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Content Components for Advisor Training: Revisited

Authored by : Jeffrey L. McClellan

Perhaps the most important need in academic advising today is effective training. While it is likely some advising professionals and researchers would argue this point, referencing the need for increased accountability, the importance of student retention, the call for effective assessment and evaluation processes, and other similar issues, underlying all of these imperatives is the need to develop and support effective advising. Furthermore, it is evident that while exemplary practices exist for the development of advisors at many institutions, much remains to be accomplished in order to lift the level of advising effectiveness (Habley, 2000; King, 2000).
One critical aspect of developing such training programs and resources is a clear delineation of the necessary content components essential to effective advisor training and development. The most frequently referenced approach for doing so is that developed by Habley, wherein three specific components were outlined: the conceptual, informational, and relational (Habley, 1986). While these three components represent an excellent foundation for developing advisor training content, they lack sufficient breadth and clarity to address all of the training needs of academic advisors. Consequently, this article seeks to expand the model of content components for advising by introducing two additional components: the personal and technological.

Habley’s Framework
Habley (1987) outlined three major content components for effective advisor training: conceptual, informational, and relational. Regarding the need for all three components, Habley (1995) wrote that “without understanding (conceptual elements), there is no context for the delivery of services. Without information, there is no substance to advising. And, without personal skills (relational), the quality of the advisee/advisor relationship is left to chance” (p. 76). Thus, it is appropriately asserted that effective advisors should possess knowledge and skills in all three areas; these skills should ideally be obtained through formal training. In later NACADA publications, Higginson(2000)and Nutt (2003) further clarified the relevant elements of each of these components.

The Conceptual Component

Nutt (2003) defined the conceptual component as including “the concepts and theories that undergird academic advising” (p. 10). The purpose of such training in this area is to establish role clarity, develop a common understanding of advising, and nurture the emergence of a shared culture (Nutt, 2003; Waters, 2002). Furthermore, as Higginson (2000) wrote, “The advisor’s conceptual understanding of the student and of the institution’s advising environment serves as a crucial foundation for effective advising relationships” (p. 302).


The actual content of conceptual training, as Higginson explained, “are framed from two perspectives within the institution—the student and the role of advising” (p. 302). The first of these perspectives, that of the student, focuses on “topics [that] enable advisors to understand college students in general as well as their own institution’s student body” (p. 302). Consequently, the training related to this sub-component would include providing broad-level understanding of student development theories and processes, as well as an understanding of specific student needs and the best methods for satisfying those needs in relation to the institution.


The second perspective suggested by Higginson is that of the role of advising within the institution. This subcomponent involves content related to both a broad understanding of the theory and philosophy of advising as it applies generally, as well as specifically to the institution. As Higginson explained, “topical areas suggested for emphasis include consideration of the importance of academic advising for students and the institution, and a definition of academic advising, including clarification of advisor and advisee responsibilities and privileges” (p. 303). Additional topical areas might include items such as a discussion of the institutional mission and how advising relates to and supports the mission, the role of advising in higher education, an understanding of the institution’s advising model and structure, and other relevant contextual issues.


In the case of both of these perspectives, the content is informational in nature, and is primarily intended for the use of the advisor in relation to understanding the contextual environment wherein advising takes place, facilitating an understanding of student needs, and informing the practice of advising. Consequently, the training related to this component is likely to use traditional teaching methods that focus on knowledge sharing and acquisition, whether through passive or active teaching-learning techniques.


The Informational Component
The second component outlined by Habley, and expanded upon by Higginson (2000)is the informational component. The content of this component “consists of the facts or knowledge of the institution and programs that advisors must know to correctly guide advisees through the completion of their majors and programs” (Nutt, p. 10). Thus it represents the knowledge and information that advisors should possess and be able to disseminate to students. According to Higginson, this “substantive information”…“that academic advisors need to know falls into four groups.” (p. 303). These four groups of knowledge require an understanding of laws, policies, procedures, and resources related to “the internal environment, the external environment, student needs, and advisor self knowledge” (p. 304).
Obviously, like the conceptual component, the bulk of the content of this component is largely information based; however, this information, rather than being intended to inform practice, represents the actual information that advisors are intended to share with students. In spite of this difference much of the training related to developing this knowledge is likely to be presented in similar fashion to that of the previous content component. However, since it frequently represents the actual information to be shared with students, it is often reinforced using additional training methods related to the final, skill-based, relationship oriented component.

The Relational Component
The third and final component identified by Habley (In Higginson, 2000) addressed the relational aspect of academic advising. Higginson explained: “the focus of this training component is for the advisor to convey effectively the understanding and knowledge obtained from the other components by establishing a personal relationship with the student advisees through demonstrating appropriate advising behaviors” (p. 305).
Consequently, this component of training focuses on helping advisors develop “the interpersonal skills and communication skills” necessary to establish and maintain effective professional relationships with students and to facilitate the advising process (Nutt, 2003, p. 10). Likely topics might include rapport building, communication and listening, effective problem solving, advising vs. counseling, and interviewing. Such topics involve much less information sharing by trainers and more skill-development oriented training methods such as role playing, action learning, shadowing, and case studies.

