Traditional Training Methods

By Noe, R.A.

Edited by Paul Ducham


In a lecture, trainers communicate through spoken words what they want the trainees to learn. The communication of learned capabilities is primarily one-way—from the trainer to the audience. As Figure 7.1 shows, instructor-led classroom presentation remains a popular training method despite new technologies such as Interactive Video and computerassisted instruction.

A lecture is one of the least expensive, least time-consuming ways to present a large amount of information efficiently in an organized manner. The lecture format is also useful because it is easily employed with large groups of trainees. Besides being the primary means to communicate large amounts of information, lectures are also used to support other training methods such as behavior modeling and technology-based techniques. For example, a lecture may be used to communicate information regarding the purpose of the training program, conceptual models, or key behaviors to trainees prior to their receiving training that is more interactive and customized to their specific needs.

Table 7.1 describes several variations of the standard lecture method. All have advantages and disadvantages. Team teaching brings more expertise and alternative perspectives to the training session. Team teaching does require more time on the part of trainers to not only prepare their particular session but also coordinate with other trainers, especially when there is a great deal of integration between topics. Panels are good for showing trainees different viewpoints in a debate. A potential disadvantage of a panel is that trainees who are relatively naive about a topic may have difficulty understanding the important points. Guest speakers can motivate learning by bringing to the trainees relevant examples and applications. For guest speakers to be effective, trainers need to set expectations with speakers regarding how their presentation should relate to the course content. Student presentations may increase the material’s meaningfulness and trainees’ attentiveness, but it can inhibit learning if the trainees do not have presentation skills.

The lecture method has several disadvantages. Lectures tend to lack participant involvement, feedback, and meaningful connection to the work environment—all of which inhibit learning and transfer of training. Lectures appeal to few of the trainees’ senses because trainees focus primarily on hearing information. Lectures also make it difficult for the trainer to judge quickly and efficiently the learners’ level of understanding. To overcome these problems, the lecture is often supplemented with question-and-answer periods, discussion, video, games, or case studies. These techniques allow the trainer to build into the lecture more active participation, job-related examples, and exercises, which facilitate learning and transfer of training.

At Sony Pictures’ Imageworks, training takes many different forms. For example, employees are retrained before starting a new project. The company creates digital visual effects and animation, and for every project, it uses new methods and technology to create animation that fits each movie’s characters and feel. Employees take classes for several hours each day to update their skills. Then they work at developing a frame of animation from a completed film. For example, the frame might include the characters but the employees have to develop the environment, the hair, or the animation, depending on what they are learning. Imageworks has online tutorials that employees can access to learn about other disciplines such as lighting. The online tutorials help employees learn the basic terminology so employees can communicate and work with employees from disciplines other than their own. To showcase good work, employees or teams whose work has received exemplary peer review are asked to give lunchtime lectures to teach techniques to others. At Constellation New Energy, new-hire training involves 30 hours of pretraining work plus two weeks of classroom instruction that focuses on developing sales skills relevant to an energy company. Trainees learn about the issues their potential customers face and learn models to help customers manage costs and risks over time. They also prepare tools and materials for their target markets and participate in role plays. Finally, trainees meet with their managers at the end of training to develop a plan to implement what they have learned.



Audiovisual instruction includes overheads, slides, and video. Video is a popular instructional method. It has been used for improving communications skills, interviewing skills, and customer-service skills and for illustrating how procedures (e.g., welding) should be followed. Video is, however, rarely used alone. It is usually used in conjunction with lectures to show trainees real-life experiences and examples. Here is how one company is using video in its training program.

At 5:30 A.M. the Morse Bros. drivers prepare to deliver the first of many loads of concrete. In the concrete business, a perishable product needs to be delivered on a timely basis to construction sites. Morse Bros., located in Tangent, Oregon, is one of only a few readymix firms in the Northwest that provide regular training for their drivers. Drivers play a key role in determining the success of the business. Morse Bros. has been able to reduce costs and raise customer satisfaction by providing drivers with product training and by instructing drivers to avoid rollovers and excessive idling at construction sites.

What method does Morse Bros. use to train its drivers? The company produces training videos that are presented by mentor-drivers. The mentor-driver’s job is to select the weekly video, schedule viewing sessions, keep attendance records, and guide a wrap-up discussion following each video. The mentor-drivers are trained to call attention to key learning points covered in the video and relate the topic to issues the drivers deal with on the job. Because training sessions are scheduled early in the morning at the beginning of the drivers’ shift, time is limited. Videos seldom run more than 10 minutes. For example, one called Another Pair of Eyes trains drivers to observe test procedures used by testing agencies at job sites. Samples are tested several times a month. A sample that fails can leave the company liable for demolition and removal of the concrete structure. Morse Bros. provides training on test procedures because samples often fail a test due to contamination (e.g., dirt) that gets into the test cylinder. Another video emphasizes cold-weather precautions: Drain all tanks and hoses at the end of the day, park the drum in neutral. At each training session, drivers are asked to answer several questions related to the content of the program. At the end of a session, drivers and the mentor-driver discuss anything that might be interfering with the quality of the product or timeliness of delivery. Mentor-drivers then share this information with company managers.

Video is also a major component of behavior modeling and, naturally, interactive video instruction. The use of video in training has a number of advantages. First, trainers can review, slow down, or speed up the lesson, which gives them flexibility in customizing the session depending on trainees’ expertise. Second, trainees can watch the video multiple times if they have access to it during and after the training session. This gives them control over their learning. Third, trainees can be exposed to equipment, problems, and events that cannot be easily demonstrated, such as equipment malfunctions, angry customers, or emergencies. Fourth, trainees are provided with consistent instruction. Program content is not affected by the interests and goals of a particular trainer. Fifth, videotaping trainees allows them to see and hear their own performance without the interpretation of the trainer. That is, video provides immediate objective feedback. As a result, trainees cannot attribute poor performance to the bias of external evaluators such as the trainer or peers. Sixth, video requires minimal knowledge of technology and equipment. Most trainers and trainees can easily use a VCR or DVD player.

