Tag: framework

Great and small

English is a funny language.

Coloured by countless other languages over centuries of war, politics, colonialism, migration and globalisation, many words have been lost, appropriated or invented, while others have changed their meaning.

In Australian English for example, fair dinkum means “true” or “genuine”. Linguaphiles speculate the phrase originated in 19th Century Lincolnshire, where “dinkum” referred to a fair amount of work, probably in relation to a stint down the mines. Add a tautology and 10,000 miles, and you have yourself a new lingo.

Thousands of other English words have their origins in ancient Greek. One pertinent example for L&D practitioners is pedagogy (formerly paedagogie) which derives from the Hellenic words paidos for “child” and agogos for “leader”. This etymology underscores our use of the word when we mean the teaching of children.

And yet our language is nuanced. We may alternately use pedagogy to mean the general approach to teaching and learning. Not necessarily teaching, not necessarily children. In this broader sense it’s an umbrella term that may also cover andragogy – the teaching of adults – and heutagogy – self-determined learning.

For example, when Tim Fawns, the Deputy Programme Director of the MSc in Clinical Education at the University of Edinburgh, blogged his thoughts about pedagogy and technology from a postdigital perspective, he defined pedagogy in the university setting as “the thoughtful combination of methods, technologies, social and physical designs and on-the-fly interactions to produce learning environments, student experiences, activities, outcomes or whatever your preferred way is of thinking about what we do in education”.

When Trevor Norris and Tara Silver examined positive aging as consumer pedagogy, they were interested in how informal learning in a commercial space influences the mindset of its adult patrons.

And when I use the word pedagogy in my capacity as an L&D professional in the corporate sector, I’m referring to the full gamut of training, coaching, peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, on-the-job experiences and performance support for my colleagues across 70:20:10.

A standing businessman facilitating a training session with a group of colleagues seated in a semi circle.

So while I assume (rightly or wrongly) that the broader form of the term “pedagogy” is implicitly understood by my peers when it’s used in that context, I spot an opportunity for the narrower form to be clarified.

Evidently, modern usage of the word refers not only to the teaching of children but also to the teaching of adults. Whether they’re students, customers or colleagues, the attribute they have in common with kids is that they’re new to the subject matter. Hence I support the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of pedagogy as the practice of teaching, regardless of the age of the target audience.

If pedagogy includes adults, then logic dictates we also review the exclusivity of the term andragogy. Sometimes children are experienced with the subject matter; in such cases, an andragogical approach that draws upon their existing knowledge, ideas and motivations would be applicable. Hence I dare to depart from the OED’s definition of andragogy as the practice of teaching adults, in favour of the facilitation of learning. Again, regardless of the age of the target audience.

With regard to heutagogy, I accept Hase & Kenyon’s coinage of the term as the study of self-directed learning; however in the context of our roles as practitioners, I suggest we think of it as the facilitation of self-directed learning. That makes heutagogy a subset of andragogy, but whereas the latter will have us lead the learners by pitching problems to them, hosting Socratic discussions with them and perhaps curating content for them, the former is more about providing them with the tools and capabilities that enable them to lead their own learning journeys.

A tree structure flowing from Pedagogy down to Pedagogy, Andragogy and Heutagogy; with Instructivism, Constructivism, Connectivism and Novices, Intermediates, Experts aligned respectively.

This reshaping of our pedagogical terminology complements another tri-categorisation of teaching and learning: instructivism, constructivism and connectivism.

As the most direct of the three, instructivism is arguably more appropriate for engaging novices. Thus it aligns to the teaching nature of pedagogy.

When the learner moves beyond noviceship, constructivism is arguably more appropriate for helping them “fill in the gaps” so to speak. Thus it aligns to the learning nature of andragogy.

And when the learner attains a certain level of expertise, a connectivist approach is arguably more appropriate for empowering them to source new knowledge for themselves. Thus it aligns to the self-directed nature of heutagogy.

Hence the principle remains the same: the approach to teaching and learning reflects prior knowledge. Just like instructivism, constructivism and connectivism – depending on the circumstances – pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy apply to all learners, great and small.

