The Recipe for Success: Formal education leads to better results

Guest Author Susan Spear 2015 MATD Graduate

Guest Author
Susan Spear
2015 MATD Graduate

When I began my studies at RU, it was with many years of experience working in the training and development field under my belt.  I was a competent training manager—serving as the liaison between the SMEs and developers, offering input on both design and execution.  But there was something missing—the foundational knowledge as to why things needed to be done a certain way, and the foundational blueprint to craft programs that would be likely to succeed.  It was similar to my knowledge of cooking—it is something I love but have little formal training in the fundamentals and the science behind it.  This year, I’ve come full circle on both my vocation and my avocation—training and cooking.  In addition to spending a week this summer in Italy immersed in a cooking class, I’ve worked on consolidating almost five years of study into my training philosophy and trying to understand the nuances of both the art and science of effective learning.  Both experiences have been a revelation.

In my portfolio paper, I connect training to cooking—equal parts science and creativity.  To be successful, one needs to understand the rationale of why things are done a certain way and the outcomes that are likely to result. High-quality ingredients, preparation time, and careful measurement give you better odds that the final product will be edible.  In the T & D field, using a clear methodology (Dick & Carey, anyone?) increases your chances of creating a program that will change behavior and result in organizational improvements.  What could be simpler?

As with cooking, there are variables and unknowns.  The key components to successful training are similar:  goal, resources, audience, staff (Factors Impacting Employee Training, here).  For a meal or dish, sustenance or celebration?  Ground beef or filet?  Sophisticated diners or kids? Home cook or budding chef?  The similarities with training are remarkable:  Compliance or career development? Flashy e-learning, or PowerPoint®? Gen X or Gen Y? In-house employee recruited to deliver content or professional trainer?  With any endeavor, the best-laid plans often go awry…as when I was in Italy studying cooking and the wild boar ate the parsley growing in the garden and we had to improvise with other like seasonings.

Even with all the training in the world, the best T & D professionals are often faced with circumstances beyond their control.  The instructor misses his flight or turns out to be less competent than anticipated.  The classroom is cold, or the lunch is inedible.  The e-learning program goes over budget, and cuts need to be made.  This is where improvisation becomes the difference between success and failure.  If we have done our homework (established attainable and rational goals, researched the audience, invested the time and resources necessary) and have done our best to design and deliver a program that will result in a meaningful change in behavior, trainers should have Plan B in their back pocket to adjust and adapt.  Just as when the boar eats the parsley, there are other ways to get to the same place.  And the results, though not perfect, are often just as satisfying.

Why do you think it’s important for seasoned trainers to have formed education in adult learning & training?

How does knowledge of theory help trainers ensure that their programs are successful?



  • I think knowledge of theory helps trainers ensure a program is successful by giving them the information needed to adapt to the learner and environment. If you don’t have a quality knowledge of theory, it may be difficult to form a plan B and understand what the best method of training should be when plan A breaks down.

  • Ginger Ulloa-Enright

    I think it’s important for seasoned L&D trainers to have a formed education in adult learning and training because it gives them a wider lens into the “how” and “why” of what they are doing. It provides a deeper understanding of their instructional designs/trainings and ensuring that it is meeting the learner’s needs. When we take our experiences and apply them to formed education, it triggers our memory to link new knowledge to former experiences and we have those “aha” moments. Concepts start to make sense and give us the bigger picture.

  • I would definitely have to agree with Ms. Spear’s statements of needing to have a plan b and being able to adapt. My initial goal was to pursue a degree in higher education and student affairs. I was hesitant to accept a position at Roosevelt because they didn’t have my desired program. However, I knew that the role would provide great professional development and I would be able to achieve my goal of working with college students. When I came across the T&D program, I felt that it wasn’t a substitute but the perfect program for me. The content is transferrable into my current role and would be beneficial if I chose to pursue a career in another field. Therefore, my plan b was actually a better option than my plan a.

    I think it’s important for seasoned trainers to have education in adult learning and training because the adult learning is continuously evolving. There will always be a student whose learning style differs from everyone else in the class. Or a student that currently has experience in the field, but is in need of additional understanding of theories and the “reasons why”, as Ms. Spear mentions. Trainers must be able to adapt to the needs of the forever changing adult learning.

    Knowledge of theory help trainers ensures that their program is successful because it provides the framework and foundation of the field. However, I do believe that trainers should consider conversations that are theory-based and practical experience. While you can have a student that falls within a particular theory, how you address their educational needs can be determined by one’s practical experience with similar situations.

  • I think it’s important for trainers to have a formal educational background because it helps individuals have more structure and organization when it comes to their craft. By learning multiple theories and being exposed to so many different training methods, trainers are able to distinguish what does and does not work for their particular strengths and weaknesses. There are always multiple ways to teach one particular task but which way portrays confidence to the learner that you know what you are teaching. It is important for instructors to explore and know what sends this message to the learners.

  • I read and agreed with assessment about the need to have an inner understanding of the training process while learning. One of the questions posed, “How does knowledge of theory help trainers ensure that their programs are successful?” is interesting. Essentially, one must have a grasp of the various theories in order to be able to tailor training and learning in such a way to reflect the characteristics of the one being taught. Everyone is different and comes to the table with a different set of skill-sets.

