Training in Organizations

Training refers to activities designed to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitudes relevant to performance in an occupation. Training is a major investment for many organizations, with developmental activities occurring at all levels of the organization and at various career stages. A major goal of training is often to improve organizational outcomes (e.g., efficiency, costs, turnover), but individuals engaged in these developmental opportunities also experience benefits that may extend beyond their current positions. Thus, workplace training can play an important role in individual career development.

Training activities in the workplace can range from informal exchanges among employees to formal programs developed or purchased by the organization. For example, for some jobs most of what is learned comes from informal on-the-job training, where more experienced employees take a primary role in explaining how to complete tasks. Informal training can also take the form of mentorship relationships that develop naturally rather than through formal organizational programs. On the other hand, many jobs require more formal workplace training, involving scheduled training programs or assigned mentorship roles.

Training also varies widely in terms of content and specificity. Many training programs focus on job-specific knowledge and skills. These programs are designed to teach newcomers how to perform the job or to update the knowledge and skills of more experienced employees given changes in the job. Other training programs have a broader focus and thus are more likely to result in individual capabilities that may apply across jobs. For instance, programs focusing on communication skills, diversity issues, managerial competencies, or executive development may enhance not only short-term performance, but also longer-term career development. This type of broader impact may also be seen with training programs explicitly designed to improve employee career management. These career self-management training programs are linked to an increasing trend in which organizations are taking a less central role in employee career management. The programs are intended to encourage employees to take greater responsibility for their career progression and to develop relevant behaviors such as those related to developmental feedback seeking (e.g., seeking feedback on performance) and job mobility preparedness (e.g., being proactive in identifying new career opportunities).

Training programs are more likely to be successful when developed, implemented, and evaluated using a systematic approach. Although a number of systematic approaches to training may be useful, a well-established general framework that often serves as the basis for formal employee development is the instructional systems design approach. This approach specifies an integrated set of processes for the systematic development, delivery, evaluation, and continuous improvement of instructional programs. Thus, the major components of this model consist of needs assessment, training design and delivery, and evaluation.

Needs Assessment

During the needs assessment phase, training developers identify the goals and objectives of the training program. The needs assessment process should consider needs at the organization, job, and person level. At the organization level, short- and long-term goals should be examined along with management expectations and support for the training initiative. Without support from top management, it may be difficult to obtain the resources required to develop and implement an effective training program. At the job level, needs assessment involves identifying the jobs targeted for training and specifying the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to perform the essential functions of these jobs. Various job analysis methods may be applied at this step. At the person level, individuals are assessed in terms of how well they perform essential job functions and where they stand on the required capabilities underlying task performance established in the job analysis. This individual-level assessment is primarily intended to identify those most likely to benefit from training. The needs assessment phase results in the specification of instructional objectives that serve as input to both training program design and later evaluation of the program.

Training Design and Delivery

After determining objectives of the training program and identifying those individuals who would likely benefit from participating, issues of training design and delivery must be considered. This phase involves examining training methods, media, and learning principles in light of needs assessment outcomes. Numerous training methods may be considered, including one-on-one instruction, lectures, audio-visual presentations (e.g., videotapes), role-playing, simulations, and on-the-job training. The use of computers and Web-based approaches in training continues to grow as the availability, flexibility, and familiarity with computers increase and the costs of these applications decline. Computer-driven training programs offer standardized administration and in many cases may capture various performance criteria automatically and in real time. Regardless of method, training should be administered in an environment conducive to learning. For example, if training is delivered by an individual (e.g., through lectures), he or she should be organized, knowledgeable, patient, and respectful. At this stage it is again important to consider the individuals receiving the training; one method may be clearly superior given the nature of the material to be learned and the individuals learning it.

Efforts should also be made to integrate well-supported learning principles into the training program. Such principles include the provision of feedback, overlearning, and producing the actual response or behavior. Additional considerations include whether training should be conducted in a single session or divided into several sessions over time (i.e., massed vs. spaced) and whether tasks should be trained as whole units or broken down into simpler parts (i.e., whole vs. part).


Following training design and delivery, program evaluation is essential for examining the extent to which training objectives are being met. Evaluation can come in many forms, from multiple sources, and at various times. However, the process of evaluation generally requires specifying appropriate evaluation criteria given training objectives, designing an approach to collecting data relevant to these criteria, collecting data, and analyzing and interpreting these data.

Several models of training evaluation have been proposed. One popular approach to evaluation includes the assessment of trainee reactions, learning, behavior, and results. Trainee reactions refers to how well participants liked the training program and may involve assessment of affective reactions (i.e., enjoyment) and utility perceptions (i.e., perceptions of usefulness). Learning refers to the knowledge and skills trainees have acquired and is often measured with posttraining performance or paper and pencil assessments. Behavior refers to on-the-job performance and might be measured with job performance ratings or work samples. Finally, results refer to broader organizational outcomes linked to training (e.g., efficiency gains, cost reduction, sales growth).

Another well-established model of evaluation includes the assessment of cognitive, skill-based, and affective learning outcomes. For cognitive outcomes, the criteria of interest pertain to verbal knowledge (e.g., assessed through multiple-choice exams), knowledge organization (e.g., assessed through judgments of similarity among core concepts), and cognitive strategies (e.g., assessed through measures of metacognitive skills). For skill-based outcomes, the focus is on skill compilation and automaticity, which is characterized by faster and more fluid performance as well as a decrease in the attentional resources required for task performance. For affective outcomes, criteria include attitudes and motivational tendencies such as trainee self-efficacy and goals.

Following evaluation, the training program may be revised to address any deficiencies discovered. Ideally, training should be continuously evaluated and improved, with evaluation results feeding back into needs assessment and influencing subsequent training design and delivery decisions.


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