The Book Corner - Review

Foundations of Human Resource Development by Richard A. Swanson and Elwood F. Holton

Foundations of Human Resource Development by Richard A. Swanson and Elwood F. Holton

Foundations of Human Resource Development (2nd Ed.)

By Richard A. Swanson and Elwood F. Holton
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009


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3 stars: Valuable information and a good readFoundations of Human Resource Development provides a contemporary overview of the state of the profession, which Swanson and Holton define as “the process of developing and unleashing expertise for the purpose of improving performance,” including “organizational systems, processes, employee groups, and individuals.”

The book is divided into seven major parts and the authors provide valuable insight into each:

  1. Understanding of human resource development (HRD) models, processes, and history
  2. Understanding the critical, theoretical, and philosophical foundation of HRD
  3. Understanding various learning and performance paradigms
  4. Developing HR expertise through understanding training and development goals
  5. Understanding HR implications of organization development methodology
  6. Understanding advanced application models of HRD
  7. The future of HR

It is important for the reader to understand that this text is not a manual of HR practices. While many fine books on HRD discuss best practices, most do not emphasize (as this book does) the foundations and basic theories of HR practice, which I believe is critical. The book also helps readers better understand the history and fundamental philosophies of HRD, which is not often addressed and therefore not understood by many HRD practitioners. Another strong point of the text is the authors’ exploration of systems views—an essential body of knowledge and tools required to successfully implement HR policies and programs—and systems thinking, an essential basis to HRD theory and practice.

Readers should pay special attention to the authors’ discussion of theoretical assumptions of the learning paradigm pertaining to HRD, which include the following:

  • Individual education, growth, and learning are inherently very good for the individual.
  • People should be valued for their intrinsic worth as people, not just as resources to achieve an outcome.
  • The primary purpose of HRD is development of the individual.
  • The primary outcome of HRD is learning and development.
  • Organizations are best advanced by having fully developed individuals.
  • Individuals should share in the accountability for their own learning process.
  • Development of the individual should be holistic for people to achieve their fullest potential.
  • The organization should provide people a means to achieve their fullest human potential through meaningful work.

Readers should also be aware that while this book is a comprehensive guide to many important and fundamental theories and models pertaining to HRD, it does not deal with specific topics covered in most contemporary HR texts, such as diversity management, legal issues and compliance, equal employment opportunities, employee benefits, and performance management, among others.

I would encourage a thorough reading of the sections related to ethics and HRD core values and beliefs. There is an important value in understanding these basics and HRD researchers will find this book a thought-provoking and useful guide.

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