Training versus Learning


I have noticed a number of corporate training teams are renamed to ‘learning development’. Is this more than just a name change? And what difference could there be?

Traditional Training

Training was a trainer going around an organisation arranging sessions where people would give up part of their work day to attend. That might have been the end of the process, but most training programmes would include some sort of site visit assessment at a later date to see how well the training has been implemented. Does this model still work?

Culture Change

In the UK there is a continuing shift from manufacturing to service and design, and from life-long jobs to a need to update and add new skills. People have to be more prepared to add to roles, move roles and move jobs.

Connectivity means the online availability of almost anything, and opens up competition to most organisations. Competition means people have a choice to go elsewhere, so there is a need to add customer service ‘soft skills’ to many roles that were just traditionally just ‘hard skills’.

There is also more organisational scrutiny, this requires more consistency in services and more compliance with legal duties, from health and safety to supplier relationships. Not only does a job need to be done, it needs to be seen to be done, and seen to be done properly. Organisations need to prove they have trained their people correctly. The need for more compliance and more easily tracked communication leads the spectacular array of metrics that are now collected, and this is where an online course can excel.

Online delivery is also of course a cost-cutting opportunity. Trainers are a significant cost, but taking a team of people away from their work is a bigger cost. Learning material made available online can be used a ‘convenient’ time. Online delivery also minimises the cost compared to the distribution and updating of physical formats.

Training to Learning

There is a shift from training being seen as purely an organisational responsibility, to a requirement to upskill that shared between an organisation and an individual. In this sense a ‘convenient’ time to learn, means a time that is acceptable to the learner, but also minimises impact on an organisation.

Trainers and training sessions are still needed, but are less of a default solution. Cost and connectivity means a change in this approach. Organisations are more likely to seek an online solution, giving much more availability than having to wait for the next training session.

Training now is likely to include:

Self-guided learning done in the learners own time

Material available online 24/7

Learner progresses at their own pace, within limits

Individual metrics collected on this learning

Surveys with cohorts to show if learning has been implemented

Feedback from collected data to inform new training

Training that is industry standard and portable

Online Training

Online seems a flexible and cost-effective approach, but what is the downside? Any teaching and learning can of course vary in quality, and the issues that have an effect on communication have an effect on learning programmes. I’d suggest the main reason for poor quality training is when it is seen as a ‘box tick’ to merely offer the training, without any emphasis on the result. This is when the ‘seen to be done’ metric overtakes all other concerns.

There can be a switch to online delivery, without a proper assessment of what the trainer in charge of a group can add. A person leading a group can respond to queries, different group capabilities, and any number of group and individual requirements. The value that a good trainer can add should not be underestimated, and an online course needs a reasonable level of sophistication to even approximate this personal touch.

An online learning solution also needs to have the ability to allow learners to step outside the assumed progression through a course. There should be more background details and other information available to allow learners to fill in the gaps they perceive. This information can be built up through learner feedback. Learners need to be able to ask questions, and access to this support should be included within the design of a course.

To try and fill the gap left by no or little input from a trainer, it is useful to facilitate groups of learners to communicate and share their learning. Getting learners to participate in communication for peer review is good start, but the end goal is to build a learning community within your organisation. Learning should be part of organisational routine, and less of an add-on. To make sure learning functions well, like any other part of a business you can apply a simple formula:

Training + clear understanding of your audience + engagement = learning

Maybe this is too simplistic, but often one of the three is forgotten. To create learning that will be retained, you need to cover them all.

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