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Business & Economics

Designing Training to Shorten Time to Proficiency: Online, Classroom and On-The-Job Learning Strategies from Research

By Raman K. Attri


This book deals with solving a pressing organizational challenge of bringing employees up to speed faster. In the fast-paced business world, organizations need faster readiness of employees to handle the complex responsibilities of their jobs. The author conducted an extensive doctoral research study with 85 global experts across 66 project cases to explore the practices and strategies that were proven to reduce time to proficiency of employees in a range of organizations worldwide. This book provides the readers with a first-hand account of findings exclusively related to training and learning strategies, instructional methods, and curriculum design. This book delivers over 21 training and learning strategies across online learning, classroom instructions, and on-the-job learning. These strategies will allow training designers and learning specialists to design workplace training programs that hold the potential to shorten time to proficiency of employees. The book not only describes findings of the study and theoretical underpinnings, but it also provides practical guidance for implementation to equip corporate learning specialists, HR professionals, training leaders, performance consultants, and direct managers.


This book is based on the findings of an intensive 5-years long study conducted by the author as part of the doctoral program between the year 2014 to 2018. The research study addressed a much larger question on business practices and strategies to accelerate time to proficiency in organizational settings (Attri 2018). The study is referred to as “the TTP study” (time to proficiency study) henceforth.

1.1            The Research Study

Research background

Past research studies on workplace training and learning suggested that there was a range of training and learning strategies to enhance training outcomes and make learning more effective, including enhancing training transfer to the workplace. Some of those research studies also provide strategies to accelerate skill acquisition. However, there is a very limited amount of research efforts to develop a holistic framework to guide the design and delivery of training at the workplace with a goal to reduce time to proficiency in business organizations. The fair but pressing question that emerges is: How can time to proficiency of the workforce be shortened? What are the strategies or practices that work? How should training and learning be structured to hasten the path to proficiency? This gap was the central area of focus of the research study titled “Modelling Accelerated Proficiency in Organisations: Practices and Strategies to Shorten Time-to-Proficiency of the Workforce” conducted by the author at Southern Cross Univerity (Attri 2018).

The TTP study addressed a critical challenge in modern organizations: the workforce generally takes a significant amount of time to reach full proficiency in several job roles, which in turn puts the market and financial pressures on organizations. This study aimed to explore practices and strategies that have successfully reduced time to proficiency of the workforce in large multinational organizations, and develop a model based on them.

This study takes forward the conceptualization of accelerated proficiency and accelerated expertise proposed in experimental research studies conducted by Hoffman (Hoffman et al. 2008, 2009, 2014; Hoffman, Andrews & Feltovich 2012; Hoffman & Andrews 2012; Hoffman, Andrews, et al. 2010; Hoffman, Feltovich, et al. 2010) and Fadde (Fadde & Klein 2010, 2012; Fadde 2007, 2009a, 2009b, 2009c, 2012, 2013, 2016) during the last decade in training and work settings. In their studies, they have identified several theoretical issues and gaps. In particular, gaps such as lack of a good understanding of the concept and process of accelerated proficiency the needs for accelerating proficiency and methods to accelerate the proficiency served to propose research questions in this research study toward accelerating proficiency in the organizational and workplace domain.

Research questions

The central research question of this study was: How can organizations accelerate time to proficiency of employees in the workplace? The TTP study addressed three aspects: the meaning of accelerated proficiency, as seen by business leaders; the business factors driving the need for a shorter time to proficiency and benefits accrued from it; and practices and strategies to shorten time to proficiency of the workforce.

1.2            Research Methodology


The business problem of accelerating proficiency is relatively new, and it needs to be understood in its natural settings. Additionally, mechanisms and strategies to accelerate proficiency of the workforce may vary from one organization to another and may even vary among different jobs within the same organization, making it a highly contextual complex phenomenon. It was important to know why some strategies worked in one context and not in others. Therefore, an exploratory qualitative research approach was used to understand ‘how things work in particular contexts’ (Mason 2002).

The principal research question was to explore the strategies in terms of “what works” and has been proven to work successfully concerning shortening time to proficiency.


The TTP study design involved purposive sampling and criteria-driven sampling because only a limited number of experts were expected to possess “know-how” in the area of accelerated proficiency. Professional databases (e.g., social media, ASTD, ISPI, LinkedIn and other conference references) were used to find the potential experts suiting the research goals. The most important criteria for the recruitment of the participants in this study was that participant must have specific experience in reducing time to proficiency of the workforce in organizations.

