How to Select the Right Structure
for Your Learning Organization

Current State

The structure of a learning organization can generally be described in four ways:

  1. Centralized: A single corporate learning function across the company serving all learning audiences.
  2. Decentralized: Multiple learning functions owned by business unit teams with learning function staff reporting to the business unit; small learning staff reporting to a centralized learning function generally supporting enterprise programs and technology support.
  3. Hybrid: A combination of centralized and decentralized
  4. Learning Business Partner: Learning function staff embedded in business functions and reporting to a centralized learning organization.

According to the most recent Learning Trends Study from Brandon Hall Group, most companies are leveraging a hybrid model. Interestingly, the learning business partner approach has fallen off some, from 10% down to 4%, with the centralized model making up less than 20% of responding organizations.

Selecting the right structure can be critical to a well-executed learning strategy. The structure can have a strong influence over the agility and effectiveness of learning and development to help the overall organization meet its business goals.


It is not as simple as choosing one and running with it. Many factors are at play. The most obvious are the size and global footprint of the company.

Unfortunately, most organizational structures, processes and cultures were built decades ago and are not constructed for a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (VUCA) environment. Most organizations also are not good at change management or marshaling resources, including new technology, to adapt to change.



The structure of the learning function can mean the difference between a cohesive, standardized learning environment or barely controlled chaos. It can also be the difference between agile adaptability and an inability to respond to the business. Companies should find the right approach that matches the needs of the business and those of its learning audiences.

Critical Questions

  • What is the strategic value of learning in the organization?
  • Does the company operate in a highly distributed environment?
  • What is our overall organizational structure?
  • Who has budgetary control?
  • What is our learning-governance process?
  • What is the governance model for learning technology?
  • What are the learner requirements and conditions?

Brandon Hall GroupPOV

Creating the right structure for the L&D function has its pros and cons:

Centralized — One learning team with a single chain of command; offers economies of scale; responsible for overall allocation of learning resources; can be too far removed from the “front line.”

Decentralized — Learning initiatives are the responsibility of individual lines of business; allows learning to be more aligned with the needs of the “front line;” can lead to disconnect from “top-down” initiatives and loss of economies of scale, particularly when it comes to technology and purchased services.

Hybrid — One team responsible for professional development and lines of business are responsible for technical, compliance or industry-specific training; allows for shared expertise model, each focusing on their respective strengths; can be challenging to govern (who is responsible for what?).

Learning Business Partners — Centralized learning model that mirrors the HR Business Partner model with production and support roles managed by corporate and strategic learning professionals embedded in the lines of business who build credibility and expertise with stakeholders and manage delivery through the centralized teams; gives best of all worlds; can be a challenge regarding solid- and dotted-lined reporting lines for learning professionals.

When considering the right model for your organization, these are driving factors:

Organizational structure — Is the L&D structure in harmony with the business structure?

Strategic value of learning — Does learning report to the executive leadership of the organization?

Learning governance process/objective setting — How are learning goals currently set and prioritized?

Learner requirements and conditions — Are the needs of the learner — and how they need to learn — based on their work?

Learning curriculum — What type of learning content is currently used and in what sequence and cadence?

Learning scale — Is learning able to move at the speed of business?

Technology governance — Who is responsible for the learning-technology ecosystem?

Budget control — Does the budget allow for growth or maintenance of learning?

Considerations for the New World of Work

  • Forecast the positive impact of modernizing learning practices on the business.
  • Reimagine the future of learning in your company and lay out the direct impact on business results.
  • Embrace innovation in exploring new approaches, tools and technology.
  • Focus on adopting immersive learning techniques that create an opportunity for true skill validation.
  • More governance, not less, by incorporating the employee perspective in learning governance.
  • Assemble subgroups of functional employees from various disciplines like technology, finance, sales, etc., while rounding out enterprise governance teams with an employee presence.

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Matt Pittman



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Matt Pittman

Matt Pittman brings nearly 30 years of experience developing people and teams in a variety of settings and organizations. As an HR Practitioner, he has sat in nearly every seat including Learning and Leadership Development, Talent Management and Succession Planning, Talent Acquisition and as a Human Resources Business Partner. A significant part of those roles involved building out functions in organizations and driving large scale change efforts. As a Principal Analyst, Matt leverages this in-depth experience and expertise to provide clients and providers with breakthrough insights and ideas to drive their business forward.

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