on my train ride across the states. Many sites did not adjust to my mobile devices. As Quinn pointed out, we need to be able to easily adjust to the learning device.

Section 3: Aligning

Over these four chapters, Quinn discussed a framework for moving L&D forward. Quinn is looking at a number of components to help guide his strategy to include culture, formal, performance focus, social, infrastructure, and metrics. In chapter 8, he examined the framework through “different perspectives: employee, manager, executive, and of course, the L&D perspective” (Quinn, 2014, p. 81). These different vantage points helped to better understand the framework. I scribbled a number of notes in the margins as I contemplated how I would put the framework into practice. Quinn also presented case studies of leaders in the learning field. It was interesting to see their challenges and the solutions.

One of the points of discussion that caught me by surprise but made sense after reading it was “Doing Less.” Quinn advocated for focusing on performance and doing the least possible to get the behavior desired. He also encouraged finding and sharing answers developed elsewhere. Basically, we should not always have to reinvent the wheel here. “It also means not making a course to meet every request” (Quinn, 2014, p. 131). Quinn also focused on the importance of aligning the company culture. “Leadership that not only supports but models the process helps” (Quinn, 2014, p. 133). I believe leaders must lead from the front. It cannot be all talk and no walk. Even informal leaders can affect organizational culture by working out loud.

“It also means not making a course to meet every request.”

One of the more interesting parts of Revolutionize Learning & Development was leader reflections. Quinn asked a couple of leaders four questions, their answers were enlightening:

  • What do you see as the needed change in L&D?
  • What are organizations doing well?
  • What are organizations still messing up?
  • How can organizations go from where they are to where they need to be?

Section 4: Path Forward

This last section focused on moving forward and it addressed two chapters Re-do and Moving Forward. Quinn advocated for focusing on performance improvement as performance consultants. “We must avoid developing anything we do not have to” (Quinn, 2014, p. 150). The focus should be on performance metrics. He has included a wonderful graphic on the design decisions necessary for performance improvement. It addressed when to create a course and when to simply provide access to content. Quinn also addressed development facilitation. As he continues, “Our goal should be to start with basic information skills: the ability to search effectively, to evaluate the results of a search, and to share discovered solutions” (Quinn, 2014, p. 161). The focus should be on developing life-long learners.

“Our goal should be to start with basic information skills: the ability to search effectively, to evaluate the results of a search, and to share discovered solutions.”

Quinn is not advocating for the total elimination of courses but to use them when absolutely necessary. Instead, we should be helping employees find answers in the moment of need rather than have them become reliant on L&D.

Personally, I am totally on board with what he has put together. The concepts he has drawn together are not new to me, but it is great to see them all in one place. As a fan of curating and sharing, I strongly recommend my educator friends read Revolutionize Learning & Development. I am walking away with a number of useful ideas, and I am sure you will also.


Quinn, C. N. (2014). Revolutionize learning & development: Performance and innovation strategy for the information age. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer.