The corporate training industry is constantly evolving to accommodate everchanging technologies and trainer needs. Our industry is dedicated to helping individuals meet their organizational goals through adult-learning techniques. Analyzing the history of the training industry can help us better understand how we have improved it, and how it may evolve in the future.

With that in mind, below is our brief history of the corporate training industry.

Early Days

Believe it or not, the training industry has been around for as long as there has been work to do. In fact, according to a LinkedIn blog post by Claire-Emilie Lecoq, observational learning - training in its most basic form – can be traced back to prehistoric times to teach others to do various survival tasks such as hunting, fishing, or lighting a fire.

However, a more systematic approach to workplace training can be traced back to 1872 thanks to R. Hoe and Company, a printing press manufacturer based in New York and London. They – perhaps without even realizing it – were the pioneers of workplace training by being the first to open a factory school that provided in-person, onsite training to the machinists working there in an effort to increase efficiency. Although the way we train now looks different from how this school was ran, R. Hoe and Company’s factory would go on to influence countless other companies to follow suit in establishing structured workplace training.

In 1887, The National Cash Register (NCR) company printed the world’s first sales manual, a 450-word document based on previous successful sales presentations. Formal sales training classes inspired by this book would later be established. NCR would go on to set an example for excellence in providing optimal working conditions.

Early 1900s

In light of the First World War, a large volume of workers needed to be trained to build ships at a rapid rate. To implement this, vocational Instructor Charles R. Allen developed and ran a training program that breaks tasks down into four steps – show, tell, do, and check, now considered an early breakthrough in the corporate training industry. The concept, also known as preparation, presentation, application, and testing has been covered in his book, The Instructor, the Man, and the Job, published in 1919.

The need for effective workplace training continued on to the Second World War. The Training Within Service Industry (TWI), organized by the US government, expanded on Allen’s training process to provide training to those taking over the service industry while many skilled workers joined the military.  The TWI was extremely successful in the training industry, and the models developed by them were implemented in over 16,000 organizations.

Late 1900s

The invention of the computer brought on a modernization of the training industry that would continue to evolve for years to come. The Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO), is a computer-based teaching system that was invented by Donald L. Blitzer from the University of Illinois in the early 1960s. By the late 1970s, it was used prominently by trainers. PLATO ran for forty years and was extremely influential to the eLearning software that trainers use today. Many even say that PLATO predicted the prevalence of social media, as it created a successful online community.

As the training industry changed, the models associated with it evolved as well. The ADDIE is a process invented by Center for Educational Technology at Florida State University, originally designed for the US Army. It stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. It has been highly referenced in the development of countless modern courses. To accommodate this change in context, the ADDIE Model evolved into a more flexible system used to ensure successful eLearning training programs. While the ADDIE model was originally invented the 1975, this modernization took place in 1984.

While computers were available before the 80s, they became much more common in the emergence of the digital revolution in the late 80s and early 90s. The use of computers in schools grew largely and rapidly. To put this into context, Only 8.2% of American households had computers in 1984 and only increased to 15% by the end of the decade. However, by 1988, 97% of schools had at least one computer.

While the computers used at this time were certainly revolutionary, users wanted to be able to develop their own online training programs without knowing how to code. This led to the invention of the authoring tool. Authoring tools are software that allows you to create eLearning material. The development of Hypercard and Authorware in 1987 allowed trainers to intuitively create eLearning courses in a more user-friendly way.

By the 90s, Computer-based corporate training continued to gain momentum. Instead of sending trainers to offices, CDs were sent instead to reduce costs while still providing training, and more advanced authoring tools were becoming available. Beyond this, senior leaders in corporations were beginning to truly realize the value of high-quality corporate training, and the correlation between this training and the success of their organization as a whole. This growth quickly caused the industry to face some unique challenges. The use of CDs quickly declined as it lacked engagement. Furthermore, there had been no standard practices established for all of these new authoring tools. Fortunately, this led to the invention of the shareable content, object reference model (SCORM). It serves as a standardized way for eLearning courses to be developed and delivered to ensure consistency and is still used to this day. The success and prevalence of authoring tools continued and brought-on the term eLearning. eLearning is an umbrella term that means providing training and instruction through an electronic format. This can be through a variety of different types of devices such as computers, tablets, and mobile devices. Any device with an internet connection can provide eLearning. By 1997, eLearning became more accessible than ever through more accessibility of digital devices.

Early 2000s

Even with all these technological advances, in-person, instructor-led training was still the most common form of training. However, by the early 2000s, technology was gaining more and more momentum. Social media influences a more informal style of learning to have community building within training, and the continued popularity and advancement of smart phones made mLearning - The delivery of training on mobile devices, such as smart phones or tablets - more prominent than ever. This allowed for training and support to be taken anywhere, making it flexible and convenient for companies to use.

In 2006, the use of digital learning was at an all time high, and trainers were starting to realize how beneficial combining this with in-person training is for a complementary learning experience. This was established in 2006 with the publishing of “The Handbook of Blended Learning” by Charles Graham and Curtis Bonk, who defined blended learning systems that trainers would reference for years to come. Blended learning is training that combines traditional face-to-face instruction and electronic learning. Both eLearning and in-person instructor-led training have many benefits, but can be better suited to different learners.


From the early 2000s to the 2010s, things remained fairly consistent for the training industry. However, by 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic meant trainers had to reevaluate their participants needs. eLearning and the use of Learning Management Systems were now more than a convenient option – they were a necessity for trainers to continue to educate their participants and work towards their organizational goals.

Virtual Instructor-Led Training (vILT) was the number one option to continue to train employees while people worked remotely. vILT proved to have various benefits that went even beyond the safety and wellbeing of both trainers and trainees. By using the many tools available through online training, trainers were still able to provide effective workshops with high levels of engagement and participation. Beyond vILT, eLearning was used to provide efficient, high quality training for remote participants or for refresher of previously learned content. The experience trainers gained in providing online training with good retention provided them with skills that they can take with them for years to come.   

Trainers had to completely rethink how they delivered their material, and trainees had to adapt to learning in ways they may not have been used to before. Corporate learning has been shifted from in person in the boardroom, to our home offices on our computers via Zoom or Windows Teams.


Is there anything we can learn from the history of the training industry? The number one thing is that the training industry is highly impacted by external circumstances. Whether it is the war, the digital revolution, or a global pandemic, the training industry has to be flexible, and has proven its resilience and importance time and time again. The best thing we can do to anticipate the future of the training industry is to be prepared to continue to adapt to the changes that impact it.

Did we miss any prevalent points in the history of the training industry? Let us know in the comments below!

Posted by Katelyn Roy on

  • Tags: accessible training, business coach training, business skills training, business training, communcation as a trainer, corporate training, delivering training, eLearning, employee training, in-person training, Instructor-led training, Learning Management System, LMS, Sales Training, SCORM, Shareable Content Object Reference Model, soft skills, Successful Training, trainer, training, Training Materials, workplace training

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    • This is the systematical development to a new innovative skills in all sectors of our daily living, happening in the changes of the aparetors and systems within our work places, schools ,homes,etc, from a period to another since the year 1872-2021

      Flets on
    • Excellent article ! Keep it up !
      A real insight into the history and origins of Corporate Training

      Winston Singh on

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