Scaling up

In Roses are red, I proposed definitions for oft-used yet ambiguous terms such as “competency” and “capability”.

Not only did I suggest a competency be considered a task, but also that its measurement be binary: competent or not yet competent.

As a more general construct, a capability is not so readily measured in a binary fashion. For instance, the question is unlikely to be whether you can analyse data, but the degree to which you can do so. Hence capabilities are preferably measured via a proficiency scale.

Feet on scales

Of course numerous proficiency scales exist. For example:

No doubt each of these scales aligns to the purpose for which it was defined. So I wonder if a scale for the purpose of organisational development might align to the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation:

 Level  Label  Evidence 
0 Not Yet Assessed  None
1 Self Rater Self rated
2 Knower Passes an assessment
3 Doer Observed by others
4 Performer Meets relevant KPIs
5 Collaborator Teaches others

Table 1. Tracey Proficiency Scale (CC BY-NC-SA)

I contend that such a scale simplifies the measurement of proficiency for L&D professionals, and is presented in a language that is clear and self-evident for our target audience.

Hence it is ahem scalable across the organisation.

Roses are red

It seems like overnight the L&D profession has started to struggle with the definition of terms such as “capability”, “competency” and “skill”.

Some of our peers consider them synonyms – and hence interchangeable – but I do not.

Indeed I recognise subtle but powerful distinctions among them, so here’s my 2-cents’ worth to try to cut through the confusion.

Old style botanical drawing of a rose and violets


From the get-go, the difference between the terms may be most clearly distinguished when we consider a competency a task. It is something that is performed.

Our friends in vocational education have already this figured out. For example, if we refer to the Tap furnaces unit of competency documented by the Australian Department of Education, Skills and Employment, we see elements such as Plan and prepare for furnace tapping and Tap molten metal from furnace.

Importantly, we also see performance criteria, evidence and assessment conditions. Meeting a competency therefore is binary: either you can perform the task successfully (you are “competent”) or you can not (in the positive parlance of educationalists, you are “not yet competent”).


Given a competency is a task, a capability is a personal attribute you draw upon to perform it.

An attribute may be knowledge (something you know, eg tax law), a skill (something you can do, eg speak Japanese), or a mindset (a state of being, eg agile).

I consider capability an umbrella term for all these attributes; they combine with one another to empower the behaviour that meets the competency.

Capability is an umbrella term for the attributes that empower the behaviour that meets a competency.


According to the definitions I’ve outlined above, we frequently see in the workplace that “capability frameworks” are mislabelled “competency frameworks” and vice versa.

Terms such as Decision Making and Data Analysis are capabilities – not competencies – and moreover they are skills. Hence, not only would I prefer they be referred to as such, but also that they adopt an active voice (Make Decisions, Analyse Data).

I also suggest they be complemented by knowledge and mindsets, otherwise the collection isn’t so much a capability framework as a “skills framework”; which is fine, but self-limiting.


I have previously argued in favour of the L&D team deploying a capability framework as a strategic imperative, but now the question that begs to be asked is: should we deploy a capability framework or a competency framework?

My typical answer to a false dichotomy like this is both.

Since capabilities represent a higher level of abstraction, they are scalable across the whole organisation and are transferable from role to role and gig to gig. They also tend to be generic, which means they can be procured in bulk from a third party, and their low volatility makes them sustainable. The value they offer is a no-brainer.

In contrast, competencies are granular. They’re bespoke creations specific to particular roles, which makes them laborious to build and demanding to maintain. Having said that, their level of personalised value is sky high, so I advise they be deployed where they are warranted – targeting popular roles and pivotal roles, for example.


A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Yet a rose is not a violet.

In a similar manner I maintain that capabilities and competencies are, by definition, different.

In any case, if we neglect them, the next term we’ll struggle to define is “service offering”.

7 tips for custodians of capability frameworks

Wow, my previous blog post elicited some rich comments from my peers in the L&D profession.

Reframing the capability framework was my first foray into publishing my thoughts on the subject, in which I argued in favour of using the oft-ignored resource as a tool to be proactive and add value to the business.

To everyone who contributed a comment, not only via my blog but also on Twitter and LinkedIn… thank you. Your insights have helped me shape my subsequent thoughts about capability frameworks and their implementation in an organisation.

