When we started IdeaLearning Group, we asked ourselves this question: Do we want to facilitate training or learning? What is the difference between training and learning? We decided early on that we’re in the business of learning.
Although organizations often use the words interchangeably, we view “training” as the process of shaping into a desired form (like “training a plant”) and “learning” as the inspired process of acquiring knowledge and skills through experience. It’s also sometimes used to imply a sort of mindless learning, training isn’t a bad word or concept. The problem is that it’s too restrictive. When we think of training, we think of adherence, testing, drills, exercises, and standards. When we’re being formally trained, we’re being groomed to perform according to a set of expectations.
“Learning” is a generous canopy. When we think of learning, the following comes to mind: thinking, exploration, absorption, creativity, purpose, education, curiosity, and growth. When we’re learning–formally or informally–we’re not only acquiring new knowledge and skills, we’re also blazing a new path by cultivating our own understanding.
There is a time and place for training. We view training as one component of the learning plan. For example, a company’s employees might need to learn about compliance requirements or processes. But to make the learning a comprehensive experience, we also must provide opportunities to modify behavior and on-the-job performance. There’s definitely an opportunity for skills training here, but learners also need to practice what they’ve learned and demonstrate their knowledge in meaningful ways in order to round out the learning experience.
Sometimes our new clients approach us with a solution already in mind. When one of our clients requested a one-day classroom training session about their confusing interview process, we helped them step back to discover the bigger picture. Our learning solution was a blended approach that included an online overview piece that prepared learners for a shift in thinking about how they interview and hire employees. It also included face-to-face learning, elearning modules and a robust learning library hosted on their intranet. Our solution offered so much more than “training”—it was a context-based, exploratory program that addressed not only processes, but also company culture, values and adaptability.
According to an article from the non-profit Computer Education Management Association, “Training is a core step in the process of learning, but it is not learning itself. Even training that leads to a proof of mastery or certification cannot be labeled as learning. To learn is to do, to apply, to morph and adapt to the knowledge or skill acquired in training to the circumstance.” So training is part of the solution, but it’s not the whole solution. Learning simply goes beyond training.
So what would happen if more training departments changed their names to “learning centers”? What if they renamed the “training toolbox” the “learning library”? For one, the focus would shift more toward the learners’ needs and perspectives.
“Training versus learning” is not just about semantics. Training is event-driven, and learning is about experience. We’d love to find out how you think of the difference between training and learning in your organization.