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APTD Prep for Accidental Trainers


Thu Feb 04 2021

APTD Prep for Accidental Trainers

My first job out of college involved decapitating harvested salmon for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. My bachelor’s degree is not remotely related to talent development, and I’m sorry to report that my minor in soil science has not contributed much value to my career thus far. As a 25-year-old woman who became an e-learning department of one with no formal training in instructional design, I am all too familiar with the feeling of imposter syndrome.

Why Become Certified?

When I turned to the Association for Talent Development (ATD) for guidance on developing the skills I would need to create effective online training, I ended up finding much more than I was looking for. I found a community of people as dedicated to learning and growth as I am, tools that helped me to create content I’m legitimately proud of, and a sense of accomplishment that I did not think possible as someone with no prior experience in talent development.


To all the accidental trainers like myself who are looking to add legitimacy to their roles, expand their skillsets, or simply quiet the voices in their heads telling them that they don’t belong in this industry, the APTD certification process is a great place to start.

Process and Resources

I applied for the APTD exam on April 9, 2020, and scheduled my exam for July 8. I found three months to be more than enough time to adequately prepare because I was able to focus my attention on the right resources. These are the resources I used and found to be most helpful while studying for the exam:

Talent Development Body of Knowledge (TDBoK): This book provided a solid foundation of the terms and models I needed to know, which I created flashcards for. I purchased the online version because it allowed me to search specific terms, highlight information, and create digital flashcards. This is not, however, the only resource I relied on to study. The TDBoK focuses heavily on foundational knowledge, while the APTD exam questions are more application-based.

APTD Detailed Content Outline: This outline gave me a sense of what topics would be most heavily emphasized on the exam and guided my way as I worked through the TDBoK.

Industry Books: After reading quite a few books on instructional design and talent development, I found these two to be the most relevant to the exam and my learning needs:

  • The Art and Science of Training by Elaine Biech provides practical solutions for common obstacles we encounter as trainers. I still find myself referencing this book again and again at work.

  • Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen is the most visually engaging and practical book I have read in a long time. The book includes pictures, diagrams, and examples of real-life applications of the tools and best practices covered. Most importantly, the methods presented actually work.

ATD Webinars: ATD has an extensive library of free webinars on myriad topics. Whenever I found myself looking for more information on a particular area of focus, there was almost certainly be a webinar or 10 to further explain the concepts. I was also able to attend some of the webinars live.

TD Magazine: Another great free resource for ATD members, I found it helpful to read articles published by other professionals in the field and expose myself to industry best practices as much as possible.

ATD TechKnowledge Conference (or any ATD conference): I was fortunate to attend the ATD TechKnowledge Conference in February 2020, right before COVID-19 lockdowns began. Although I felt out of my depth at the time, meeting so many passionate and driven professionals fueled my desire to immerse myself in the talent development world. I highly recommend connecting with other ATD members in any way you can, be that through virtual summits, LinkedIn, study groups, or so on.

Beyond a Certification

Beginning your journey into the talent development world can be daunting for those of us who have no formal training in the industry. Fortunately, I have found the ATD community to be extremely welcoming and supportive as I worked toward passing the APTD exam. Despite the self-doubt and challenges, I can confirm that the journey was completely worth it to see Congratulations on my APTD exam score sheet. I look forward to experiencing that same feeling of accomplishment when I take the CPTD exam later this year, and I hope to meet some new accidental trainers along the way.

To hear more from Sarah and others about preparing for the new APTD exam, register for our upcoming webcast here: https://webcasts.td.org/webinar/4032.


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