I will now articulate these thoughts in the tried and tested form of a listicle.

Metallic blue building blocks, two golden.

If you are building, launching or managing your organisation’s capabilities, I invite you to consider my 7 tips for custodians of capability frameworks…

1. Leverage like a banker.

At the organisational level, the capabilities that drive success are strikingly similar across companies, sectors and industries. Unless you have incredibly unique needs, you probably don’t need to build a bespoke capability framework from the ground up.

Instead, consider buying a box set of capabilities from the experts in this sort of thing, or draw inspiration *ahem* from someone else who has shared theirs. (Hint: Search for a “leadership” capability framework.)

2. Refine like a sculptor.

No framework will perfectly model your organisation’s needs from the get-go.

Tweak the capabilities to better match the nature of the business, its values and its goals.

3. Release the dove.

I’ve witnessed a capability framework go through literally years of wordsmithing prior to launch, in spite of rapidly diminishing returns.

Lexiconic squabbles are a poor substitute for action. So be agile: Launch the not-yet-finished-but-still-quite-useful framework (MVP) now.

Then continuously improve it.

4. Evolve or die.

Consider your capability framework an organic document. It is never finished.

As the needs of the business change, so too must your people’s capabilities to remain relevant.

5. Sing from the same song sheet.

Apply the same capabilities to everyone across the organisation.

While technical capabilities will necessarily be different for the myriad job roles throughout your business, the organisational capabilities should be representative of the whole organisation’s commitment to performance.

For example, while Customer Focus is obviously relevant to the contact centre operator, is it any less so for the CEO? Conversely, while Innovation is obviously relevant to the CEO, is it any less so for the contact centre operator?

Having said that, the nature of a capability will necessarily be different across levels or leadership stages. For example, while the Customer Focus I and Innovation I capabilities that apply to the contact centre operator will be thematically similar to Customer Focus V and Innovation V that apply to the CEO, their pitches will differ in relation to their respective contexts.

6. Focus like an eagle.

Frameworks that comprise dozens of capabilities are unwieldy, overwhelming, and ultimately useless.

Not only do I suggest your framework comprise fewer rather than extra capabilities, but also that one or two are earmarked for special attention. These should align to the strategic imperatives of the business.

7. Use it or lose it.

A capability framework that remains unused is merely a bunch of words.

In my next blog post I will examine ways in which it can be used to add value at each stage of the employee lifecycle.

Reframing the capability framework

There once was a time when I didn’t respect the capability framework. I saw it as yet another example of HR fluff.

You want me to be innovative? No kidding. And collaborative? What a great idea! And you want me to focus on our customers? Crikey, why didn’t I think of that?!

But that was then, and this is now.

Now I realise that I severely underestimated the level of support that my colleagues seek in relation to their learning and development. As a digitally savvy L&D professional, I’ve had the temperament to recognise the capabilities I need – nay, want – to develop, the knowledge of how and where to develop them, and crucially the motivation to go ahead and do it.

But our target audience is not like us. While we live and breathe learning, they don’t. Far too many imho wait to be trained, and our boring, time-guzzling and ultimately useless offerings haven’t helped change their minds.

Yet even those who are motivated to learn struggle to do so effectively.

Bored businessman looking at laptop.

Sure, we’ve read about those intrepid millennials who circumnavigate the languid L&D department to develop their own skills via YouTube, MOOCs, user forums, meet-ups and the like; but for every one wunderkind is several hundred others scratching their heads once a year while they ponder what to put in their Individual Development Plan, before finally settling on “presentation skills”.

This is unacceptable!

While it’s admirable for L&D to be responsive to the business’s relentless requests for training, it’s time for us to break out of the cycle of reactivity. I put it to you that a capability framework can help us do that. It’s a tool we can use to be proactive.

If we inform the organisation of the capabilities that will improve our performance, enable individuals to assess these capabilities to identify those that are most relevant for their own development, and map meaningful learning opportunities against each one, we add value to the business.

In an era in which the ROI of the L&D department is being put under ever-increasing scrutiny, I suggest a value-added approach is long overdue.