Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Training vs Learning - Which do You Create?

[UPDATE - Just wanted to give credit to the Social Learning Community on Yammer for inspiring this blog post. I think this topic is important to the eLearning community as a whole and so I'm happy to extend the conversation to the readers of this blog.]

As a member of the eLearning/learning/training/education community it feels like the alphabet soup of terms has become muddled again.  I suppose all industries go through this to some degree, and while it's mildly frustrating, going through the exercise can reveal some insights and help us focus our work.  So let's take a look at what happened.

The short version is that training departments, for many years, got very little respect.  We, as a community of professionals were convinced that a rebranding needed to occur and we wanted to become LEARNING professionals and not TRAINING professionals.  After all, training seemed to cheapen our work as adult learning practitioners and instructional design architects...and all the other fancy names we like to call ourselves.

But now it appears that we've come full circle.  With the growing discussions around informal vs. formal "learning", we've come to realize that, in fact, we DO NOT create learning.  And yikes! Learning actually happens without our interventions.  So, to say that we "create learning solutions" or something like that is actually quite silly.  Our bodies, mostly our brains, handles the learning side of things.  The human body is a learning machine.  I hope this isn't shocking to anyone.

In our current corporate culture our job is to make sure that certain bodies (employees) are exposed too, and learning, certain specific things.  These bodies will do the LEARNING on their own IF the correct CONTEXT is provided for them.

Let's stop the conversation right here because at this point we could go off in many different directions.  All I want to do at this point is to get you thinking about Training vs Learning.

I think it's safe to say that our job is to manipulate a person's environment in such a way that we are simply directing, or manipulating WHAT that person's body is being exposed to with the hope that their body's learning response is activated.  I know this sounds very rudimentary but if you think about it this way then TRAINING really does start to sound like a better catch-all term for the work that we do.

Here's wikipedia's take on Training:
"The term training refers to the acquisition of knowledgeskills, and competencies as a result of the teaching of vocational or practical skills and knowledge that relate to specific useful competencies. It forms the core of apprenticeships and provides the backbone of content at institutes of technology (also known as technical colleges or polytechnics). In addition to the basic training required for a tradeoccupation or profession, observers of the labor-market[who?] recognize as of 2008 the need to continue training beyond initial qualifications: to maintain, upgrade and update skills throughout working life. People within many professions and occupations may refer to this sort of training as professional development."

I understand WHY we so desperately want to be learning professionals and NOT Training Specialists.  But the reality is that what we create is best suited to the term training and NOT learning.  If for no other reason then the fact that nobody can actually create learning.  But we can understand how the human brain learns and optimize the environment of a person needing to learn something specific.  And so it's that understanding of how the human body learns that makes us better at what we create.

So, can a Learning Professional be a creator of Training...um...things? Yep! But are we confusing the market by mixing the terms? Maybe. Does it matter? I don't know.

And now this starts another conversation, "Should it be eTraining instead of eLearning".  Oh boy...<sigh>


Guy W. Wallace said...

Agreed. but put the "name game blame" on those who misunderstood Senge's Learning Organization (in The Fifth Discipline) and "appropriated" that language in the early-mid 1990s. Training has always worked or not depending on the context (personal, educational or enterprise), understanding of the terminal goals of awareness, knowledge or skills and their application to performance (now or later) - and the name change to Learning did "nothing" to change any of that. While a focus on the learner is critically important and always was to "not enough in the business" - a foci that starts with performance objectives (or understanding objectives as evidenced by an ability to perform) is even more critical - especially in an Enterprise Learning Context. IMO. And I believe that we should leave the "e" off. That's just one of many deployment methods - most appropriate sometimes - and not at other times - and most typically best in some broader blend, extended over time.

Donald Clark said...

Hi Brent,
I received my basic training and design skills from the U.S. Army and then later got a degree in Human Resource Management. Both of them had a very specific meaning for training - learning that is provided in order to improve performance on the present job. Thus training is learning, but only if it leads to the desired performance.

