The Training Profession’s Evolution

By Elaine Biech

Training has been around since the Stone Age. It’s not likely that train-the-trainer seminars existed in 2000 b.c. Yet without some natural way to transfer skills and knowledge, people would never have progressed from the first wheel on a muddy road to the computer chips that guide our exploration of outer space.

Probably the first documented training occurred in the 18th century, when artisans and craftsmen formed apprenticeships that utilized a demonstration-practice-feedback-practice-again process.

It wasn’t until 1944 that training was organized under one banner, The American Society for Training Directors. The association later changed its name to The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

Two influential professionals helped to shape the early years of the profession. In the 1960s, Malcolm Knowles advanced the idea of andragogy, a learning theory for adults, distinct from pedagogy for children. This tipped the scale toward a more learner-centered approach as opposed to a content-centered approach. Len Nadler coined the term Human Resource Development and added structure and organization to the field.

The 1990s reinforced the critical role trainers played in helping organizations achieve their business goals. The importance of aligning the four requirements of the organization when budgeting for training: business, performance, learning, and environmental needs. Trainers ensure that performance, not just learning, occurs to support the bottom line.

The field embraced a Workplace Learning and Performance perspective, encouraging some organizations to call their trainers “workplace learning and performance professionals.” Quite a mouthful! With the advent of workplace analytics, or “big data” as it is sometimes called, businesses are finding ways to measure the effects of training on the business.

But another role clarification was in the making. Moving into the 21st century, it is clear that training and development professionals continue to accept a greater role that impacts the total organization’s success. Today this broader role includes change management, coaching managers to develop their people, succession planning, engagement and retention efforts, and implementing organizational assessments. This broader role deserved a more impactful name.

During this time, ASTD had become the world’s leading association for training and development. The name American Society for Training and Development no longer represented the expanded role of the profession, nor the global reach of the association. Therefore, in 2014 the professional group that represents training and development became the Association for Talent Development (ATD).