The New 2020 ATD Capability Model: What’s changed? What’s still the same?

When ASTD (now ATD) rolled out its first competency model back in 2004, it gave the profession of training a unified, research-based guide to the skills and knowledge required in our field. The nine Areas of Expertise in the Model guided our MATD curriculum and ensured that we were teaching our students the “right stuff” needed for success in their jobs. In this post, we will revisit the Models of the past and compare them to the newest version.

The table below lists the Areas of Expertise/Professional Capabilities for each Model so you can compare the changes over time. Of note in the 2014 Model was the addition of a much-needed Learning Technologies competency. In the 2020 Model of significance is the name change from Competency to Capability, which “signals to talent development professionals that they must be agile and committed to continual development.” Also, several Areas of Expertise—performance improvement, talent management, training management, and change management—were moved to the Organizational Capability section of the new Model, leaving the Professional Capability section focused more directly on just the training function.

2004 Areas of Expertise

2014 Areas of Expertise

2020 Professional Capabilities

Designing Learning Instructional Design Instructional Design
Improving Human Performance Performance Improvement Moved to Organizational Section
Delivering Training Training Delivery Training Delivery & Facilitation
Measuring & Evaluating Evaluating Learning Impact Evaluating Impact
Facilitating Organizational Change Change Management Moved to Organizational Section
Managing the Learning Function Managing Learning Programs Moved to Organizational Section
Coaching Coaching Coaching
Managing Knowledge Knowledge Management Knowledge Management
Career Planning & Talent Management Integrated Talent Management Career & Leadership Development
Learning Technologies Technology Application
Learning Sciences

You may view the new Model here

Questions for Discussion:

What do you think of the change from competency to capability? Does this make sense to you? Why or why not?

What are your thoughts about the evolution of the various competencies/capabilities over the years (see table)? Is there anything you’d add or delete from the list of 2020 Professional Capabilities?


  • Alexandra Tuti Edwards

    Competence starts as a person’s capabilities. In a sense, competence is proven abilities and improved capabilities. Competence can include a combination of knowledge, basic requirements (capabilities), skills, abilities, behavior, and attitude. This makes sense to me.
    I also agree with the change to Evaluating Impact but why move Change Management?

  • jordanfeinberg

    I think the change from competency to capability makes sense to me. Competency is very skills based whereas capabilities allows you to think more strategically and a bit less transactional only focused on transactional.

    I enjoyed that they added Technology to the 2020 list as well as Emotional Intelligence as I believe these two capabilities are key to our future as Human Resource experts as this is where our future is headed. Technology really enables you to show the results of your work which has not been easy to do in the past and show that proof using data to senior leadership and stakeholders. Emotional Intelligence is extremely important to me as I believe it is key to becoming a strong leader.

    Thanks for everyone’s post! It was interesting and intriguing reading everyone’s!

  • The change from competency to capability is a sensible one. While competency can be in limited areas, capability is related to the agility of an individual to learn things quickly. In today’s environment with technological changes coming thick and fast, what matters most is the attitude towards learning new things.
    Another interesting change was to move change management to the organizational section. I think that’s a smart change considering that any change in the process affects multiple functions within an organization.

  • I agree with Sherri! I think change the wording from competency to capabilities, was a positive move! How you say things matters and really makes an impact on how others perceive it. Capabilities is defined as the power/ ability to do something, versus competency is the ability to do something efficiently/ successfully. This minor change may improve the mindset of those who may have trouble with self efficacy and encourage them to continue to learn to build on these capabilities.

  • I think the change from competency to capability is spot on as capability implies the aptitude and willingness to improve exist in the practitioner. This attitude is at the core of development. As in any profession, the T&D profession has the responsibility to maintain high standards. Therefore the main association tied to this profession must continue to self-asses and remain in line with the demands of the clients hiring the practitioners; the students studying to join the profession; and those who are currently working in the profession.

  • How/When will the changes that ATD is putting into the model be reflected in the current classes for the MATD degree?

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Sarah. I feel the same way about the seperation of learning and OD areas. I too am also very happy to see that learning science is included in the capability model as I think that it is a critical component of training. One concern that I have though is the swtich from competency to capability. It feels odd to move away from the term competency, which is something used broadly in many sectors, to capability, which seems less defined. But I’m still getting used to “talent” instead of “training.”

  • I think the changes of moving performance improvement, change management, and managing learning programs to the Organizational section make sense, as these areas are closely tied together and affect the organization as a whole. If performance improvement is recognized, that means change will occur and an intervention in the form of a learning program will most likely ensue.

    The part that was most interesting to me though, however, is the Learning Technologies change to Technology Application and Learning Sciences. Learning Technologies seems like a very broad term and I’m glad now that it was broken up into two different areas, especially as we move into the future, technology and learning will only become more blended. I wasn’t familiar with the term learning sciences so I looked it up and found that learning sciences work to further scientific, humanistic and critical theoretical understanding of learning as well as to engage in the design and implementation of learning innovations, and the improvement of instructional methodologies. To me, all of these changes make sense, and I’m happy to see that our field is changing with the times and continuing to make improvements, which only makes use stronger training practitioners.

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