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?


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

    I feel that we are in an era where organizations are trying to get as much out of their employees as possible. For example, there are organizations that have employees doing two or sometimes three different jobs (multi-tasking) while still trying to produce at a high rate. Organizations may feel more at ease when they have someone who is capable of multi-tasking in contrast to an individual who may just be competent to do so. Capability sounds more dependable.

  • In my opinion, moving from a competency-based model to a capability-based model opens up a greater pool of talent and gives people the opportunity to grow with an organization rather than being expected to hit the ground running right away.

  • Priscila Membreno

    What I would like to talk about on this post is the changes made from 2004 Areas of Expertise to the 2020 Professional Capabilities. I would like to acknowledge how much I agree and really like the final changes on the 2020 Capabilities. I think the biggest most important change is that they added Technology Application. However, because Technology is immensely important and will always continue to be in our everyday life, I would not be surprised if we might add another technology related component to this model. Im not quiet sure what component yet but as I mention, Tech is just super important and is only getting bigger in your everyday life that I would not be surprise to see another component related to that. I also really like and agree that they added Learning Sciences. I think thats another very important component that they did bot emphasis or think about in the previous “Area’s of expertises”.

  • Shifting from a competency focus to a capability model I believe allows room for organizations to access a greater pool of talent and allows them an opportunity to grow with an organization versus being expected to hit the ground running on day one. Individuals exiting college seeking employment should benefit greatly from this shift as the need to be an expert in a specific area is now balanced with the experiences and skills that individual already has that can be built upon.

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

    The ATD capability model is new to me. I have never heard of such model, but I can see myself looking at it when looking for job listings. It makes so much sense to go from competency to capability. Competency is defined as someone’s ability to do something successfully while capability is defined as the power to do something. Although these definitions can be similar, there is a slight difference. Capability refers to people who are eager. They have the attitude it takes while competency refers to people who can do something successfully but do they have the power and eager to do so?

  • I am familiar with the ATD Capability Model and have used it to evaluate my own trainers and identify gaps in our department. I am actively applying these concepts for developmental planning for the trainers. Shifting from competency to capability is a wonderful changes. Capability implies ability to do vs just know.

    Regarding the evolution of the the capabilities I would love to see Technology Application changed to Technology Selection & Application. I am also a fan of adding the word Facilitation to Training Delivery. It’s actually a major addition and acknowledges an additional skill set required which is crucial to learning transfer.

    Looking forward to digging deeper on this topic. — jjgregoire

  • I am glad that I was introduced to ATD Capability Modul. I think that moving performance improvement, change management, and managing learning programs to the Organizational section makes sense, as performance improvement is a holistic and systematic approach to meeting organizational goals by identifying and closing human performance gaps. And Change management is the capability of enabling change within an organization by using structured approaches to shift individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a future state.

  • It is great that the model has changed and moves along with the current business needs (technology). The Talent Development Capability Model is important because it provides a guide of competences that people should be equipped to be successful in the business world. Learning science intrigues me and I found out that it has to do with “learning theories, principles of adult learning theory, and cognitive science to design, develop, and deliver solutions that maximize outcomes.”

  • As I am new to the model, I did not ever know it as the competency model. As I read and learned more about all of the traits and qualities it encompasses, the name change makes perfect sense. As a company, I would imagine the leaders would want their workers to want to learn and grow. If we were to keep the name as it was, a cap is subconsciously placed on their growth. By changing the name, the ATD acknowledges that human being are capable of so much more than what is originally decided as long as we are given the room to grow.

  • I find this model of the ATD CAPABILITY very helpful and useful. It does a great job showing the comparison throughout the years of Expertise and skills required. The idea of changing the name in 2020 to Capabilities helps takes skills learned and continue to train and develop their skills.

  • I definitely find this new model extremely helpful, and navigating the framework is like a quick way to pinpoint one specific focus you need to work on with your company. I was talking about it with someone who is thinking about getting a training and development degree and I think this persuaded them a little bit more to just do it, because this tool alone is a great guide.

  • It made sense to make these changes in the modal because of the very definition of both words. Competency means having the ability to do something successfully or efficiently and capability means the extent of someones or something’s ability. When focusing on the participant’s capability, I can create a better training program based on the level of their abilities that can continue to grow skills over time.

    As for my thoughts on the evolution of the various competencies/capabilities over the years is a natural process. We do better when we know better and as times change we change. Many parents who did not have the competency to switch from in-person learning to at home are now finding themselves with the capability to push forward. We continue to build on our skills and what we know every day. Therefore evolution is natural and happens with time and is necessary.

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

    The change from competency to capability absolutely makes sense to me. When you’re talking and thinking about training you’re looking for the learner’s capability to learn, as the current competency of learners varies greatly and is what you’re looking to add to. Additionally, the ability to learn new skills vs the competency in set skills does allow the focus to be on learning and adapting new skills and remaining agile instead of fixed.

  • Cynthia V. Guerrero-Burgos

    I believe it’s very important that we move right along with technology. I have seen more and more companies out there that offer organizations all kinds of online trainings making easy and affordable for organizations to training their staff in all kinds of trainings. These companies are taking advantage of technology. I agree with all the modifications made to the model because it’s moving right along with the demands of the market out there.

  • I’m grateful to be a part of a graduate program that stays up-to-date with industry trends to ensure we’re learning the information that will be needed when we apply for jobs in the field.

    I think the switch from competency to capability makes sense. A competency reminds me of something that you can “achieve” and no longer have to work towards whereas a capability is something that you continuously use and strive for. There is no end point for a capability, whereas there may be for a competency. In terms of training and development, building capabilities and continuing to build on and develop those capabilities will only serve you more in the long run.

  • I feel like the move from competency to capability makes sense for creating a more rounded and efficient workforce. The capability model approach helps employees gain vital ‘abilities’ that are transferable between roles reducing the training needed as they move from role to role throughout their career.

  • I think the change makes sense. Competencies address the skills, knowledge, and the capacity to complete current needs. While capability focuses on development in terms of meeting future needs/goals. In my opinion, capabilities are future-oriented. I like the progression of the model. For example, from 2004 – 2014 you can see learning technology has been added. From 2014 to the current model you can see that this has changed to technology application. To me, this change means that someone must not only have a knowledge of technology but also have ways to implement the correct technology.

    • I agree that capability is future-oriented. This is why I think the change from competency to capability is beneficial. While competency is a skill, capability takes that skill and develops it for future use. I do wonder, however, if this change will lead to current goals of a company being overlooked.

  • 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.

    • I like this article because it can be very challenging to balance the personal, organizational, and professional path. This new model can really help to make a difference for people in their own journeys as a tool to learn and improve their skills.

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