Most problems in video result from the creative approach used. These problems include too much content for the trainee to learn, poor dialogue between the actors (which hinders the credibility and clarity of the message), overuse of humor or music, and drama that makes it confusing for the trainee to understand the important learning points emphasized in the video.


On-the-job training (OJT) refers to new or inexperienced employees learning in the work setting and during work by observing peers or managers performing the job and trying to imitate their behavior. OJT is one of the oldest and most used types of informal training. It is considered informal because it does not necessarily occur as part of a training program and because managers, peers, or mentors serve as trainers. If OJT is too informal, learning will not occur. OJT can be useful for training newly hired employees, upgrading experienced employees’ skills when new technology is introduced, cross-training employees within a department or work unit, and orienting transferred or promoted employees to their new jobs.

OJT takes various forms, including apprenticeships and self-directed learning programs. OJT has several advantages over other training methods. It can be customized to the experiences and abilities of trainees. Training is immediately applicable to the job because OJT occurs on the job using actual tools and equipment. As a result, trainees are highly motivated to learn. Both trainees and trainers are at the job site and continue to work while training occurs. This means that companies save the costs related to bringing trainees to a central location, hiring trainers, and renting training facilities. OJT can be offered at any time, and trainers will be available because they are peers or managers. Finally, OJT uses actual job tasks and occurs at work. As a result, skills learned in OJT more easily transfer to the job.

Reliance Industries, one of India’s largest businesses, uses on-the-job training in its Nagothane Manufacturing Division (a refinery that makes polymers and chemicals). Because of rapid company growth and the demand for experienced employees, the company needed to decrease the length of time required for new engineers to contribute. In response to this need, the training staff identified mentors who would help accelerate learning for the new engineers. The mentors and new hires are carefully matched based on an assessment of the mentor’s training style and the new employee’s learning style. Mentors are paired with up to three new employees each for nine months. The mentors and new employees work together on four learning modules, each of which takes two months to complete. Each module includes predetermined lesson plans and progress is tracked using an online portal. As a result, the length of time it takes new engineers to contribute at work has decreased from 12 to 6 months.

At Sweets Candy, a Salt Lake City, Utah, candy maker, new employees receive training in basic safety and emergency evacuation procedures in an orientation session and then are assigned a mentor. The mentor works with the new employee for two weeks, providing hands-on one-on-one training. Teams hold weekly meetings and managers provide training on safety issues throughout the year. Employees also receive a weekly safety contact card on which they note safety hazards they have encountered on their job and how they have fixed the problem. The safety contact cards are turned in and each month the company has a safety celebration where the cards are put into a drawing. Employees win prizes such as a day off or a $10 gift card. All of the safety contact cards are reviewed to identify safety issues and hazards, which are then communicated to the employees.

OJT is an attractive training method because compared to other methods, it needs less investment in time or money for materials, the trainer’s salary, or instructional design. Managers or peers who are job knowledge experts are used as instructors. As a result, it may be tempting to let them conduct the training as they believe it should be done.

There are several disadvantages to this unstructured approach to OJT. Managers and peers may not use the same process to complete a task. They may pass on bad habits as well as useful skills. Also, they may not understand that demonstration, practice, and feedback are important conditions for effective on-the-job training. Unstructured OJT can result in poorly trained employees, employees who use ineffective or dangerous methods to produce a product or provide a service, and products or services that vary in quality.

OJT must be structured to be effective. Table 7.2 shows the principles of structured OJT. Because OJT involves learning by observing others, successful OJT is based on the principles emphasized by Social Learning Theory. These include the use of a credible trainer, a manager or peer who models the behavior or skill, communication of specific key behaviors, practice, feedback, and reinforcement. For example, at Rochester Gas and Electric in Rochester, New York, radiation and chemistry instructors teach experienced employees how to conduct OJT. While teaching these employees how to demonstrate software to new employees, the trainer may ask the employees to watch other OJT instructors as they train new recruits so they can learn new teaching techniques. Regardless of the specific type, effective OJT programs include:

  1. A policy statement that describes the purpose of OJT and emphasizes the company’s support for it. 
  2. A clear specification of who is accountable for conducting OJT. If managers conduct OJT, this is mentioned in their job descriptions and is part of their performance evaluations.
  3. A thorough review of OJT practices (program content, types of jobs, length of program, cost savings) at other companies in similar industries.
  4. Training of managers and peers in the principles of structured OJT (see Table 7.2).
  5. Availability of lesson plans, checklists, procedure manuals, training manuals, learning contracts, and progress report forms for use by employees who conduct OJT.
  6. Evaluation of employees’ levels of basic skills (reading, computation, writing) before OJT.

For example, the OJT program utilized by Borden’s North American Pasta Division has many of these characteristics. Not all managers and peers are used as trainers. Borden’s invests in trainer selection, training, and rewards to ensure OJT’s effectiveness. Employees and managers interested in being instructors are required to apply for the position. Those chosen as instructors are required to complete a demanding train-the-trainer course that involves classroom training as well as time on the manufacturing floor to learn how to operate machinery such as pasta machines and to correctly teach other employees to use the equipment. Borden’s also builds accountability into the OJT program. Trainees are responsible for completing a checklist that requires them to verify that the trainer helped them learn the skills needed to operate the equipment and used effective instructional techniques.

Self-Directed Learning

Self-directed learning has employees take responsibility for all aspects of learning— including when it is conducted and who will be involved. Trainees master predetermined training content at their own pace without an instructor. Trainers may serve as facilitators. That is, trainers are available to evaluate learning or answer questions for the trainee. The trainer does not control or disseminate instruction. The learning process is controlled by the trainee. Self-directed learning for salespersons could involve reading newspapers or trade publications, talking to experts, or surfing the Internet to find new ideas related to the salesperson industry. Also, self-directed learning could involve the company providing salespersons with information such as databases, training courses, and seminars while still holding the employees responsible for taking the initiative to learn. Because the effectiveness of self-directed learning is based on an employee’s motivation to learn, companies may want to provide seminars on the self-directed learning process, self-management, and how to adapt to the environment, customers, and technology.

