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What’s the Difference Between Learning and Training?
The words learning and training have five letters in common and touch the same field of interest—education. Often the words are used interchangeably, but some say there is a subtle distinction between the two. Of course, definitions for that distinction v
The words learning and training have six letters in common and touch the same field of interest—education. Often the words are used interchangeably, but some say there is a subtle distinction between the two. Of course, definitions for that distinction vary according to whom you ask. Some learning leaders feel that learning is a long-term process related to development, while training is a timely, technical skills-based process that might or might not involve a lower level of skill acquisition. But as time rolls on and the value stakes surrounding learning, development and training in the enterprise continue to escalate, training might get pushed into the learning and development arena whether it likes it or not.
“My background’s in instructional design, and when I was in school they explained that the difference was training is for a specific task,” said Maureen McCormick, director of learning and development, University of Iowa. “(Training) is sometimes, not always, a more functional, low-level task. Let’s say you had some sort of machinery to operate. There was a specific process for learning how to operate that machine, and it was directly related to the functionality of your job. That would be a training issue. At that time, the two words used were training and education, but you’re definitely seeing a shift in people going from staff development and training offices to learning and development offices. We made that switch a couple of years ago.
“Learning, on the other hand, has been viewed as something that’s much more broad-based. It isn’t necessarily related to a job. For example, we have a management series program where we teach people emotional intelligence. The series focuses on the various soft skills necessary to be emotionally intelligent at your job. None of it is specific task-based training processes. That would be how to fill out a performance review form, whereas learning would be how you give feedback to someone in an emotionally intelligent way when you need to give corrective feedback.”
McCormick added that learning tends to involve longer-range, future-based planning to develop people from a career standpoint in different areas that might not be directly work-related. “For example, a couple of months ago I was shopping, and I had a woman come up to me who had been in the management series five years ago. She said, ‘I just need to tell you how much I learned going through the series in terms of how to deal with people. A lot of it I use at work, but a lot of it I use in personal life when dealing with my children or when I’m with my family. It really had an impact on me, and I wanted you to know that.’ That’s something that’s really learning based because you’re talking about people’s growth. Beyond that the training field has tried to be more credible within organizations, (hence) the move to the chief learning officer title as a C-level position, which has more credibility within the organization and is tied to the bottom line. Training for a lot of people feels like, what are we training, monkeys? I really believe the word training is going to go away from the field. I don’t really care if you call it learning or training. It’s semantics to me. However, learning plays better up the ladder, and words are powerful. Learning has more credibility attached to it.”
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