A systematic criterion was applied to validate the relevant experience of the potential participants. This included evidence of leading at least one project related to accelerated proficiency or time to proficiency, explicitly in written media (e.g., industry reports, interviews, company newsletters, conference presentations, webinars, books, journal or magazine article authorship, white papers, blog posts, etc.); recognitions earned (e.g., industry awards, nominations, etc.) or association/ affiliation with a society, forum, client, company or organization whose charter related to accelerated proficiency; employment or association with the organizations or companies known to have run projects specific to accelerated time to proficiency; self-acclaimed experience on a project or consulting achievement related to accelerated proficiency or time to proficiency in the media (e.g., a LinkedIn resume, internet profiles, academic CVs, responses to research questionnaires, personal communication, etc.).

Among the 371 potential participants identified using the above criteria, 85 project leaders and business leaders finally participated in the study. These participants consisted of global training experts and business professionals with proven project experience in shortening time to proficiency of employees, in various capacities such as project leader, project owner, project designer or project team member (henceforth collectively termed as ‘project leaders’). The participants hailed from 7 different countries, with 77% of the participants from the USA. The participants belonged to 24 different industries, with the majority of the participants being CEOs, consultants, or an equivalent. The mean number of years of experience was more than 20 years, and the majority of the participants had more than 11 years of experience. Most of the project leaders were highly educated, with 35% holding doctoral degrees and 39% holding master’s degrees. The distribution profile of the participants is shown in table 1.

Sampling unit

The “what works” philosophy also guided this research study to use bounded project cases as a sampling unit. Bounded project case is a case (i.e., a success story of a phenomenon in a bounded context) which has a defined start and end (i.e., a project), and it is bounded (i.e., its boundaries are defined in terms of scope) (Merriam & Tisdell 2016; Miles, Huberman & Saldana 2014; Turner & Müller 2003). The goal of the data collection was to gather and understand successful project cases (what worked). This would provide insights into the need for shortening time to proficiency. It would also reveal strategies employed by business leaders in achieving it, as well as indicate results attained out of deploying such strategies. This sampling unit specified a constraint that the participant must be a project leader, project owner, project designer or some senior project team member who had the rich and first-hand details of all aspects of the project.

A total of 66 successful project cases, along with 50 associated project case documents were collected. The collected project cases were categorized in four broad categories of contextual variables (1) Sectors: Economic, business or industry; (2) Nature of the job role; (3) Critical-to-success (CTS) skills: primary skills for the job; and (4) Complexity levels: the complexity of the skill or the job role or both. These project cases spanned across 10 economic sectors, 21 business sectors, and 30 industry groups, covering 15 different types of jobs, 16 different critical-to-success skills involved in those jobs and 5 levels of complexity, as shown in table 2.

Data collection and interviews

Each project leader that consented to participate in the study was asked to provide one project case in detail. Accordingly, interviews were structured around five core elements which essentially described a story in a project as follows: (1) business challenge or problem of time to proficiency to be solved; (2) description of the previous solution in place (if any) to reduce time to proficiency and previous results (business metrics); (3) issues or challenges with the previous solution and root cause of the problem; (4) description of the new solutions or strategies implemented to reduce time to proficiency; and (5) the results in terms of reduction in time to proficiency (quantitative, qualitative or anecdotal results).

Three types of interviews were incorporated into the research design, in order to collect data from the project leaders: (1) in-depth qualitative interviews; (2) questionnaire interviews; and (3) e-mail interviews. The primary method used for data collection was in-depth interviews, to understand this new phenomenon in rich detail. These interviews, structured around bounded project case descriptions, allowed consistent data, and hence added to the data quality and completeness. Furthermore, this approach allowed easy cross-case analysis by comparing the bounded projects cases across several variables in order to understand commonality, differences, transferability and generalizability (Bower et al. 2015; Miles, Huberman & Saldana 2014; Stake 2006; Vohra 2014; Yin 2014).

Data analysis

The data analysis used two rigorous methodologies in juxtaposition - thematic analysis techniques specified by Boyatzis (1998) and Braun & Clarke (2006, 2013), and matrix analysis approach specified by Miles & Huberman (1994) and Miles, Huberman & Saldana (2014).