For example, at Corning Glass, new engineering graduates participate in an OJT program called SMART (Self-Managed, Awareness, Responsibility, and Technical competence). Each employee is responsible for seeking the answers to a set of questions (e.g., “Under what conditions would a statistician be involved in the design of engineering experiments?”) by visiting plants and research facilities and meeting with technical engineering experts and managers. After employees complete the questions, they are evaluated by a committee of peers who have already completed the SMART program. Evaluations have shown that the program cuts employees’ start-up time in their new jobs from six weeks to three. The program is effective for a number of reasons. It encourages new employees’ active involvement in learning and allows flexibility in finding time for training. A peer-review evaluation component motivates employees to complete the questions correctly. And, as a result of participating in the program, employees make contacts throughout the company and gain a better understanding of the technical and personal resources available within the company.

Self-directed learning has several advantages and disadvantages. It allows trainees to learn at their own pace and receive feedback about the learning performance. For the company, self-directed learning requires fewer trainers, reduces costs associated with travel and meeting rooms, and makes multiple-site training more realistic. Self-directed learning provides consistent training content that captures the knowledge of experts. Self-directed learning also makes it easier for shift employees to gain access to training materials. For example, Four Seasons hotels faced the challenge of opening a new hotel in Bali, Indonesia. It needed to teach English skills to 580 employees, none of whom spoke English or understood Western cuisine or customs. Four Seasons created a self-directed learning center that enables employees to teach themselves English. The center emphasizes communications, not simply learning to speak English. As a result of this emphasis, the center features video recorders, training modules, books, and magazines. Monetary incentives are provided for employees to move from the lowest to the highest level of English skills. Besides English, the center also teaches Japanese (the language of 20 percent of the Bali hotel’s visitors) and provides training for foreign managers in Bahasa Indonesian, the native language of Indonesia.

A major disadvantage of self-directed learning is that trainees must be willing to learn on their own and feel comfortable doing so. That is, trainees must be motivated to learn. From the company perspective, self-directed learning results in higher Development Cost, and development time is longer than with other types of training programs. Several steps are necessary to develop effective self-directed learning:

  1. Conduct a job analysis to identify the tasks that must be covered.
  2. Write trainee-centered learning objectives directly related to the tasks. Because the objectives take the place of the instructor, they must indicate what information is important, what actions the trainee should take, and what the trainee should master.
  3. Develop the content for the learning package. This involves developing scripts (for video) or text screens (for computer-based training). The content should be based on the traineecentered learning objectives. Another consideration in developing the content is the media (e.g., paper, video, computer, Web site) that will be used to communicate the content.
  4. Break the content into smaller pieces (“chunks”). The chunks should always begin with the objectives that will be covered and include a method for trainees to evaluate their learning. Practice exercises should also appear in each chunk.
  5. Develop an evaluation package that includes evaluation of the trainee and evaluation of the self-directed learning package. Trainee evaluation should be based on the objectives (a process known as criterion referencing). That is, questions should be developed that are written directly from the objectives and can be answered directly from the materials. Evaluation of the self-directed learning package should involve determining ease of use, how up-to-date the material is, whether the package is being used as intended, and whether trainees are mastering the objectives.

Self-directed learning is likely to become more common in the future as companies seek to train staff flexibly, take advantage of technology, and encourage employees to be proactive in their learning rather than driven by the employer.


Apprenticeship is a work-study training method with both on-the-job and classroom training. To qualify as a registered apprentice under state or federal guidelines, apprentices in most cases must complete at least 144 hours of classroom instruction and must obtain 2,000 hours, or one year, of on-the-job experience. Once their training is complete, apprentices are called journey workers and they earn certification from the U.S. Department of Labor or a state apprenticeship agency. Table 7.3 shows the top occupations for apprentices. Apprenticeships can be sponsored by individual companies or by groups of companies cooperating with a union. As Table 7.3 shows, the majority of apprenticeship programs are in the skilled trades such as plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, and pipe fitting. Table 7.4 is an example of an apprenticeship program for a machinist.

In an apprenticeship program, the hours and weeks that must be devoted to completing specific skill units are clearly defined. The on-the-job training involves assisting a certified tradesperson (a journeyworker) at the work site. The OJT portion of the apprenticeship follows the guidelines for effective OJT by including modeling, practice, feedback, and evaluation. First, the employer verifies that the trainee has the required knowledge of the operation or process. Next, the trainer (who is usually a more experienced, licensed employee) demonstrates each step of the process, emphasizing safety issues and key steps. The senior employee provides the apprentice with the opportunity to perform the process until all are satisfied that the apprentice can perform it properly and safely.

A major advantage of apprenticeship programs is that learners can earn pay while they learn. This is important because programs can last several years. Learners’ wages usually increase automatically as their skills improve. Also, apprenticeships are usually effective learning experiences because they involve learning why and how a task is performed through classroom instruction provided by local trade schools, high schools, or community colleges. Apprenticeships also usually result in full-time employment for trainees when the program is completed. From the company’s perspective, apprenticeship programs meet specific business training needs and help attract talented employees. At its manufacturing facility in Toledo, Ohio, Libbey Glass has apprenticeship programs in mold making, machine repair, millwrighting, and maintenance repair. These programs are viewed as the best jobs within the company because the wage rates are high and because most apprentices are scheduled to work day shifts instead of afternoon or midnight shifts. The apprenticeship program has been costly for the company but has paid dividends. Each apprentice requires the support of a journeyworker for each work assignment. This means that work is being performed by two employees when only one worker is normally required. The program also requires apprentices to be evaluated every 1,000 hours to meet Department of Labor standards. The reviews are conducted by a committee that includes management and department journeyworkers. The committee also develops tests and other evaluation materials. The committee members cannot perform their normal duties during the time they are reviewing apprentices, so their workload has to be spread among other employees or rescheduled for some other time. The program offers many benefits to Libbey: The company is developing employees who are more receptive to change in the work environment; work can be performed at Libbey so the company does not have to outsource jobs to contract labor; and Libbey is given an edge in attracting talented employees who like the idea that after completing an apprenticeship they are eligible for promotions to other positions in the company, including management positions. Also, the apprenticeship program helps Libbey tailor training and work experiences to meet specific needs in maintenance repair, which is necessary to create and repair production mold equipment used in making glass products.

