• Personal Resonance© is a research forum engaged in transforming findings from proven research studies on learning, training, performance and expertise into practical training solutions and practices to 'accelerate time-to-expertise' of organizations and professionals. Aggressive time-to-market drives organizations to develop complex cognitive skills of their employees at faster pace to beat their competitors. Goal of forum is to find and share the answer to that ‘speed’. The forum is trying to develop a core knowledge-base in four areas by systematically assimilating, analyzing and synthesizing the proven research studies in wide range of disciplines like cognitive sciences, neuroscience, psychology, education, learning and brain science, etc.: 1) Accelerated Workplace Expertise: Proven research-based strategies and methodologies to accelerate expertise of organization as a whole through training and learning. 2) Accelerated Professional Expertise: Science-based resonance techniques to accelerate expertise, peak performance and effectiveness of individuals. 3) Strategic Training Management: Experience-based competitive philosophies and processes to manage large-scale complex learning and knowledge operations to produce proficient workforce. 4) Competitive Instructional Design: Advanced instructional and learning design techniques to deliver higher order complex skills like problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, technical troubleshooting.

3 Challenges in Designing Training When “Proficiency” is Your Organization’s Training Goal

Proficiency As Organizational Training Goal

I came across this question many times: What should be the goal of organizational or corporate training? Should it target generating competence or should it go beyond competence in producing proficiency or expertise? The approaches and training strategies vary with the goals.

If we look at Dreyfus’s model of Skill Acquisition (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1986) we have competence on one side of the scale, we have expertise on other side and proficiency level falls mid-way. Ericsson (1994) advocate that to attain expertise, roughly 10000 hours of deliberate practice. This equation has been questioned recently by several practitioners, but lets not go into that debate. Nevertheless it is understood that gaining expertise requires much longer time. Experts are characterized by highly improved mental knowledge representation, ability of chunking, efficient cognitive processing schemata and ability to recognize patterns quickly. These abilities are acquired over the time with extensive experience. Achieving expertise as defined by literature and as defined by Dreyfus model is an extremely aggressive goal.

Organization Training Goals: Trends

As I review the industry trends, I find that different organizations have different training goals in terms of level of skills they want their employees to walk out with. I am not sure why, but let me share those three patterns:

i) Advanced Beginner as Training Goal

In traditional training courses, the objectives have been to provide novice with rule-based guidelines and structure to give him the ability to apply these facts and figures into different situations. Historically academic institutions and organizations have been dealing training as a means to give a kick-start to novices to produce them at advanced beginner’s level. With the advances in training through several philosophies, organizations are trying to make the training effective to lift up the proficiency level of learners.

ii) Competence as Training Goal

On the flip side, several organizations target achieving “competent” level for their employees to satisfactorily get ready for the job. This goal to achieve competence was made popular in 1960s with a movement which eventually named as competency based training. Competency based training philosophy assets that training needs to help individuals to acquire skills and knowledge so they are able to perform a task to a specified standard under certain conditions. In competency based training emphasis is on “performing” rather than “knowing”. Stevenson (1995) considers that the ordinary or everyday meaning of the word ‘competence’ has two facets: the first denotes that a person has completed a task or fulfilled an occupation in a proficient manner, and the second denotes a desirable outcome.

Referring back to Dreyfus’s model, ten Cate (2010) argues that individuals reach the level of competence on this spectrum by training. The subsequent levels (proficiency and expertise) are achieved by deliberate practice. The issue with competency based training is that it only verifies the performance to the given standards within certain condition. The outcome of competence based training is that trainee may not be fully conversant with handling different situations holistically in his real-life environment.

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Image Credits: ten Cate (2010)

iii) Proficiency as Training Goal

ten Cate’s demarcation that training enables only reaching to competence level has been contested by Khan and Ramachandran (2012). They argue that training and deliberate practice may go parallel as novice improves their skill using both.  This point in the direction that training can potentially achieve proficiency levels with correct interplay of training and deliberate practice concurrently. The approach where training and deliberate practice goes hand-to-hand is called proficiency based training.

