Training content that’s worth learning

The value of learning is rarely disputed. What the learning outcome should be, is a different matter. Is it enough to acquire information? Is it also important to learn how to do something? Does it matter how a learner feels about training and its content? In modern learning theories, they all matter: knowledge, skills and attitude.

When we seek a cognitive outcome for training, its main objective is to increase the knowledge base of learners. Knowledge refers to information like facts, procedures and protocols. Some learning theories distinguish between types of knowledge: descriptive knowledge (knowing something is the case) and procedural knowledge (knowing how to do something). Other learning theories underline knowledge organization and cognitive strategies. In all cases, knowledge acquisition in training can be easily assessed. A test, either in multiple-choice, true-false or free recall format, measures retention of knowledge.

When the objective of training is the application of knowledge in order to accomplish something, the learning outcome is skill-based. Theories on skill development mention different stages, like acquisition, compilation (continued practise) and automaticity (being able to perform a task quickly and individualize it). Traditionally, skill development is assessed through role plays (simulations during a training) or in observation of actual job behavior. Games and simulations have increased options for skill assessment.

Like knowledge and skills, attitude is manifested in behavior. It refers to thoughts and feelings towards the subject matter of training (the affective component) but also towards the learning process (the motivational component). Acquisition of key norms and values are examples of attitude outcomes of training, but also organizational commitment, acknowledgement of diversity, concerns for safety, and recognizing what is important to learn. Attitude of learners can be changed and “synced” with standards of the organization: to do so is a precondition for gaining knowledge and skills. Attitude-based training, therefore, precedes knowledge- and skill-based training. Assessment of attitude can be done through pre- and post- training questionnaires, or through self-reporting.

An effective training and development program contains knowledge, skills and attitudes, and the assessment of their acquisition and/or implementation. Regardless of the subject, training should result in improved knowledge, improved skills and an improved attitude toward the subject matter and training process.


PN Blanchard, JW Thacker (2013) Effective Training: Systems, Strategies,and Practices. Harlow: Pearson

JA Cannon-Bowers, SI Tannenbaum, E Salas, et al. Defining competencies and establishing team training requirements. In: RA Guzzo, E Salas E (ed) (1995). Team effectiveness and decision-making in organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 333-80

K Kraiger, JK Ford, E Salas (1993). Application of cognitive, skill-based, and affective theories of learning outcomes to new methods of training evaluation. Journal of applied psychology 78 (2), 311


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