Apprentice-like programs are also used to prepare new managers. The president and chief executive officer of Goldcorp, a company in the mining industry, offers the chance for MBAs to apply for a nine-month apprenticeship. The apprentice shadows Goldcorp’s CEO and observes board meetings, negotiations, mine acquisitions, and other important aspects of the mine industry. Goldcorp hopes the apprenticeships will attract more MBAs to the mining industry, which is viewed by many graduates as an unsafe and dirty business. Hyatt Hotels offers several programs in which management trainees complete training in the areas of facilities, culinary arts, sales, hotel operations, accounting, and catering. Trainees rotate through all parts of the hotel and perform all aspects of each job, ranging from washing dishes to catering, and then spend the rest of the training time in their specialty area. Employees who complete the training are placed in entry-level management positions.

Besides the development costs and time commitment that management and journeyworkers have to make to apprenticeship programs, another disadvantage of many programs is limited access for minorities and women. Also, there is no guarantee that jobs will be available when the program is completed. Finally, apprenticeship programs prepare trainees who are well trained in one craft or occupation. Due to the changing nature of jobs (thanks to new technology and use of Cross-Functional Teams), many employers may be reluctant to employ workers from apprenticeship programs. Employers may believe that because apprentices are narrowly trained in one occupation or with one company, program graduates may have only company-specific skills and may be unable to acquire new skills or adapt their skills to changes in the workplace.





A simulation is a training method that represents a real-life situation, with trainees’ decisions resulting in outcomes that mirror what would happen if they were on the job. A common example of the use of simulators for training is flight simulators for pilots. Simulations, which allow trainees to see the impact of their decisions in an artificial, riskfree environment, are used to teach production and process skills as well as management and interpersonal skills. New technology has helped in the development of virtual reality, a type of simulation that even more closely mimics the work environment.

Simulators replicate the physical equipment that employees use on the job. For example, Time Warner cable installers learn how to correctly install cable and high-speed Internet connections by crawling into two-story houses that have been built inside the company’s training center. Trainees drill through the walls and crawl around inside these houses, learning how to work with different types of homes. New call center employees at American Express learn in a simulated environment that replicates a real call center. Trainees go to a lab that contains cubicles identical to those in the call center. All materials (binders, reference materials, supplies) are exactly the same as they would be in the call center. The simulator uses a replica of the call center database and includes a role play that uses speech recognition software to simulate live calls. After the call center trainees learn transactions, they answer simulated calls that require them to practice the transactions. The simulator gives them feedback about errors they made during the calls and shows them the correct action. The simulator also tracks the trainees’ performance and alerts the instructors if a trainee is falling behind. The simulator prepares call center employees in 32 days, an improvement over the previous 12-week program of classroom and on-the-job training. Turnover among call center employees is 50 percent lower since employees began training in the simulated environment. American Express believes that the reduction in turnover is because the training environment better prepares new employees to deal with the noise and pace of a real call center.

Simulations are also used to develop managerial skills. Looking Glass is a simulation designed to develop both teamwork and individual management skills. In this program, participants are assigned different roles in a glass company. On the basis of memos and correspondence, each participant interacts with other members of the management team over the course of six hours. The simulation records and evaluates participants’ behavior and interactions in solving the problems described in correspondence. At the conclusion of the simulation, participants are given feedback regarding their performance.

A key aspect of simulators is the degree to which they are similar to the equipment and situations that the trainee will encounter on the job. Simulators need to have elements identical to those found in the work environment. The simulator needs to respond exactly like the equipment would under the conditions and response given by the trainee. For example, flight simulators include distractions that pilots have to deal with, such as hearing chimes in the cockpit from traffic alerts generated by an onboard computer warning system while listening to directions from an air traffic controller. For this reason simulators are expensive to develop and need constant updating as new information about the work environment is obtained.


A case study is a description about how employees or an organization dealt with a difficult situation. Trainees are required to analyze and critique the actions taken, indicating the appropriate actions and suggesting what might have been done differently. A major assumption of the case study approach is that employees are most likely to recall and use knowledge and skills if they learn through a process of discovery. Cases may be especially appropriate for developing higher order intellectual skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These skills are often required by managers, physicians, and other professional employees. Cases also help trainees develop the willingness to take risks given uncertain outcomes, based on their analysis of the situation. To use cases effectively, the learning environment must give trainees the opportunity to prepare and discuss their case analyses. Also, face-to-face or electronic communication among trainees must be arranged. Because trainee involvement is critical for the effectiveness of the case method, learners must be willing and able to analyze the case and then communicate and defend their positions.

Table 7.5 presents the process used for case development. The first step in the process is to identify a problem or situation. It is important to consider if the story is related to the instructional objectives, will provoke a discussion, forces decision making, can be told in a reasonable time period, and is generalizable to the situations that trainees may face. Information on the problem or situation must also be readily accessible. The next step is to research documents, interview participants, and obtain data that provide the details of the case. The third step is to outline the story and link the details and exhibits to relevant points in the story. Fourth, the media used to present the case should be determined. Also, at this point in case development, the trainer should consider how the case exercise will be conducted. This may involve determining if trainees will work individually or in teams, and how the students will report results of their analyses. Finally, the actual case materials need to be prepared. This includes assembling exhibits (figures, tables, articles, job descriptions, etc.), writing the story, preparing questions to guide trainees’ analysis, and writing an interesting, attention-getting case opening that will attract trainees’ attention and provide a quick orientation to the case.

