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Ntl Institute for Applied Behavioral Science

The NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science originated in the 1940s as an experiment in group relations called the National Training Laboratory. Directed toward the adult learner, NTL, which is a not-for-profit membership corporation, designs and delivers programs to reeducate adults to help them become better leaders at the group and systems level and to become sensitive to interpersonal dynamics.

NTL's original mission was to train and develop change agents, as they came to be called. NTL's T-Group methodology, along with other innovations–such as experiential learning ("learning by doing"), sensitivity training, and the feedback method–have influenced social institutions, industry, and organizations of every variety worldwide. The NTL Institute also developed methods and programs to link teacher training and classroom teaching.

Four scholars are directly associated with NTL's beginnings. Kurt Lewin, considered by many as the father of NTL, began a project in 1946 in which forty-one community leaders examined interracial and intergroup conflict in their home settings–and learned skills to deal with those conflicts. This workshop led to the discovery of the T-Group and eventually to the founding of NTL; however, Lewin died before the first workshop was held in Bethel, Maine, in 1947. Other founders were educational psychologist Leland P. Bradford, who was director of the Division of Adult Service of the NEA before cofounding NTL; Kenneth Benne, who had an interest in teaching techniques as a faculty member in the College of Education at the University of Iowa; and Ronald Lippitt, who is recognized for his early work in group leadership and analyzing group processes and who became a research assistant to Kurt Lewin at Iowa.

Lewin's research and work played a key role in NTL's reeducation of the adult learner, a process where people alter, replace, or transcend their usual patterns of thinking. It is a process more complex than learning anew. Lewin's field theory, "human behavior is the function of both the person and the environment, expressed in symbolic terms, B=f (P, E)" led to development of actual field research on human behavior and was incorporated into all NTL training.

NTL developed and perfected the Work Conference model during the 1940s and 1950s. This model continues to influence conference and meeting design. NTL helped transform the field of applied behavioral science and made seminal contributions to the field of organizational development, including The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, which was founded in 1965 to advance the field of applied behavioral science and to foster NTL's core values.

From NTL's most widely recognized innovation, the T-Group method–the basic method of laboratory learning about self, groups, and interpersonal relations–emerged the concept of sensitivity training, which psychologist Carl Rogers, who revolutionized the course of therapy, regarded as "perhaps the most significant social invention of the century … it is one of the most rapidly growing social phenomena in the United States. It has permeated industry and education and is reaching families and professionals in the helping fields and many others." Sensitivity training is a technique that uses intense small-group discussion and interaction to increase individual awareness of self and others.

Besides NTL's wide array of training and education programs in personal and professional development, NTL offers certificate programs in advanced technology for senior organization-development practitioners; change management and diversity leadership; experience-based learning and training; and organization development. In addition, through partnerships with American University and Cleveland State University, NTL provides a graduate program that culminates in a master's degree in organization development or diversity management. NTL works internationally as well, offering programs and training in Asia and other areas.

NTL straddles many contradictions. It began as an organization of academics who wanted to extend their praxis beyond the academy and who were intrigued with the possibility of bridging the divide between social science and social action. Thus, NTL occupied a unique place between the behavioral and social sciences. Through NTL, researchers, scholars, educators, and activists are brought together to solve social problems, to create programs of human change, and to integrate action, education, and research.

NTL has grown since its inception and, like other educational entities, is reexamining its market to discover the provocative possibilities of human interaction across time and space; to answer the questions raised by the dynamics of human interaction in an electronic environment; to continue to meet the challenge of unraveling the possibility of work-life balance; to manage rapid change, rather than react to it; and to continue a focus on managing and valuing diversity and various societal problems, while at the same time strengthening the design and delivery of its training to meet a changing environment.


BRADFORD, LELAND P. 1974. National Training Laboratories: Its History: 1947–1970. Bethel, ME: Leland Bradford.

HIRSCH, JERROLD I. 1987. The History of the National Training Laboratories 1947–1986. New York: Peter Lang.



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