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Is the concept of the training cycle a help or a hindrance?


In this feature article, Nigel Wood, Business Psychologist at PMSL searches for the origins of what we call the training cycle, and looks at the advantages and disadvantages of using it as a formal process to plan workplace development.

Getting rolling

What is the training cycle? I couldn’t remember who first coined the term and so, before embarking on writing anything, I thought I should double-check. My assumption was that my memory was failing me.

After a trawl through our library, asking around and searching the Internet it became apparent that, though everyone seems to use the term, few claim to know where it originates from. Apparently, Frances and Roland Bee developed the "Training Wheel" as an organisational approach to training management – but I had never heard of them. (No offence to them, they sound like very knowledgeable and experienced people, I just haven’t come across their names before). “Is it me?” (and my inability to remember names) I begin to wonder. Or is it that the concept of the training cycle is one of those things, like an urban myth, that has evolved and developed from one reproduction of its mantra to another?

Though there are many out there who spend a lot of time and effort effectively evaluating their training interventions, there are many more still (come on now, own up) who do not. If that is the case, what do we use the training cycle for? Is it for bashing ourselves over the heads with for being naughty T&D professionals and not doing our evaluations?

Given that, within 15 minutes, I found four different interpretations of what a training cycle looks like, are we all even talking about the same thing? And what purpose are we hoping it serves?

On yer training cycle

Well, as the Bees would suggest, a training wheel/cycle can be used to manage the training process (What are our training needs? What shall we do to meet them? What are we doing to meet them? Has what we have done been successful and why?). It can also be used to improve the training – or more specifically – make the learning more effective. Or, it can even act as a framework for a personal development plan. These are probably the most common applications though I am sure there are more.

So it seems, like many useful tools, the training cycle can have a number of uses. Maybe it doesn’t matter if we’re not ‘singing from the same song sheet’. I guess as long as we’re all pedalling in generally the same direction that’s fine.


The training cycle may be a hindrance though, when we become too focussed on the process rather than the experience of learning. In theory the training cycle will aid learning (but remember that training is not the same as learning) by perhaps helping to ensure that the training is the best it can be. But - implicit even in the model’s title – there is the assumption that training is the be-all-and-end-all.

What about workplace learning? Encouraging employees to take responsibility for their own development? Mentoring? The training cycle is peddled by the business remember, not the people, and therefore will not always generate the best form of learning.

For example, becoming too focussed on the training cycle might result in:

  • Losing sight of options other than training
  • Forgetting that the outcome should be better equipped people (not just a more efficient process)
  • The false assumption that because you go round the cycle it means that you have a process that works – it’s only going to be as good as the action you take at each stage
  • And, like customising our Raleigh Racers as kids, we customise our training cycles (we might all analyse training needs but do we do it in the same way?). And it’s this time & effort that makes for a finished product. It really is a great way of organising a plethora of learning theories, analysis methods and business tools into one coherent process – but, it’s a process like any other and perhaps we shouldn’t get bogged down in it.


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