There are a number of available sources for preexisting cases. A major advantage of preexisting cases is that they are already developed. A disadvantage is that the case may not actually relate to the work situation or problem that the trainee will encounter. It is especially important to review preexisting cases to determine how meaningful they will be to the trainee. Preexisting cases on a wide variety of problems in business management (e.g., human resource management, operations, marketing, advertising) are available from Harvard Business School, the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia, Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario, and various other sources.

One organization that has effectively used case studies is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The cases are historically accurate and use actual data. For example, “The Libyan Attack” is used in management courses to teach leadership qualities. “The Stamp Case” is used to teach new employees about the agency’s ethics structure. The CIA uses approximately 100 cases. One-third are focused on management; the rest focus on operations training, counterintelligence, and analysis. The cases are used in the training curriculum where the objectives include teaching students to analyze and resolve complex, ambiguous situations. The CIA found that for the cases used in training programs to be credible and meaningful to trainees, the material had to be as authentic as possible and had to stimulate students to make decisions similar to those they must make in their work environment. As a result, to ensure case accuracy, the CIA uses retired officers to research and write cases. The CIA has even developed a case writing workshop to prepare instructors to use the case method.



Business games require trainees to gather information, analyze it, and make decisions. Business games are primarily used for management skill development. Games stimulate learning because participants are actively involved and because games mimic the competitive nature of business. The types of decisions that participants make in games include all aspects of management practice: labor relations (agreement in contract negotiations), ethics, marketing (the price to charge for a new product), and finance (financing the purchase of new technology).

Typical games have the following characteristics. The game involves a contest among trainees or teams of trainees or against an established criterion such as time or quantity. The game is designed to demonstrate an understanding of or application of a knowledge, skill, or behavior. Several alternative courses of action are available to trainees, and trainees can estimate the consequences of each alternative, but only with some uncertainty. Trainees do not know for certain what the consequences of their actions will be because the consequences are partially based on the decisions of other game participants. Finally, rules limit participant behavior.

To ensure learning and transfer of training, games used in training should be simple enough that trainees can play them in a short period of time. The best games generate excitement among the participants and interest in the game. Meaningfulness of the game is enhanced if it is realistic. Trainees need to feel that they are participating in a business and acquiring knowledge, skills, and behaviors that are useful on the job. Debriefing from a trainer can help trainees understand the game experience and facilitate learning and transfer. Debriefing can include feedback, discussions of the concepts presented during the game, and instructions in how to use at work the knowledge, skills, or behavior emphasized in the game. Table 7.6 contains some questions that can be used for debriefing.

The University of Texas at Austin has created Executive Challenge, a three-day game in which teams of students are divided into three companies, each given a limited amount of production capacity and employees with different skills. The intent of the game is to teach students how to balance business and ethics and how to interpret the results of too much cost cutting. Teams compete for $11,000 and the chance to perform in front of an executive panel. Companies can borrow money, spend money to increase production capacity, or add products or employees. Companies also have to nurture existing projects and make decisions about whether to spend resources on diversity training or on quality programs.

Many companies are using board games to teach employees finance because employee pay is based on the financial performance of the business function employees work in. In pay-for-performance plans, companies must ensure that employees understand basic financial concepts such as how to read balance sheets and income statements. Employees also need to understand how their actions and decisions affect profits. Most of the board games are similar to the game Monopoly. Trainees guide their companies through a series of decisions challenged by various obstacles such as a rival introducing a competing product or a strike by plant workers. Trainees have to track key financial measures over two years.

Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle company, uses a business game to help prospective dealers understand how dealerships make money. The game, which involves 15 to 35 people working in teams, consists of five simulated rounds, each round challenging a team to manage a Harley dealership in competition with other teams. Between rounds of the game, lectures and case studies reinforce key concepts. The facilitators change the business situation in each round of the game. The facilitators can increase or decrease interest rates, add new products, cause employee turnover, or even set up a bad event such as a fire at the business. The game helps dealers develop skills needed for business success. Participants must work well as a team, listen to each other, and think strategically.

Documentation of learning from games is anecdotal. Games may give team members a quick start at developing a framework for information and may help develop cohesive groups. For some groups (such as senior executives), games may be more meaningful training activities (because the game is realistic) than are presentation techniques such as classroom instruction.



Role plays have trainees act out characters assigned to them. Information regarding the situation (e.g., work or interpersonal problem) is provided to the trainees. Role plays differ from simulations on the basis of response choices available to the trainees and the level of detail of the situation given to trainees. Role plays may provide limited information regarding the situation, whereas the information provided for simulation is usually quite detailed. A simulation focuses on physical responses (e.g., pull a lever, move a dial). Role plays focus on interpersonal responses (e.g., ask for more information, resolve conflict). In a simulation, the outcome of the trainees’ response depends on a fairly well-defined model of reality. (If a trainee in a flight simulator decreases the angle of the flaps, that action influences the direction of the aircraft.) In a role play, outcomes depend on the emotional (and subjective) reactions of the other trainees.

At Wequassett Resort and Golf Club in Chatham, Massachusetts, the training schedule considers both the need to make guests happy and the need to help both new and returning employees learn to do that. From April to October the resort is closed but 340 employees start work in the spring before the resort opens. Half of the employees are receiving training for the first time while the returning employees need refresher training. Wequassett Academy offers 70 courses in four schools (customer intimacy, technical training, information and technology, and management). The goal of training is to provide the kind of service that will encourage guests to come back again as well as recommend the resort to their friends. The resort’s training is in step with its business, which requires a personal touch. Training involves classroom instruction with role plays as well as the use of DVDs. Employees have to successfully complete competency checklists before they are able to work. For example, food servers may have to take courses in menu knowledge, food service, and wine knowledge.

For role plays to be effective, trainers need to engage in several activities before, during, and after the role play. Before the role play, it is critical to explain the purpose of the activity to the trainees. This increases the chances that they will find the activity meaningful and be motivated to learn. Second, the trainer needs to clearly explain the role play, the characters’ roles, and the time allotted for the activity. A short video may also be valuable for quickly showing trainees how the role play works. During the activity, the trainer needs to monitor the time, degree of intensity, and focus of the group’s attention. (Is the group playing the roles or discussing other things unrelated to the exercise?) The more meaningful the exercise is to the participants, the less trouble the trainer should have with focus and intensity. At the conclusion of the role play, debriefing is critical. Debriefing helps trainees understand the experience and discuss their insights with each other. Trainees should also be able to discuss their feelings, what happened in the exercise, what they learned, and how the experience, their actions, and resulting outcomes relate to incidents in the workplace.


