Learning and training are entirely different things

I’ve been thinking lately about the methods of L&D that have been written and spoken about in the last 20/30 years. I’ve been writing this blog now for about 10 years. You can see the many topics I’ve written about in that time and they vary a lot. One of the consistent areas I’ve written about is the progression of learning theory and what we understand about learning. What regularly gets reinforced to me is that the design and delivery of training is normally what L&D is charged with and delivers. It seems to be more rare that anything close to a focus on learning is happening.

I get involved in the design of training solutions, and I don’t kid myself into thinking I’m providing a learning solution. What’s the difference, I hear many of you ask?

Quite simply this. Providing a training course is an information dump. It is made interesting and engaging and interactive through some quite helpful methodology, but there is little in the way of learning which takes place. This is mostly because learning doesn’t happen just because they’ve been on a training course. Indeed, many trainers will caveat their training with a variation of the following…

“This course will only serve to raise your awareness of this topic. You will have to practise in order to improve your capability in the topic.”

And if it’s e-learning…

“If you complete this e-learning you are helping the organisation remain compliant.”

A learning solution implies that the solution enables learning to take place. That solution could be any number of possibilities. It could be a coaching conversation. It could be reading a book. It could be listening to a podcast. It could be watching a YouTube video. It could be sharing your thoughts with someone else. It could be being incentivised to do the right thing. It could be positive reinforcement of good behaviour. It could be training to improve knowledge or a skill.

The move from a training course/e-learning to a learning solution is that you’re fundamentally asking different questions. Not just asking different questions, but also expecting different things from your suppliers/vendors.

Some of the vendors I work with and talk to are helping to advance a learning solution as much as they may want to sell me a training course/e-learning. They’re helping me to challenge what I’m doing and to provide more of a developed solution which isn’t just focused on the product.

And there are some vendors whose work I see and I understand that they are not interested in selling anything other than their methodology / product / ‘solution’. They say the right words when they’re ‘consulting’:

  • What’s your problem you’re trying to solve? What is it really? Is that the the right thing?
  • I understand your problem and can ensure the learning transfer will happen
  • In the training we can accelerate the learning so they improve their performance
  • We’ll design the e-learning so it has great UX and modern graphics
  • The e-learning will be bite size so it can be done quickly

Except these statements are examples of just being good at selling with the right words to sound like they’re offering something different.

And when I hear stuff around learning solutions? The language itself fundamentally changes.

  • What’s your problem you’re trying to solve? What have you tried already? What hasn’t worked before? What’s the right outcome? How will you get there as a leader?
  • Tell me about the way your team is currently working? When you’re done with the solution, how will you reinforce it as a leader? What processes will you need to have in place that you don’t now? How will the team reinforce their newly learned behaviour with each other?
  • How will this solution enable better business/organisational performance? What will other teams/leaders observe your team do differently they’re not doing now? What organisational outcome will improve because of this solution?
  • From this conversation, what do you want to happen next? What further thinking do you need to do? Who do you need to talk to in your team/amongst your peers/with your leader?
  • From all these conversations, is training still part of the solution?

This is a set of conversations which won’t stop in L&D. It’s a regular piece and is written about in many ways. Some advocate for training courses and e-learning like they’re being written off. Some advocate for resources and curated content as unheard of answers to problems we didn’t know we had. And in and amongst it all, many consultants are creating their own models, advancing their own theories and proposing new ideas.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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