Eraut (1994) indicates that proficiency pertains to use of more intuition, ability to assess situations and able to figure out best approaches to solve a given problem. In Dreyfus’s model, the level of proficiency is the first at which intuition appears. On the previous three levels everything was done analytically. At this stage, intuitive reactions replace reasoned responses (Steve, n.d.).  This is where competency based training approach ends.

Learning Paths (2013) defines proficiency as level of performance and assert that achieving proficiency represented by results and action should be the organizational goal rather than having the goal for competence (knowledge, attitude, skills). As advocated by Learning Paths (2013), increasing number of organizations is looking at developing their professionals at the level of being proficient rather than competent.

Why so?

This is possibly due to characteristics exhibited by proficient learner which aligns well with today’s organizational needs. Due to reliability, repeatability, reproducibility and stability of the desired performance, proficiency based training is gaining momentum. The overall goal of this new philosophy is to build proficiency in training or ensuring that professionals come out of the training at certain level of proficiency.

Challenges to Training Design When Organizational Training Goal Changes

This is not without challenges. The challenges is designing and envisioning training differently if we want to achieve proficiency as goal of organizational training efforts.

# 1 Challenge:

According to Dreyfus’s model, a proficient performer has experience making situational discriminations that enables recognition of problems and best approaches for solving the problems. Building proficient learners through training calls for exposing them to several real-life situations and build their intuitive skills during training event. How do we do this in training course? Well, there are certain ways like scenario based and case based training techniques that can help, but overall training approach demands much higher level design.

#2 Challenge:

Further, there is an experience component associated with proficiency as seen in definition by Dreyfus (1986) which states that proficient person “Uses intuition based on enough past experience”. This experience can be accumulated only while a professional is on-the- job or alternatively the training approach is designed in such a way that practice component is built into the curriculum to develop experience until desired proficiency is achieved. How to build OJT into the training event? There are some new evidences in research on how to do this. I would share some of those in my subsequent posts.

#3 Challenge:

Also the concept of proficiency indicates that proficient person should be able to reproduce results in different situations and different environment. This is very crucial in today’s environment where problems are becoming complex and every now and then it may be altogether new problem. From that angle it is imperative to position the training to deliver the proficient learners.

Therefore, although long term goal of the organizations is to develop superior expertise, but a feasible goal for the training is to achieving minimum level of “proficient”.

Stay tuned for practical training tips and techniques to accelerate time-to-proficiency of employees in complex world.


Ericsson, K. A. & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance – Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist 49, 8, 725-747.
Eraut, M. (1994). Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence. London: Routledge Falmer
Dreyfus, H. L. and Dreyfus, S. E. (1986). Why skills cannot be represented by Rules. In. Sharley, Elis, Hardwood, and Chichester, Advances in cognitive science. pp.315-335.
Khan, K., & Ramachandran, S. (2012). Conceptual framework for performance  assessment: Competency, competence and performance in the context of assessments in healthcare – Deciphering the terminology, Medical Teacher, 1 (9) Early Online, DOI: 10.3109/0142159X.2012.722707
Learning Paths (2013) How to Get Employees Up-to-Speed in Record Time. Learning Path International Canada: Tesolin, A. Available at: http://www.hr.com/en?t=/network/event/attachment.supply&s=17eX3NGoqKsYQOXQ&fileID=1357667759267.

About Raman K. Attri

Raman K. Attri is a complex learning strategist, a transformational training consultant and a researcher with over 20 years of experience in engineering, management and technical training. His primary area of focus is to provide strategic directions to organizations in implementing next-generation competitive training strategies. His research interests include complex learning, accelerated expertise and advanced instructional design. He is also the founder of Personal Resonance©, a research forum with a charter to transform proven research studies on accelerated expertise into organizational training practices. His training and learning solutions are strongly founded in system engineering techniques applied to large-scale training programs. Equipped with scientific training methods, he innovated two research-backed complex learning frameworks namely SEAT© (Systems Engineering Approach to Training) and ProBT© (Proficiency Based Training) methodology primarily meant for organizations to accelerate development of complex cognitive skills of their employees systematically at faster rate. He is highly passionate about learning. He holds Professional Doctorate in Corporate Training, MBA in Operations Management and Executive MBA in Customer Relationship Management. Currently he is pursuing another Doctorate degree from Southern Cross University. His personal interests involve writing and painting.
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