Behavior modeling presents trainees with a model who demonstrates key behaviors to replicate and provides trainees with the opportunity to practice the key behaviors. Behavior modeling is based on the principles of social learning theory, which emphasize that learning occurs by (1) observation of behaviors demonstrated by a model and (2) vicarious reinforcement. Vicarious reinforcement occurs when a trainee sees a model receiving reinforcement for using certain behaviors.

Behavior modeling is more appropriate for teaching skills and behaviors than for teaching factual information. Research suggests that behavior modeling is one of the most effective techniques for teaching interpersonal and computer skills.

Table 7.7 presents the activities in a behavior modeling training session. These activities include an introduction, skill preparation and development, and application planning. Each training session, which typically lasts four hours, focuses on one interpersonal skill such as coaching or communicating ideas. Each session includes a presentation of the rationale behind the key behaviors, a videotape of a model performing the key behaviors, practice opportunities using role playing, evaluation of a model’s performance in the videotape, and a planning session devoted to understanding how the key behaviors can be used on the job. In the practice sessions, trainees are provided with feedback regarding how closely their behavior matches the key behaviors demonstrated by the model. The role playing and modeled performance are based on actual incidents in the employment setting in which the trainee needs to demonstrate success.

Well-prepared behavior modeling training programs identify the key behaviors, create the modeling display, provide opportunities for practice, and facilitate transfer of training. The first step in developing behavior modeling training programs is to determine (1) the tasks that are not being adequately performed due to lack of skill or behavior and (2) the key behaviors that are required to perform the task. A key behavior is one of a set of behaviors that are necessary to complete a task. In behavior modeling, key behaviors are typically performed in a specific order for the task to be completed. Key behaviors are identified through a study of the skills and behaviors necessary to complete the task and the skills or behaviors used by employees who are effective in completing the task.

Table 7.8 presents key behaviors for a behavior modeling training program on problem analysis. The table specifies behaviors that the trainee needs to engage in to be effective in problem analysis skills. Note that the key behaviors do not specify the exact behaviors needed at every step of solving a problem. Rather, the key behaviors in this skill module specify more general behaviors that are appropriate across a wide range of situations. If a task involves a clearly defined series of specific steps that must be accomplished in a specific order, then the key behaviors that are provided are usually more specific and explained in greater detail. For example, tennis players learning how to serve must follow a detailed sequence of activities (e.g., align feet on service line, take the racquet back over the head, toss the ball, bring the racquet over the head, pronate the wrist, and strike the ball). People learning interpersonal skills must develop more general key behaviors because there is always more than one way to complete the task. The development of general key behaviors promotes far transfer. That is, trainees are prepared to use the key behaviors in a variety of situations.

Another important consideration in developing behavior modeling programs is the modeling display. The modeling display provides the key behaviors that the trainees will practice to develop the same set of behaviors. Videotape is the predominant method used to present modeling displays, although computerized modeling displays are also being used. Effective modeling displays have six characteristics:

  1. The display clearly presents the key behaviors. The music and the characteristics of the situation shown in the display do not interfere with the trainee seeing and understanding the key behaviors.
  2. The model is credible to the trainees.
  3. An overview of the key behaviors is presented.
  4. Each key behavior is repeated. The trainee is shown the relationship between the behavior of the model and each key behavior.
  5. A review of the key behaviors is included.
  6. The display presents models engaging in both positive use of key behaviors and negative use (ineffective models not using the key behaviors).

Providing opportunities for practice involves (1) having trainees cognitively rehearse and think about the key behaviors and (2) placing trainees in situations (such as role plays) in which they have to use the key behaviors. Trainees may interact with one other person in the role play or in groups of three or more in which each trainee can practice the key behaviors. The most effective practice session allows trainees to practice the behaviors multiple times, in a small group of trainees where anxiety or evaluation apprehension is reduced, with other trainees who understand the company and the job.

Practice sessions should include a method for providing trainees with feedback. This feedback should provide reinforcement to the trainee for behaviors performed correctly as well as information needed to improve behaviors. For example, if role plays are used, trainees can receive feedback from the other participants who serve as observers when not playing the role. Practice sessions may also be videotaped and played back to the trainees. The use of video objectively captures the trainees’ behavior and provides useful, detailed feedback. Having the trainees view the video shows them specifically how they need to improve their behaviors and identifies behaviors they are successfully replicating.

Behavior modeling helps ensure that transfer of training occurs by using application planning. Application planning prepares trainees to use the key behaviors on the job (i.e., enhances transfer of training). Application planning involves having all participants prepare a written document identifying specific situations in which they should use the key behaviors. Some training programs actually have trainees complete a “contract” outlining the key behaviors they agree to use on the job. The trainer may follow up with the trainees to see if they are performing according to the contract. Application planning may also involve preparing trainees to deal with situational factors that may inhibit their use of the key behaviors. As part of the application planning process, a trainee may be paired with another participant, with the stated expectation that the two should periodically communicate with each other to discuss successes and failures in the use of key behaviors.



Adventure learning focuses on the development of teamwork and leadership skills through structured activities. Adventure learning includes wilderness training, outdoor training, drum circles, and even cooking classes. Adventure learning appears to be best suited for developing skills related to group effectiveness such as self-awareness, problem solving, conflict management, and risk taking. Adventure learning may involve strenuous, challenging physical activities such as dogsledding or mountain climbing. Adventure learning can also use structured individual and group outdoor activities such as wall climbing, rope courses, trust falls, ladder climbing, and traveling from one tower to another using a device attached to a wire that connects the two towers.

