Is Training the Original Renaissance Profession?
Thursday, January 19, 2017

The term "Renaissance Man" was first recorded in the early 20th century and is now used to refer to great thinkers living before, during, or after the Renaissance. During the Renaissance period (from the 14th to the 17th century) the “Renaissance Man” typically had a universal education in science, theology, and philosophy. In addition this individual spoke several languages, he perhaps played a musical instrument, dabbled in painting or design, and wrote poetry.

Leonardo da Vinci is often described as the archetype of the Renaissance man. He is best known as an artist, but da Vinci’s works were informed by his scientific investigation. He studied physiology and anatomy in order to create accurate images of people. What’s more, he had an unquenchable curiosity and an inspired imagination.

Today, when someone is called a "Renaissance Man," it means that they have expertise and profound knowledge in several unrelated fields. Sometimes it describes someone with many interests or talents, such as a professional athlete who also dances or an engineer who likes to cook and write poetry.


This is the very reason I believe that training is a “Renaissance Profession.” We need to have considerable knowledge beyond the skills of our trade. You can begin by looking at the broad categories on the ATD Competency Model and expand beyond. As trainers we need to: 

  • Have profound knowledge within our field: assessing, designing, delivering, and evaluating learning and development experiences. 
  • Develop insight into our organizations and the industries they represent, as well as acquire the business skills required to support our organizations’ leaders. 
  • Expand our foundational competencies from the ATD Competency Model: interpersonal skills, learning technologies, and ensure a global mindset. 
  • Build expertise in areas beyond the basics including change management, coaching, team building, performance improvement, and talent management. 
  • Acquire extensive knowledge about the content required of our learners and compliance issues for their industry.

Compounding the challenges of this long list of expertise is the rapid pace at which the profession is changing. The profession expands every day: mobile, blended, and social learning; artificial intelligence and robotics; on-demand learning and wearables; collaborative, virtual, and on-the-job learning; MOOCs and SPOCs; micro and video learning; apprenticeships; and other new concepts. There is no shortage of new tools, methods, and skills for us to hone, and they come from a wide variety of disciplines.
How often do you consider the vast number of skills in which you need to be proficient? Personally, I sometimes get exhausted just thinking about everything I need to know to ensure learners are developing what they need to know, when they need to know it. From needs assessment to evaluation, this is no cookie cutter job. Every day is different. Every design is different, every delivery is different, and every learner is different. We are so lucky to have these differences, though, because they challenge us to grow and develop ourselves—much like a “Renaissance Man”—in many directions!

Indeed, training is the ultimate “Renaissance Profession.” We need knowledge and skills in a broad array of topics because we touch everyone at every age, in every occupation, in all walks of life, throughout the world. It is an honor to be in the field of training to open doors to additional opportunities, open eyes to innovative ideas, and open minds to fresh concepts. Training can resolve problems, prepare the unqualified, guide those who need direction, and give hope to those who are desperate. Training encourages, excites, enables, enriches, enlightens, and empowers.

Being a trainer is the ultimate job if you want to make a difference in the world. To be successful, we need expertise, experience, and profound knowledge in many unrelated disciplines. And that means that we must never stop learning ourselves. How exciting! Certainly, if there is a “Renaissance Profession,” those of us in the talent development field live it every day. The Art and Science of Training digs into what is required to be successful in our “Renaissance Profession.”

About the Author
Elaine Biech, president of ebb associates inc, a strategic implementation, leadership development, and experiential learning consulting firm, has been in the field for thirty years helping organizations work through large-scale change. She has presented at dozens of national and international conferences and has been featured in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Management Update, Investors Business Daily, and Fortune Magazine. She is the author and editor of over 50 books including the ASTD Hand Book for Workplace Learning Professionals, ASTD Leadership Handbook, 10 Steps to Successful Training, The Ultimate Trainer, Thriving Through Change, The Business of Consulting, 2nd ed., and Training for Dummies. A long time volunteer for ASTD, she has served on ASTD's National Board of Directors, was the recipient of the 1992 ASTD Torch Award, the 2004 ASTD Volunteer Staff Partnership Award, and the 2006 Gordon Bliss Memorial Award. Elaine was instrumental in compiling the CPLP study guides and has designed five ASTD Certificate Programs. In addition to her work with ASTD, she has served on the Independent Consultants Association's (ICA) Advisory Committee and on the Instructional Systems Association (ISA) board of directors.
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