That does not mean other forms of learning are good or bad, but it does give one some perspective on how to allocate resources.

For example, the Army spends a great deal of resources to not only ensure their soldiers can perform (training), but also to grow (development) them into future leaders.

HRD specified what training is because it was one of the earliest crafts to realize that informal learning was also important and should be supported since Malcolm Knowles was one of the early pioneers of both studying informal learning and bringing many of the concepts to HRD.

Kelly Meeker said...

I've always liked some version of "learning" better than training because training sounds like you're inflicting a an experience on an unwilling participant. Perhaps that's just semantics (or just me!) but learning I think focuses on the more meaningful purpose of the profession: enabling and empowering others.

Valerie Bock said...

Well, sure, Kelly, but the truth of it is that that's exactly what we're doing. The subject of a training experience may be willing or unwilling, equipped or unequipped to make sense of it. The context we provide for them may be well-or-ill suited, but it is the learner, in the end, who either does or does not incorporate the experience we expose them to into a state of being which can be described as "having learned something."

Our role isn't all that much unlike that of my hubby, the family doc, who leaves each morning joking that he is off to "inflict health" on his patients. He provides a diagnosis, a recommended treatment, but in the end, whether the patient heals is largely out of his hands!

Some humilty/realism around such things strengthens our discipline, IMO.

Ruby Claire said...

I would say, Training is meant for learning, unless you wont learn you wont be called as a learner when you get learned you will called as a expert.

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Tom Gram said...

Hi Brent:
I was part of that little Yammer discussion as well. Interesting how a little detour like that can bring old discussions to the surface. I don't think we switched to "Learning" to earn greater respect. If anything we lost a little. Most line managers and exec's are more comfortable with the term "Training" (and continue to call it that). I think we switched partly as a result of (inappropriately) co-opting Senges term (as Guy mentions above) and partly because of our own discomfort with the formal approach the term implies. At this point it is almost politically incorrect to use the term in professional circles. Using it will certainly cast you in a certain stereotypical bucket. That's a shame really, because it a perfectly appropriate word for a certain type of activity to help people develop skill. In recent years we have evolved many other approaches but haven't landed on a catch all term for them. The problem with "Learning" as i mentioned in the yammer discussion is that it was an attempt by our profession to soften the hard edges of training and imply our new found "learner-centred" approaches. Unfortunately we didn't really change anything and now "Learning" is the new "Training" with all the baggage that carries.

BTW, i don't like that Wikipedia definition. "Training" is an activity. It may or may not lead to the "acquisition of knoweldge skills and competencies".

I vote for "Performance Development" if we are still looking for a catch all for our work as a profession.


Donn King said...

Just a thought, still steaming as it comes forth from my brain, and so not mature yet: what about a term like "learning support professional"? The idea here is that we can't force learning, but we can support the conditions that encourage it, and we can support those who wish to learn. I first thought "learning supporter," but that came uncomfortably close to "athletic supporter"--another phrase that can be taken two ways.

Guy Boulet said...

There is always been a clear distinction (at least in my mind) between learning and training.

To me, learning is a process internal to an individual that can happen in many ways through sensory interaction with his/her environment. As a kid, we learn by trial and error or by imitating others. We learned to talk by repeating the words we heard. We also all learned the meaning of 'hot' by burning ourselves for the first time. We learned all this stuff without actually training for it, it just happened.

Training, to me, is simply learning towards an objective. Training puts together prior skills and knowledge, introduces new ones and organizes them all to achieve a desired result (objective). Driving lessons are training since they call upon knowledge of traffic laws, car engineering, physics, etc. and put them all together so that we can move a car safely from one point to another.

Learning provides knowledge, training provides experience.

Workplace Safety Videos said...

Interesting piece of information! Learning expresses a person growing. Whereas 'training' merely describes, and commonly represents, transfer of knowledge or skill for organizational gain, which generally has bugger-all to do with the trainee.