Using thematic analysis techniques specified by Boyatzis (1998) and Braun & Clarke (2006, 2013), new themes and patterns were identified, and emergent data-driven coding was used to code these themes and patterns. The themes were analyzed for the association, relationship, and hierarchy among themes. The themes, sub-themes and overarching themes emerged during thematic analysis.

The themes were then arranged in the form of matrices using the matrix analysis framework specified by Miles, Huberman & Saldana (2014). Each matrix was basically a table of columns and rows to arrange the data for easy viewing in one place. The matrix analysis approach arranges themes and data of bounded project cases in the form of a matrix to understand the dynamics of the project cases within itself and then across the project cases by stacking rows of data from other project cases.

These matrices were used to compare the themes across the several variables in all the project cases (Stake 2006; Yin 2014). Project cases were compared for similarity, patterns, and contrast; and the relation-ship of those patterns across different contextual variables such as business sectors, industry groups, nature of jobs, nature of skills involved and complexity ratings was determined.

First, the within-case analysis was performed, in which one row of a given project case was read all the way across to all the columns. This enabled a thorough understanding of the dynamics of a project case, based on various characteristics, variables, and contexts, as well as understanding the full start-to-end project success story. The full picture included a snapshot of business challenges; inefficiencies of previous models; factors and determinants; philosophical stands;  proficiency measures; inputs; processes, methods, techniques, and practices used in each of the projects; and the project results. This analysis of projects was first focused on one project in its entirety. Then the researcher moved on to next project case that revealed certain new insights with which he went back and reviewed the previously analyzed case or cases to redefine, or redraft, or change something in the light of new learning.

Then, the cross-case analysis was conducted for project cases collected across different contexts such as different organizations, industries, business environment, job types, complexity levels, and countries. Comparison of themes among different contexts was made. In the cross-case analysis, each variable or each theme was picked one-at-a-time and then read vertically along that column through all the project cases. Variations of key themes from one project case to another were noted. The themes were validated by a constant comparison of themes with each other across all the project cases. Some themes were refined or collapsed or expanded, while some were merged. Several display forms were constructed before reaching a useful view, which enabled the drawing of meaningful conclusions.

Then the projects were grouped by contextual variables such as the economic sector, business sector, generic job role, nature of primary skill and complexity level. The sub-matrices were used to analyze the patterns of the themes across these contextual variables to see the association and relationships. This was an iterative process, going back-and-forth between data, codes, themes, concept maps, and matrices. This rigorous recursive processes of completing data reduction, creating data display and drawing conclusions led to the development of a conceptual model of accelerated proficiency based on six major practices, and twenty-four strategies which prevailed across all project cases.

Expert focus group validation

Ten project leaders were invited from different backgrounds and industries to participate in an expert focus group review. The purpose of this focus group of experts was to review the findings of the research study and conceptual model developed during data analysis and sought feedback on validity, transferability, and utilization of the findings. The experts were selected based on their demonstrated leadership, diversity of business sectors, and the probability of receiving responses.

The model and findings were presented to the focus group as a thirty-page document using one round of ‘feed-forward’ Delphi method to elicit inputs from these experts, by ‘presenting to respondents the information about emerging consensus derived from the prior interviews’ (Gordon 1994, p. 5). The experts were asked some specific questions and allowed to provide their comments. Their feedback was used to validate the model and findings, and the necessary refinement was done in the analysis.

Generalizability and transferability

Framework and techniques specified by Lincoln & Guba (1985) and Miles, Huberman & Saldana (2014) were used to ensure objectivity, dependability, and credibility of the study data, data analysis, and findings.

The sampling of 85 project leaders used in the study was much larger compared to any standards specified for a qualitative study. The project cases spanned across over 50 different organizational settings and were not contained in a specific industry or business.

Additionally, data triangulation was used by gathering in-depth interviews as well as evidence from documentation gathered from various sources like write-ups, case studies, presentations, blog posts, white papers, and magazine articles related to the project case under discussion. Further, multiple supplementary techniques were utilized. The techniques included matrix analysis, thematic analysis, concept maps, thematic maps, thematic networks, template analysis, within-case, and cross-case comparative analysis. All of these techniques collectively enhanced the data analysis and improved the representation of participants’ experience.

A prevalence analysis was conducted to test for generalizability and transferability. This analysis verified that each theme and each strategy included in the final model were indeed strongly prevalent across the majority of the project cases. This analysis was further strengthened by peer review from highly experienced professionals as well as a thorough review of findings with experts in the focus group.

