Beyond Instructional Design

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It’s important to recognize that training and education do not take place in a vacuum.  Rather, training should be viewed from a systems approach in which learning is an integral part of organizational life.  To the extent that organizations recognize and acknowledge factors outside the learning event itself, the outcomes of a training initiative can be maximized.  Research summarized by Eduardo Salas has shown that activities that occur before training have an impact on how successful the training will be.

Antecedent factors fall into three broad categories:  (a) what trainees bring to the training environment; (b) variables that engage the trainee to learn and participate in the process; and (c) how the training can be primed to maximize transfer of learning.

Cognitive Ability

Employees bring their individual differences to the training process.  There has been a recent trend for researchers to focus on cognitive outcomes and their relationship to success in training.  Of course not surprisingly, those who have high cognitive ability typically learn more and succeed in training.  Interestingly, even though cognitive ability is a consistent predictor of training performance (i.e., learning), it is not necessarily related to performance on the job.  There are other aspects of job performance that go beyond cognitive ability, such as psychomotor skills and far more importantly, motivation.  It’s important to understand the nature of the job in order to predict transfer of training from measures of cognitive ability.  Other individual differences that can affect success in training include self-efficacy and goal orientation.


The second category of training antecedents focuses on training motivation.  The literature has overwhelmingly confirmed the hypothesis that the trainees’ motivation to learn has a profound effect on their skill acquisition, retention and willingness to apply the newly acquired knowledge and skills to the job.  Training motivation should be understood as a multifaceted influence of individual (e.g., age, anxiety, personality) and situational (e.g., organizational climate) characteristics.  All of these factors will affect the level of effort, intensity and persistence the learners apply to the learning activity.

Org Policies

The final factors that influence success in training initiatives emanate from organizational policies.  Recent research suggests that the manner in which the organization frames the training and the nature of trainees’ previous experiences in training both influence learning outcomes.  For example, presenting training as an advanced versus a remedial experience has been shown to positively influence trainee motivation.  Framing the training activity as an “opportunity” and making it voluntary rather than mandatory is another way to influence training motivation and success.  And remember, an employee’s previous experience with training affect self-efficacy, expectations and motivation for training.  As more and more of our clients move to self-directed, multimedia training, they are confounded by trainee attitudes that are the result of years of unfulfilling classroom experiences.

How Avatar Can Help

Avatar creates systems that lead to improved job performance.  Among them, self-directed courses can be a powerful tool, but only when and where such interventions are appropriate.  We constantly scrutinize the training and education experience for our clients against the backdrop of the organizational climate and myriad of individual differences that come to bear on the success of the training and education initiative.  By leveraging factors beyond the training curriculum itself, you will gain optimum return for their training investment.