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Let's Take Better Aim: Part 1

Use Competency-Based Training

by Bob Kane - The Leader - For Volunteers - February 1996

Did you ever go duck hunting or watch people hunt ducks? The birds fly over (generally in small groups) and the hunter fires away with round after round of shot. In the end he may only get one or two birds -- 400 grams of meat.

In contrast, the deer hunter armed with a bow and arrow carefully stalks the prey. Getting as close as possible, he fires a single, well thought out and well-placed arrow.

For half a kilogram of meat the duck hunter burns a lot of powder and fires numerous pellets through the air that hit nothing; they just fall to the ground wasted. For fifty kilograms of meat, the deer hunter sends a shaft with a precision point speeding through the air propelled by sheer muscle power. He recovers the arrow and uses it again.

The duck hunter concentrates on the group of ducks, while the bow-hunter focuses on a specific and vital spot.

Don't Blast 'Em

Training ventures sometimes resemble hunting with a shotgun. Myriads of infobits are blasted into the air in the hope that some ofthem will hit the participant effectively.

Experienced trainers, like practised bow hunters, focus on the specific and expend the least amount of resources to accomplish their goals.

"Focusing training" is the act of designing learning programs that help course participants gain better specific knowledge, skills and attitudes required to perform their job.

Competency-based training design (CBTD) is one of the tools trainers use to focus instruction on those things the learner NEEDS to know and do to get the job done, and to get it done well. Competency-based training design focuses on the NEED TO KNOW rather than the "nice to know."

Trainers naturally tend to design their training courses to:

All of these reasons are legitimate, but the important element missing is that none specifically involve the needs of the organization or the individual learner.

Competency-based design helps identify the real training needs, i.e. the difference between what your organization requires the person to accomplish, and what the person is currently competent to do.

Ten Steps to Better Training

The competency-based training design presented here consists of ten steps. It's and amalgamation of over half a dozen CBTD processes used in North American and European industrial and educational applications.

  1. State Job Performance Outcomes
    In specific terms state what a job incumbent is expected to accomplish.
  2. Identify Component Tasks
    Break the job down into its separate tasks.
  3. Set Performance Standards
    In specific, concrete and measurable terms, state how well each task need to be performed, and under what conditions it's expected to be performed.
  4. Create a Task Index
    Determine what specific knowledge, skills and attitudes are required to perform each task to your standard.
  5. Determine Individual Learner Competency
    Find a way to measure a person's competency for performing each task. It's preferable to administer competency testing prior to implementing a learning program; this will give adequate planning time for trainers. Where this is not possible, administer the testing at the very outset of your training program. (This means that trainers must be highly adaptive and flexible.)
  6. State Individual Learning Needs
    Cite the differences between the performance standards and the individual's competency.
  7. Set Learning Objectives
    List all the learning needs of your training candidate; state them in clear, specific and measurable terms.
  8. Design the Learning Program
    Design/select learning activities that focus on helping each individual perform tasks at, or above, your established performance standards. Implement the learning program.
  9. Validate Learning
    Retest individual competency in each task. (In the event the performance standards have not been attained, use the data gained and go back to step seven.)
  10. Evaluate the Learning Program
    Conduct an overall review of the entire process including input from the trainees to determine the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of the program.
The most important aspect of any training program involves making sure that the learning that was supposed to happen, did in fact occur. But, almost as important, watch the whole learning climate: methods, atmosphere, interpersonal relations, physical setting, and support services. In one way or another, all of these impact on the learning process. We may be able to alter or improve some. Look at the overall climate when considering future, or follow-on, training endeavours.

Effective training takes time and energy. Don't cut corners unless you're willing to accept an inferior product.

Past Mistakes

Back at the tail end of the 1960's and right through to the late 1980's the training field focused on various techniques. It also concentrated heavy attention on the trainers. A picture of the 'perfect' instructor took shape. The final "visage complete" was a marvel! Only one small snag marred the beautiful picture: few (if any) could match the expectations. The ideal trainer was just a shade less than a demigod.

All over the western world trainers began to doubt their competency; they started attending every training seminar or workship they could find. Unfortunately, each one tended to confirm their unworthiness.

Finally someone said, "Whoa! This is silly! At this rate no one will be considered competent to train. Let's take another look at this!"

Soon everyone realized that this destructive navel-gazing actually took attention away from the real purpose of training, which involved learning, developing skills and becoming competent.

Keep Focused

People attend training sessions to learn things they need to know. This helps them either do their job better or to contribute positively to their own life (or that of others).

Focus your sessions not on training people, but on giving them the tools they need -- the learning.

At one time "training" referred almost exclusively to developing hand skills, e.g. using tools and machines. After World War II people started using the word to mean just about every form of learning.

Training is a process where people learn and increase their skills to perform work of some kind, whether mental, spiritual or physical. But the GOAL is always increased COMPETENCY!

Scouting's youth members need adults who are competent in helping them learn how to develop their potential.

If you want to increase the competency of volunteers and staff through training sessions, then make sure they learn what they need. This doesn't mean you should ignore various learning methods; appropriate ones are vitally important. Here are some basic principles for adult learning.

  1. Use and build on the learner's experience.
  2. Learning content is directly relevant to the purpose. Focus on the 'need' to know.
  3. Focus methods on "learn by doing" and individual competence, rather than group competence (unless there is team learning or group work).
  4. Learning is each trainee's responsibility.
  5. Trainees learn at their own speed and in their own style.
Instructors need to ask themselves more often why they are holding the session. What will the participant be able to do at the end of the session? How does the learning contribute to Scouting's Mission? Then, like the bow hunter who takes careful aim, their work will bear fruit.

-- Bob Kane (also known as "Red Bear") is a former member of the Volunteer Services Committee. He lives in New Brunswick.

Reproduced with permission of the Leader magazine and the author.

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