Learning Versus Training

This blog is excerpted from the Performance Matters Podcast episode entitled “Learning v. Training” where Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson discuss the transfer of true learning competency, versus training.

Bob Mosher (BM): Welcome back to another performance matters podcast episode. Today my colleague and friend, Dr. Conrad Gottfredson, and I will discuss something we’ve been struggling with as an industry—discerning true learning from training.

Conrad Gottfredson (CG): Bob, we've had a myopic view of what real learning is. For so many organizations learning is only about knowledge acquisition, or individual skill mastery. And it's all centered around making that knowledge and/or those skills stick (be retained).

When I was in graduate school, my mentor, Grant Harrison taught me that it's one thing to master all the component parts of a skill or set of skills, but at some point, learners need to integrate it all together into real performance.

So often, after training classes, learners are left to themselves to put Humpty Dumpty together—and it's tough, especially in the flow of work.

BM: Let’s be clear here, we are huge advocates of formal training. And I use that word on purpose, as vocabulary is important. We do think that the formal side of the Five Moments, and the resources we build in that domain, are truly training assets. I don't know if we think they are learning assets. I think the learning and support assets are more in the workflow.

In our own work, we always have some degree of formal learning that initiates the journey towards people becoming competent. There are clearly things that warrant and should be trained. Right. But tell us a little bit more about that jump to transfer.

CG: Well, the question that we have to ask is how are our learners integrating all that we teach into their existing experience? How are we facilitating that? How are we intentionally making that happen?

Well, right now, what happens is we throw learners over the learning fence. They finished the course, whether it's elearning, or whatever it is, and then we leave them on their own, to not only take all those pieces and put Humpty Dumpty together again, but they then must also navigate and adapt what they have learned to fit their environment, in an integrated way.

So real learning must somehow trigger past experience, bringing new experience in and integrating those experiences into a more broad experience base. Real learning is really all about experience, ultimately, experience in the flow of work. The transfer stage of learning is challenging, because we typically don't provide the support that a learner needs to become an effective performer.  Our solutions must help learners navigate that transfer stage rapidly and successfully, and recover if there are mistakes, so that they can fulfill that integration requirement and begin to perform in the workplace and learn through experience.

BM: This is why [JS1] workflow analysis is so key because the workflow provides the context of transfer. This is such a fundamental shift in how we approach train, transfer, sustain. Ironically, though, train comes first in the journey of those three words, but we build from transfer and sustain back, and then training is whatever is necessary.

You know, we've got to stop thinking that our work ends at the door—whether that be a digital door of an LMS, or a concrete door of a face-to-face course. I'm probably going to get blasted for this, but I wish we'd never called it elearning, I think it's etraining.

I’m not saying “train” is a four-letter word of destruction. What we're trying to do here is for the learner, and for the journey that they are on to becoming performers. We must put our deliverables in the right place. And in the right perspective, training was never a true transfer contextualizing tool, because it does not live in the workflow. It's not used or consumed while working. And that's why this whole design of the digital coach, and distinguishing learning from training, is so important. They really do have different intents, right?

CG: You know, training and learning is a two-way street. Training is what we do. And we know there are fundamental principles that we can employ in training someone to do something and helping them understand as they do that, but then the learner has a responsibility to write learning approaches [JS2] is different than training, and both have to be there. And then both trainer and learner, you know, the training efforts that we make, and the learning efforts on the learner have that work. It just can't do it all in those events. You've got to extend that through the transfer stage where you integrate newly gained experience with existing experience and develop expertise.


Listen to the full episode for more around this discussion. Then, plan to join us with your thoughts on January 19th as we continue the discussion live with both Bob and Con.

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