A Brief History of Training and Development

Throughout history, significant events have routinely played a part in human interaction, even in training and development. The Industrial Revolution of the early 1900s through around 1930, for example, was responsible for the advent of many of the fundamental requirements of on-the-job training (OJT) that we still adhere to today. In the late 1940s, the post-war boom highlighted the need for American factories to learn to run more efficiently to produce more products to meet demand. Then, fast-forward to the mid-1960s, when the civil rights movement in the U.S. presented a brand-new emphasis on leadership and personal development. The 1980s brought about the information technology (IT) revolution, bringing computers into the home, and the late 1990s presented businesses with a more global economy. The rise of the internet was a major development driving this growth, allowing businesses from all parts of the world to interact seamlessly. In the mid-2010s, the rise of mobile and social technologies expanded this reach.

The obvious question is: What is the next significant event that will affect human interaction and how will it affect it? In 2020, a lot has happened, but nothing, perhaps, has made as significant an impact on the global population as the COVID-19 pandemic. What type of shift could COVID-19 create in the training and development space for training professionals as well as learners? Could we be reaching the precipice of another significant world-shaping event, introducing a new era of human interaction?

Training in a Social-distancing Workplace

Social distancing has become the norm in many parts of the world, impacting the way that companies operate from day to day. In a manual called “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) encouraged organizations to create an infectious disease preparedness and response plan, which included addressing the need for social distancing, staggered work shifts, downsizing operations, delivering services remotely and other exposure-reducing measures. It also recommended minimizing contact among workers, clients and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications and implementing telework if feasible.

As training and development professionals scrambled to adapt, we saw the need to address the way that we designed and delivered courses and the way that instructors interact with participants. Instructor-led training (ILT) has been the standard for so long that we saw a need to reskill in order to become proficient with remote meeting and training platforms. Of course, when preparing a virtual training session, a discerning trainer recognizes the need to incorporate more interaction: More question-and-answer sessions, more engaging visual aids, more videos, more polls, and more breakout sessions are important ways to stay connected with participants. Effective trainers also keep in mind the need to provide regular breaks and avoid the distraction of being an “apologizer” every time the technology doesn’t cooperate. When instructors apologize up front for their unfamiliarity with the platform they’re using, learners may start watching for mistakes and could miss the substance of the presentation.

When ILT is possible, instructors may have to offer more sessions to accommodate the smaller class numbers required for social distancing. They may also have to change the way they position themselves in the classroom. Instructors can no longer approach students with close physical proximity, so they will need to work to be more engaging.

Embracing New Technologies

Training professionals have typically been at the forefront of embracing new technologies. In a post-COVID-19 workplace, it will be even more important for them to do so. Training Industry, Inc. provides an excellent roadmap to help in this regard. The Training Process Framework organizes training functions and processes into four functional groups: administration, content, delivery and technology. It’s time to focus on technology:

Then, consider your content:

    • Does it needlessly ramble?
    • Is it interactive?
    • Does it meet the stated learning objective?

Virtual training should always be direct and to the point to engage learners and keep their attention.

Could the next significant event in the evolution of the training industry be the post-pandemic era? The answer remains to be seen, but if so, the effect of this era would be the normalizing of remote and virtual training and a renewed focus on the importance of technical aptitude for training professionals.

The training and development field is evolving. Adaptation is necessary for our survival.