Learning vs Training: What’s the Difference and Why Do You Need to Know?

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Learning vs Training: What’s the Difference and Why Do You Need to Know?

You will often hear the terms learning and training used interchangeably. However, there is a key difference between learning and training. If you struggle to explain the distinction between these terms, you’re not alone. But understanding the differences between learning and training will help HR professionals and business leaders determine what their team needs, satisfy differing business needs and boost employee performance in the long run.

Let’s explore learning vs. training in more detail, what they have in common, where they vary, and why this matters.

What is learning?
What is training?
The differing roles of learning and training

What is learning?

In the realm of the workplace, learning centers on continually developing an individual by absorbing, understanding, and retaining knowledge, concepts, or skills presented to them, which can help both employees and employers become better at their job and more able to handle challenging and unexpected situations that arise.

Types of learning include verbal (through conversations), written, images (pictures and graphs), or a combination of media. Learning can take place through self-study, on-the-job experience, or being mentored by someone.

The main argument for why learning is an integral part of the whole is that if an employee doesn’t learn how to do something, they cannot perform to the best of their ability. This includes specific knowledge related to a role. An example of this could be building up organizational development knowledge for HR professionals. It also involves interpersonal skills like communicating effectively with colleagues and customers, dealing with conflict, and mastering the art of negotiation. The primary focus here is the ongoing development of the individual

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Here are some of the characteristics of learning:

  • Acquiring and building knowledge or skills   
  • Being able to apply those skills to a variety of contexts
  • It requires active engagement from the learner
  • It’s an ongoing process
  • Long-term focus and future-orientated
  • Centers on career development
  • Focused on the learner as an individual 
  • It’s a mutual experience with many interactions (i.e., we are learning together, or we are learning from each other)
  • Learning is either one to one or in a small group
  • The aim is to gain conceptual and general knowledge
  • The role of the facilitator is to facilitate conversation
  • It’s learner motivated
  • Focuses on values, attitudes, mindset, innovation, and outcomes
  • It helps employers and employees learn how to learn
  • Learning directly aligns with the organization’s vision for success
  • It can be both formal and informal
  • The audience can consist of people with different experiences and perspectives on the topic, and both can learn and teach
  • Progression is cyclical

Essentially, learning is the long-term process of absorbing new information and retaining it. This process can then increase an employee’s skills and abilities and help them achieve their personal goals at work and the wider business goals. The individual learns how to handle something specific today, but they also learn to be prepared to creatively tackle a new challenge tomorrow.

Learning vs Training

What is training?

While learning centers on acquiring and building non-specific knowledge and skills, training, on the other hand, is concerned with teaching and transferring specific skills into a particular work scenario. For example, teaching employees how to use a new software program, stack shelves most efficiently, or training customer service workers about a new product. Other examples of training would include compliance training or safety training.

Learning can be seen as a process while training is more of a specific event.

Training focuses on teaching large groups of employees how to perform a specific task or replicate the behavior that helps them carry out their day-to-day operations and avoid relying on someone else to assist them. This can take the form of e-learning, an in-house workshop, an online program, a training course, or with expert instructors at an off-site training center. Training aims to increase the organization’s productivity and efficiency and ultimately drive profits.

The key difference between training and learning is that training does not aim to change, develop or expand the learner’s viewpoint or behavior. Training focuses on a specific task and teaches the learner how to perform it. Whether the learner absorbs, retains, or acts on what they’ve learned depends entirely on how able they are to apply their newfound knowledge and skills in the real world and seek further development.

Here are some of the characteristics of training:

  • Training is the action of teaching specific knowledge or skills
  • The objective is to transmit information
  • A structured learning experience
  • Requires passive engagement from the learner
  • Focused on short-term benefits and immediate needs of the business
  • Training is usually taught in large groups and is scalable (up to hundreds or thousands of people at once)
  • The aim of training is specific to an aspect of the individual’s job
  • The content is repeatable and consistent
  • You can test the participant’s understanding of the training
  • Taught from the outside, in (motivated by others)
  • Focuses on knowledge, skills, ability, and performance
  • Suitable for developing essential competencies
  • May not be linked to the organization’s overall vision
  • It is a unilateral experience (i.e., I am being trained, or I am training someone)
  • The audience typically consists of one expert and a group of people who are less expert and want to learn from that person
  • Progression is linear (once you master one level, you will go to the next). 

It’s important to remember that through training, the goal is not to reshape an individual’s behavior but to teach them how to do specific tasks so they can carry them out on their own. Hence why new employees will typically go through a series of training sessions when joining the company. Through this type of corporate training, they learn how to perform their daily tasks effectively.

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The differing roles of learning and training

We’ve explored the key differences of training vs. learning, but why do these differences matter?

Although learning and training are interconnected, they are not the same. At times, training will be the most appropriate choice for your employees, while learning will be most needed at other times. 

There are occasions when learning (as opposed to one-off training) can result in numerous benefits to a business, including an increase in team morale and happiness, improved retention, and an increase in customer satisfaction and sales. Equally, it’s important to remember that personalized learning cannot replace formal training, which equips employees with the necessary knowledge and skills to do their job.

Understanding that these are different processes with different focuses is critical for HR professionals and leaders to understand so that they can choose the right method for the right circumstance and the right employee. This understanding will also enable you to set specific goals from your learning and training initiatives, which will boost long-term employee performance. 

So, how do you determine which course of action to take? 

You can ask certain questions to figure out what your employees need most and make the right choice accordingly.

  • Are your employees requesting more assistance to perform better in their jobs?
  • Are your employees seeking more connection with each other?
  • Do your employees prefer learning passively (without feedback) or actively engaging?
  • Do you need to deliver set content to as many people as possible at once, or can you hold several sessions with smaller groups? 
  • Are your employees mostly individual contributors or collaborators?

To sum up

There’s a clear difference between learning and training, but both play an integral part in the development and performance of your employees. Therefore, by understanding the key differences of both processes and utilizing them effectively, you can design learning objectives and strategies that help your business achieve its long-term goals and build its future vision.

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