Training vs Learning: What’s the Difference?

Is this why you train? (Hint: Don't say "yes")

What are all of those courses, job aids, and apps training you to do? Follow procedure? Perform your daily tasks? Perhaps we need to start asking better questions. One thing training seems to do a really good job at doing is filling time (and costing money): the time we spend taking it and the time the Learning and Development department spends creating it. What’s the outcome of all this? Well, when you do it right, the outcome is learning…but training and learning are not the same thing.

Sure, there are plenty of semantics at play here, but how often do you train someone to actually do something? Before you dive in to those learning objectives, do you consider what you want to actually train the learner to doHow often do we actually have an actionable goal that we want to train someone to do? Training is something you receive as the learner, but learning is what you actually do as the learner. Learning implies “I” am doing something. I am taking part and doing the work. Good training inspires people to learn how to do something, but it does not do the work for them.

Ask yourself this: How often am I actually creating training experiences that are teaching someone to do anything?   When clients come to us asking for training, it often really feels like they are looking for a fancy way to communicate something. “I need to make you aware of XYZ.” Are there procedures that you really want someone to be able to execute, or do you just want them to know about it? There’s a big difference.

Sure, it’s easy to talk about the value of learning vs training and how training for training’s sake is not going to work, but what do you do when your corporate culture expects and demands it? All to often the L&D department does not really have a say in whether or not training is produced, they just have to execute. Never fear: there are still plenty of opportunities to optimize the impact of that training and create opportunities for learning. The first step is simply not to shut your learners down with tired methods and designs that do nothing to allow room for learning:

  • When writing scenarios, avoid being overly politically correct and make sure you truly recreate the point of need. Spark the raw emotion that would motivate your learner to take action in real life. Yes, that means getting creative and breaking from tradition a bit when you write scenarios.
  • In general, engage the learner’s emotions as much as possible throughout the training. All too often, training falls back on hokey examples, cliches, stupid characters, and takes an “easy way out” by using designs that have been used and overused too many times to count. We are running out of ways to engage emotion, but adding more sophistication is not the solution, either. One engaging photo can do more to inspire a learner than the slickest of user interfaces if you do it right. Some simple lines of text can go a long way as well. Bring up something that is a true pain point for people and don’t be afraid to stir the pot.
  • Avoid shutting your learners down before they even get started. Even if you have a powerful scenario nestled in the final frames of your training, learners will gain no benefit from it if material in the course was too dry. We tend to shut down and tune out experiences we don’t consider important, and you only have a short window to grab their attention.
Sometimes, your organization will decide that training is the answer before they have even figured out the question, and there is not much you can do about it. There are still plenty of ways you can separate the training from the learning and help your learners find real value from the experience.