Monday, October 26, 2009

Learning vs. Training

The most important object in Boy Scout training is to educate, not instruct.
~Sir Robert Baden-Powell

One thing that every business needs to work on is upgrading the skills of their staff. This is critical for several reasons. New technologies are constantly emerging, people are promoted or are given new responsibilities, and existing skills need to be reinforced and tweaked.

Most businesses these days talk about training, and many have entire departments dedicated to training their workers. However, I think the emphasis on training is misplaced. Rather, the focus should be on learning, and many larger companies are now changing their training departments to learning departments. While this might just seem like a subtle change in wording, I can tell you that it is much bigger.

With most training programs, the emphasis is on the trainer who disseminates information to participants. It is the trainer’s responsibility to get the material across. Training is simply an event that occurs when staff members attend a training session. Learning, on the other hand, is an internal event. It transfers the responsibility to the participant. It is now up to them to understand and master the material. Between training and learning, the focus shifts from teacher to student.

I am currently giving a seminar to a large financial institution on how to be a great manager. I have told all of the participants that I am not there to train them; but rather, that I am there to facilitate the learning process. The outcome of the seminar rests on them learning the necessary material. It is their responsibility to master the material, and not mine to train them. This is a big shift in orientation, but it is one that is vital in business.

This new philosophy requires that each participant comes into the learning environment with a clear understanding that the responsibility for mastering the material is his or hers and not the instructor’s. In addition, the manager plays a key role in ensuring that the learning is transferred into the employee’s work environment. The manager is responsible for providing the encouragement, tools and support that will enable the employee to successfully apply the new skills and knowledge to his or her day-to-day activities.

Some people might say that the distinction between learning and training is minor, but in my mind it is quite large. It changes the entire way we approach new material. With learning, you begin at a higher motivation point, allowing the students to become active participants in the learning process as opposed to having an instructor force-feed them the material.

Now go out and make sure that your organization is focusing more on learning than training. It is an important shift in emphasis, and it is one that will better serve your organization.

You can do this!

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