For example, “The Beam” requires team members to cross a six-foot-high beam placed between two trees using only help from the team. Trainees can help by shouting advice and encouragement. Rope-based activities may be held 3 to 4 feet or 25 to 30 feet above the ground. The high-ropes course is an individual-based exercise whose purpose is to help the trainee overcome fear. The low-ropes course requires the entire team of trainees to complete the course successfully. The purpose is to develop team identity, cohesiveness, and communication skills.

In one adventure learning program, a Chili’s restaurant manager was required to scale a three-story-high wall. About two-thirds of the way from the top of the wall, the manager became very tired. She successfully reached the top of the wall using the advice and encouragement shouted from team members on the ground below. When asked to consider what she learned from the experience, she reported that the exercise made her realize that reaching personal success depends on other people. At her restaurant, everyone has to work together to make the customers happy.

Adventure learning can also include demanding activities that require coordination but place less of a physical strain on team members. In drum circles, each team member is given a drum, and facilitators work with the team to create a drumming orchestra. The car company Toyota spent $20,000 for drums to accommodate 40 people at its training center in Torrance, California. Drum circles are held twice a week. Toyota believes that the drum circles are metaphors for how high-performance teams should operate: cooperatively and smoothly. Cookin’ Up Change is one of many team-building courses offered around the United States by chefs, caterers, hotels, and cooking schools. These courses have been used by companies such as Honda and Microsoft. The idea is that cooking classes help strengthen communications and networking skills by requiring team members to work together to create a full-course meal (a culinary feast!). Each team has to decide who does what kitchen tasks (e.g., cooking, cutting, cleaning) and who prepares the main course, salads, and dessert. Often, team members are required to switch assignments in midpreparation to see how the team reacts to change.

For adventure learning programs to be successful, exercises should relate to the types of skills that participants are expected to develop. Also, after the exercises a skilled facilitator should lead a discussion about what happened in the exercise, what was learned, how events in the exercise relate to the job situation, and how to set goals and apply what was learned on the job. Trust falls require each trainee to stand on a platform five to six feet above the ground and fall backward into the arms of fellow group members. If trainees are reluctant to fall, this suggests they don’t trust the team members. After completing the trust fall, the facilitator may question trainees to identify sources of their anxiety and to relate this anxiety to specific workplace incidents (e.g., a project delegated to a peer was not completed on time, resulting in distrust of the peer).

The physical demands of some types of adventure learning and the requirement that trainees often touch each other in the exercises may increase a company’s risk for negligence claims due to personal injury, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act raises questions about requiring disabled employees to participate in physically demanding training experiences.

Given the physically demanding nature of adventure learning, it is important to consider when to use it instead of another training method. Adventure learning allows trainees to interact interpersonally in a situation not governed by formal business rules. This type of environment may be important for employees to mold themselves into a cohesive work team. Also, adventure learning exercises allow trainees to share a strong emotional experience. Significant emotional experiences can help trainees break difficult behavior patterns and open trainees to change their behaviors. One of the most important characteristics of adventure learning is that the exercises can serve as metaphors for organizational behavior. That is, trainees will behave in the same way in the exercises that they would when working as a team (e.g., developing a product launch plan). As a result, by analyzing behaviors that occur during the exercise, trainees gain insight into ineffective behaviors.

Does adventure learning work? Rigorous evaluations of its impact on productivity or performance have not been conducted. However, former participants often report that they gained a greater understanding of themselves and how they interact with co-workers. One key to an adventure learning program’s success may be the insistence that whole work groups participate together so that group dynamics that inhibit effectiveness can emerge and be discussed.


Team training coordinates the performance of individuals who work together to achieve a common goal. Figure 7.2 shows the three components of team performance: knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. The behavioral requirement means that team members must perform actions that allow them to communicate, coordinate, adapt, and complete complex tasks to accomplish their objective. The knowledge component requires team members to have mental models or memory structures that allow them to function effectively in unanticipated or new situations. Team members’ beliefs about the task and feelings toward each other relate to the attitude component. Team morale, cohesion, and identity are related to team performance. For example, in the military as well as the private sector (e.g., nuclear power plants, commercial airlines), much work is performed by crews, groups, or teams. Successful performance depends on coordination of individual activities to make decisions, on team performance, and on readiness to deal with potentially dangerous situations (e.g., an overheating nuclear reactor). Research suggests that teams that are effectively trained develop procedures to identify and resolve errors, coordinate information gathering, and reinforce each other.

Figure 7.3 illustrates the four main elements of the structure of team training (tools, methods, strategies, and team training objectives). Several tools help to define and organize the delivery of team training. These tools also provide the environment (e.g., feedback) needed for learning to occur. These tools work in combination with different training methods to help create instructional strategies. These strategies are a combination of the methods, tools, and content required to perform effectively.

The strategies include cross training, coordination training, and team leader training. Cross training has team members understand and practice each other’s skills so that members are prepared to step in and take the place of a member who may temporarily or permanently leave the team. Research suggests that most work teams would benefit from providing members with at least enough understanding of teammates’ roles to discuss trade-offs of various strategies and behaviors that affect team performance. Coordination training instructs the team in how to share information and decision-making responsibilities to maximize team performance. Coordination training is especially important for commercial aviation or surgical teams who are in charge of monitoring different aspects of equipment and the environment but who must share information to make the most effective decisions regarding patient care or aircraft safety and performance. Team leader training refers to training that the team manager or facilitator receives. This may involve training the manager on how to resolve conflict within the team or helping the team coordinate activities or other team skills.

Employees obviously need technical skills that can help the team accomplish its task. But team members also need skills in communication, adaptability, conflict resolution, and other teamwork issues. Team training usually involves multiple methods. For example, a lecture or video may be used to disseminate knowledge regarding communication skills to trainees. Role plays or simulations may be used to give trainees the opportunity to put into practice the communication skills emphasized in the lecture. Regardless of the method chosen, opportunities for practice and feedback need to be included.