  • It is definitely important to prepare for anything you do in life. Actually preparation would let you have a clearer picture of what the outcome should look like. A good programmer always starts with the output in mind, and there won’t be any output in mind without first understanding the question. All adults no matter how educated they are should endeavor to apply their knowledge towards conceptualizing learning in the context of the subject matter. Flexibility is key to managing any unexpected event in the course of training and development session. Improvising requires deep understanding of the situation and wiliness to effect alternative solutions to get the job done. I am presently going through the training and development courses and I am finding out that it takes more than just being good, to train others.

  • I definitely see the correlation between coaching and cooking without proper preparation any task (meal) or program implemented can be guaranteed a certain percentage of failure. The right amount of certification and training will give any Coaching or Training and Development (T&D) professional the skills to implement outcomes as they are planned. It is nothing new to have deviations that could cause the derailment of any plan, having the experience and technical skill to know how to navigate these type of issues is what a formal education delivers.
    Without a formal education the impact that a professional from the T& D field will be minimal, plus having unqualified candidates conducting T & D programs can create more problems than solutions. It has been my experience that the untrained “professional” makes many mistakes that academic training and documentation could easily detect and correct if this knowledge was assessable or gained early on by these individuals. I have also seen “professionals” without formal training freeze up when situations occur that cause a program to be delayed or come in over budget. The clients who are being training by these individuals, sense and/or see this reaction and lose faith or trust that the T & D “professional” can handle the presentation of the program and whether the program is effective. Most clients meeting individuals without the necessary credentials can recognize the lack of expertise almost immediately and dismiss them and any T & D professional with proper training that may follow.
    The lack of skills and formal education are the problem that faces the individual not a lack of T & D opportunities, the chances are there it just must be met by those with the skills and knowledge to handle the challenge and anything else that may detour the progress of their program

  • trevinomichael

    I agree that formal education opens up so many doors. I received a coaching certification but I feel that now that I have taken classes at RU I am more prepared to enter the coaching field. The adult learning theory is so important because adult learners learn in a specific way and it is valuable to know what that it is. That will separate you from the rest when you are applying for a job.

  • I too never had much formal training in learning/teaching, though I have been doing those things in some form for my entire career. I did attempt to learn on my own and that helped, but I think learning from experts in the field and working with fellow students to improve our practice has jumped me light years ahead of anything I was able to do on my own. I find that the course readings and activities guide me in the right direction, and assessments help me make sure I am doing things optimally. I think trainers always need to be learners, to stay on top of new ideas and to expand their knowledge, but having a formal background in adult education gives you a solid base on which to build the rest of your career. Thanks for the thought provoking article!

  • I think it’s important for trainers to know how Adults learn because you have to be relevant. You have to welcome experience into that training environment because Adults connect learning with experiences and this enhances the receipt of the content. Connecting the dots makes a big difference with learners because if they connect to it they feel more inclined to learn from it or about a particular topic.

    I think knowledge of theory makes programs successful because there will always be a familiar process to look back on to help navigate through challenges trainers faced when sharing content. There is always a basic process to follow that will help iron out any kinks related to content delivery. It helps trainers organize their content and I also think it provides substance to ensure that the learning is learner centered and effective.

    Thanks for this great article.

  • This is a great article and I share your reasoning for deciding to seek a formal education in Training and Development. It is important for seasoned trainers to have formal education to understand the why behind an area they may be naturally good at. I felt as though I was a good trainer but didn’t know how to explain the why. Formal education helps me to understand why. Also, with technology advancing more and more everyday, an education helps trainers and instructional designer keep up with the times and how the learners of today are evolving.

  • Tying two things you know and love together is a great idea – it can only lead to knowing both in a better, more solid way. Several years ago I found myself in a similar situation – I had a great deal of experience with many aspects of training but did not have formal, traditional education to back it up. This education has included history, philosophy and theory. Pursuing the formal education gives us a polish and, as you state, a foundation for the instinct we already have.

  • Oh this resonated so much with me! As a home chef and a trainer with 20+ years this was perfect blend of info! I am in my 2nd semester of my MATD and I agree deeply with your assessment about “But there was something missing—the foundational knowledge as to why things needed to be done a certain way, and the foundational blueprint to craft programs that would be likely to succeed.” I have found that the learning I am doing is so valuable in providing me with a more solid foundation on which to stand. I was trained by some greats in my field and I learned so much from them and now, I also get to learn the theory, philosophy, and research behind the wisdom and practice they shared!

    Re your question: Why do you think it’s important for seasoned trainers to have formed education in adult learning & training? It’s essential! It’s water! Both topics can lead to better design, implementation, and evaluation of our work. I find that the tools I am gaining are allowing me to engage in a fabulous self-assessment CQI type process in which I am looking at my existing lessons and modules for opportunities to update and improve as well as having new tools in my toolbox as I create new modules and plans!

    Great article, thanks!

  • I believe that formed education is a plus you get a chance to know how to apply the knowledge you have acquired from having the formal work training to what you are doing.

    Knowing the theory gives you a better foundation for a successful program.

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