As a result of the application of rigorous reliability and validation best practices, the findings of this study were found exhibiting a high level of generalizability, transferability, applicability, and fittingness across a broader range of contexts. Collectively, the model generated in this study was found to be generalizable across several contexts.

1.3            Research Outcomes

The research study revealed six overarching business practices employed by organizations to reduce time to proficiency. Organizations orchestrated these six business practices as an input-output-feedback system to reduce time to proficiency of the workforce. A conceptual model titled Accelerated Proficiency Model was developed representing interactions among six business-level practices/processes as a closed-loop system to explain the concept and process of accelerated proficiency in the workplace. These practices were implemented through a set of twenty-four strategies proven successful in various contexts. A two-level hierarchical framework titled 6/24 framework of strategies was also constructed in the form of a checklist consisting of six practices and twenty-four strategies for practitioners. Overall, the findings of this research study contribute significantly to the body of knowledge on accelerated proficiency.

As a preamble to the remaining book, it must be noted that the TTP study was focused primarily on overall business practices/ strategies and was not limited to a given academic discipline. The final model that evolved at the final stages was the overarching model spanning much beyond training and learning domains and includes strategies at management and job-level.

1.4            Training and Learning Strategies

While the overall investigation was conducted to explore business practices/strategies, the TTP study did lead to several early findings on training and learning strategies which were seen to help accelerate time to proficiency of the workforce. This section of the findings in the research study specifically answer the question: What and how training experts use specific training strategies (methods, techniques, mechanisms, systems, processes, instructional design, methodologies, interventions, etc.) in various contexts in leading organizations which have successfully reduced time to proficiency of employees in complex job skills?

The findings from this research question revealed approaches and strategies which were grounded in training and learning efforts. These strategies were then categorized into three categories based on the nature of training and learning strategies:

·        E-learning design strategies

·        Classroom instructor-led instructional strategies

·        Workplace learning strategies

At a high level, these strategies suggested what needs to happen from a training and learning design standpoint, if organizations strive to shorten time to proficiency of employees. These early results were presented in leading international conferences and published in the conference proceedings.

This book presents the important observations noticed from preliminary findings that focused on developing and accelerating employee learning, skills, and performance. Various aspects of employee development are discussed in this book which includes training and learning, skill acquisition, instructional methods, curriculum, and training design.

1.5            How the Book is Organized

Chapter 2 provides the foundational understanding of various definitions of terms like time to proficiency, time to competence, time to full productivity, speed to proficiency and relate it to the concept of acceleration. The chapter provides an introduction to the importance of shortening time to proficiency as a business need in organizations.

Chapter 3 described an overall analysis of the proficiency curve which leads to the identification of four different approaches to accelerating time to proficiency in the workplace. This chapter acts as a conceptual backbone to the remainder of the book by highlighting four phases of the training cycle.

Chapter 4 introduces the findings on the inefficiencies of traditional training models that hamper the acceleration of proficiency. This chapter describes four major inefficiencies in traditional training models and sets the stage for what needs to be avoided when designing training meant to accelerate proficiency.

Chapter 5 explain the five strategies for designing e-learning that can support faster initial readiness of employees, which goes a long way toward shortening time to proficiency.

Chapter 6 describes the strategies related to improving classroom or instructor-led training sessions which are an inseparable part of most organizational training endeavors. The chapter specifies five instructional strategies that can accelerate the proficiency of learners.

Chapter 7 details three unique strategies that emerged from the research study that specifies how learning designers can leverage the work assignments and activities to truly transform the training focused on shortening time to proficiency on the job.

Chapter 8 consolidate the strategies for online learning, classroom learning and workplace learning into a simple model for training design that holds the potential to create training that can contribute into shortening time to proficiency of the employees.

Chapter 9 concludes the book with a bigger picture that establishes that accelerating time to proficiency requires a total eco-system much beyond the training interventions. The chapter summarizes the underlying value of training, though it is a small part of the overall efforts and endeavors required to accelerate the proficiency of the workforce.

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About the author

Dr Raman K Attri specializes in providing the competitive and strategic value to the organizations by accelerating time-to-proficiency of employees through well-researched models. He holds a doctorate in business from Southern Cross University, Australia. view profile

Published on February 20, 2019

Published by Speed To Proficiency Research

40000 words

Genre: Business & economics

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