United Airlines is sending its supervisor, or lead, ramp employees to Pit Instruction and Training (Pit Crew U), which focuses on the preparation, practices, and teamwork of NASCAR pit crews. United is using the training to develop standardized methods to safely and more efficiently unload, load, and send off its airplanes. Pit Instruction and Training, located outside Charlotte, North Carolina, has a quarter-mile race track and a pit road with places for six cars. The school offers programs to train new racing pit crews, but most of its business comes from companies interested in teaching their teams to work as safely, efficiently, and effectively as NASCAR pit crews do. NASCAR pit crews work safely, quickly, and efficiently because each crew member knows what tasks to do (change tires, use air gun, add gasoline, clean up spills), and after the crew members have finished servicing the race car, they move new equipment into position in anticipation of the next pit stop. At Pit Crew U, trainees actually work as pit crews. They learn how to handle jacks, change tires, and fill fuel tanks on race cars. They are videotaped and timed just like real pit crews, and they receive feedback from trainers and from professional pit crew members who work on NASCAR teams. Also, the program requires trainees to deal with unforeseen circumstances similar to what they may encounter on the job. For example, at one pit stop, lug nuts had been sprinkled intentionally in the area where the race car stops, and the United employees were observed to see whether they noticed the lug nuts and cleaned them up. On their jobs, ramp employees are responsible for removing debris from the tarmac so it is not sucked into jet engines or does not harm equipment. At another pit stop, United teams had to work with fewer members, which sometimes occurs when ramp crews are understaffed due to absences.

United’s training is part of a multimillion-dollar investment that includes updating equipment and providing bag scanners. The purpose of the training is to standardize the tasks of ramp team members, to reinforce the need for ramp teams to be orderly and communicative, and to increase morale. Training has been optional for ramp employees, and they have survived layoffs and have been asked to make wage concessions to help pull the company out of bankruptcy. United has already started scheduling shorter ground times at some airports, anticipating the positive results of the program. With shorter ground times, United can offer more daily flights without having to buy more airplanes. United hopes to make the airline more competitive by cutting the average airplane ground time by eight minutes.



Action Learning gives teams or work groups an actual problem, has them work on solving it and committing to an action plan, and then holds them accountable for carrying out the plan. Companies use action learning to solve important problems, develop leaders, quickly build high-performance teams, and transform the organizational culture. Table 7.9 shows the steps involved in action learning. Several types of problems are addressed in action learning, including how to change the business, better utilize technology, remove barriers between the customer and company, and develop global leaders. Typically, action learning involves between 6 and 30 employees. It may also include customers and vendors. There are several variations in the composition of the group. One variation is that the group includes a single customer for the problem being dealt with. Sometimes the groups include cross-functional representatives who all have a stake in the problem. For example, Novartis, a company that has business in pharmaceuticals (such as Sandoz) and in consumer and animal health care, uses action learning to work on issues such as marketing that are important to all of the company’s core businesses. Or the group may involve employees from multiple functions who all focus on their own functional problems, each contributing to solving the problems identified. Employees are asked to develop novel ideas and solutions in a short period of time. The teams usually need to gather data for problem solving by visiting customers, employees, academics, and/or industry leaders. Once the teams have gathered data and developed their recommendations they are required to present them to top-level executives.

ATC, a public Transportation Services management company in Illinois, used action learning to help boost profitability by reducing operating costs. Employees were divided into Action Workout Teams to identify ways of reducing costs and to brainstorm effective solutions. The process assumed that employees closest to where the work gets done have the best ideas about how to solve problems. Teams of five to seven employees met once a week for a couple of hours for 45 to 60 days. For example, a team working on parts inventory might have had a parts clerk, a couple of people from maintenance, a supervisor, and an operations employee. These teams studied problems and issues such as overtime, preventive maintenance, absenteeism, parts inventory, and inefficient safety inspection procedures. The teams brainstormed ideas, prioritized them according to their highest potential, developed action plans, installed them, tested them, and measured the outcomes. The solutions that the teams generated resulted in more than $1.8 million in savings for the company.

Six Sigma and Black Belt Training

Six Sigma and black belt training programs involve principles of action learning. Six Sigma provides employees with measurement and statistical tools to help reduce defects and to cut costs. Six Sigma is a quality standard with a goal of only 3.4 defects per million processes. Six Sigma was born at Motorola. It has saved the company an estimated $15 billion since the early 1990s. There are several levels of Six Sigma training, resulting in employees becoming certified as green belts, champions, or black belts. To become black belts, trainees must participate in workshops and written assignments coached by expert instructors. The training involves four 4-day sessions over about 16 weeks. Between training sessions, candidates apply what they learn to assigned projects and then use them in the next training session. Trainees are also required to complete not only oral and written exams but also two or more projects that have a significant impact on the company’s bottom line. After completing black belt training, employees are able to develop, coach, and lead Six Sigma teams; mentor and advise management on determining Six Sigma projects; and provide Six Sigma tools and statistical methods to team members. After black belts lead several project teams, they can take additional training and be certified as master black belts. Master black belts can teach other black belts and help senior managers integrate Six Sigma into the company’s business goals.

McKesson Corporation trained 15 to 20 black belts and reassigned them to their original business units as their team’s Six Sigma representatives. When the two-year commitment ends, the black belts return to the business at higher positions, helping to spread the approach throughout the organization and ensuring that key leaders are committed to the Six Sigma philosophy. In most divisions of the company, Six Sigma training is mandated for senior vice presidents, who attend training that introduces Six Sigma and details how to identify a potential Six Sigma project. Across the company, every manager and director is expected to attend basic training. The Six Sigma effort has shown benefits every year since the program started in 1999.

Although action learning has not been formally evaluated, the process appears to maximize learning and transfer of training because it involves real-time problems that employees are facing. Also, action learning can be useful for identifying dysfunctional team dynamics that can get in the way of effective problem solving. Action learning at General Electric has required employees to use and apply skills to team building, problem solving, Change Management, conflict resolution, communications, coaching, and facilitation. General Electric believes that action learning has resulted in such benefits as greater speed in decision making and implementation, employees who work more easily across borders and business units, management that is willing to take more risks, and an increase in open dialogue and trust among employees.