Expanding the Model
While this framework provides a solid foundation for structuring effective advisor training, it is limited in that it does not adequately address all of the training and development needs of academic advisors. Consequently, the following categories are recommended for inclusion in the framework: technology and the personal.

The Technology Component
Within her description of both the informational and the relational components, Higginson includes the need for training in “relevant advising technology” (p. 303) and the “use of advising tools such as computerized degree audits” (p. 305) While these elements are essential informational and relational aspects of advisor training, to infer that the knowledge of technology and the use thereof fall within separate categories fails to recognize that knowledge and use of technology are deeply interrelated. One cannot effectively know a computer program and not know how to use it. Furthermore, while understanding of technology may be conveyed to students insofar as it relates to procedures in which the student must engage, much of an advisor’s skill in the use of advising technology is never conveyed to the student. Finally, an understanding of and skill in the use of technological resources is at least equal in importance with regards to effective advising as both conceptual and informational understanding. Topical elements of this component would, of necessity, include training in the use of student record systems, scheduling software, email systems, online advising resources, and record maintenance software, to name but a few.
Given the combined need for information and skill development in relation to the effective use of technology, and because the primary interaction involved in the development of these skills occurs between the advisor and the computer, training for this component requires a unique balance of information dissemination and hands-on learning. Thus the significance, content, application, and training related to this component are sufficiently unique to merit its inclusion as a separate element within the training content framework.

The Personal Component
In their article on training advisors in the first year, Folsom, Joslin, and Yoder(2005)indicated that in addition to struggling to learn the informational, conceptual, and relational aspects of their jobs, many new advisors are burdened with questions related to their own adequacy as advisors and the stress and personal challenges that accompany their new job. These personal issues go beyond the realm of the traditional content component framework. Consequently, an additional suggestion for inclusion within the framework is that of personal understanding, maintenance, and development. Higginson(2000)refers to this as advisor self-knowledge and includes it within the informational component of training. However, such understanding, unlike the other elements of this component is not purely informational nor is it necessarily conveyed to students. An understanding of self requires not just knowledge about one’s values and levels of concentration, stress, emotions, commitment, etc., but rather an ongoing awareness of self and the application of skills in self-assessment, self-regulation and growth. In addition, the training in this area is likely to be far less information or skill oriented, though both methods are relevant to conducting such training. Instead, training in this area typically involves more introspective analysis, assessment, and self-observation. This element, like that of technology, transcends mere knowledge of information and requires unique processes and skills in both training and practice. Additionally it is fundamentally significant in relation to promoting advisor effectiveness. Therefore, it is suggested that the framework be revised to include this as another primary component of advisor training programs.

In conclusion, Habley’s framework related to the content of advisor training has provided a solid foundation upon which to build effective training programs. Nonetheless, an expansion of the model to include personal and technological content areas will likely contribute to the intentional development of more complete, balanced training programs and facilitate the development of increasingly competent new professional academic advisors.

Authored by: Jeffrey L. McClellan
Assistant Professor, Management
Frostburg State University


Folsom, P., Joslin, J., & Yoder, F. (2005). From advisor training to advisor development: Creating a blueprint for first-year advisors. NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site Retrieved from

Habley, W. R. (1987). Academic Advising Conference: Outline and Notes. The ACT National Center for the Advancement of Educational Practices. (pp. 33-34). Iowa City, IA: ACT. Retrieved from

Habley, W.R. (1995). Advisor Training in the Context of a Teaching Enhancement Center. In R. E. Glennen and F.N. Vowell (Eds.) Academic Advising as a Comprehensive Campus Process. (p 76). (National Academic Advising Association Monograph Series, no. 2.). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Habley, W. R. (2000). Current practices in academic advising. In V. N. Gordon & Habley, W. R. & Associates (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 35-43). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Higginson, L. C. (2000). A frame work for training program content revisited. In V. N. Gordon, Habley, W. R., & Associates (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 298-306). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from

King, M. C. (2000). Designing effective training for academic advisors. In V. N. Gordon, Habley, W. R., & Associates (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 289-297). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nutt, C. L. (2003). Creating Advisor-Training and Development Programs. In Advisor Training: Exemplary Practices in the Development of Advisor Skills (pp. 9-16). (National Academic Advising Association Monograph Series, no. 9).Manhattan,KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Waters, R. (2002). Faculty socialization into the advising role: An examination of information and information sources that shape role learning. NACADA Journal, 22 (1), p. 15-25.

Additional Resources

Borns, R. F. (2002). Creating an academic advising training program on your campus, The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal. Retrieved from

Koring, H. (2005). Advisor Training and Development. Retrieved from theNACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

Cite this using APA style as:

McClellan, J.L. (2007). Content Components for Advisor Training: Revisited. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:

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