Is It Training or Education?

G. Thomas Herrington and Patrick T. Malone

The word "training" has been used to describe so many activities that the word has lost its meaning and value. In reality, most of the training in corporate America is education. Education provides knowledge but training provides the enhanced ability to perform. Consider this: Which gives the greatest return on investment—education or training—when it comes to leadership, teamwork, supervision, coaching sales and service?

Training is the process of bringing a person to an agreed standard of proficiency by practice and instruction. Yet what is actually performed is mostly instruction with little to no practice. If you really wanted to be talented and proficient at something, would you:

  1. Hire a motivational speaker?
  2. Read a book?
  3. Watch a video?
  4. Attend a seminar?
  5. Take an online course?
  6. Practice with an expert coach?

If you wanted to dance, drive a car, play golf, tennis, ride a bike, play a musical instrument, etc., undoubtedly you would choose option six, coached practice. Here is where the difference between true training and education occurs. The first five options are education and what many companies invest in for management development, leadership skills, sales skills, supervision training and customer service training.

However, only through coached practice will you obtain a level of competence, an agreed to standard of proficiency. The reality is what most people call training today is nothing more than education. The performing arts, martial arts and athletics are activities that conduct true training. Those engaged in each of these endeavors are measured by their proficiency.

The chart below gives an overview of the difference between education and true training. As you see, with education you "know about" a subject, but with real training, you are proficient, talented and confident.

What Outcome Results
Education Awareness Know About
Role Play Deeper Understanding Try It
Coached Practice Proficiency, Talent, Confidence How Well, at will
Field Coaching Proficient, Talent, Confidence Business metrics


If the measure of competence is to know about the subject, then education is fine. Role-play is a simulation that gives the participant a deeper understanding. For some, role play is simply willingness to try it. How often has it been said, "I wonder if it will work in the real world'? For instance, if your loved one needed CPR, would you be comfortable using a person who had only taken an online course, or someone who had real CPR training?

For education and role-play, all training is self-induced. You make an attempt on your own and achieve a result. You modify the attempt until you achieve a result that satisfies you. For most, when this point is reached, training is finished and that is the difference between amateurs and professionals. Amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong. Your best performers are continually practicing. Your average performers practice until they succeed once or twice, and your poor performers give up after a couple of attempts.

In a difficult economy, training is the first budget to be cut and usually the last to be restored or increased when the economy improves. Why? The general perception is that training doesn’t work or last.

Coached practice is enough repetitions to get the feel of performing the task well and then the standard is raised to "how well" you can do it. In sports this is commonly referred to as "muscle memory." In business, practice should be tied to an agreed upon standard directly linked to a business metric. You learn to play notes on a musical instrument by high repetition to play a song well, so why shouldn’t this same axiom be true for sales, leadership, management, supervisory or customer service skill.

Most organizations have some level of "training" in the essential elements of business. Like any other ability, until they can be broken down into distinct skill elements that can be practiced through repetition, the expected results will continue to be disappointing.

Without defined measurable skills, field coaching will not be successful either. Unless the coach and the learner have a defined level of skill and agreed to measure of competence, how does the coach coach? To what standard does the coach coach?

Organizations in the training industry have been and continue to be part of the problem. Unfortunately, fads and entertainment are common within the industry. e-Learning is only popular because less time and money is wasted. Worse yet in some so-called training exercises, some participants have been put at risk, and some are actually injured, all in the name of business training. This is unconscionable and reflects poorly on the entire industry.

At The PAR Group, we admit to being guilty of developing our own e-learning. With our PAR e-University, our primary goal was to create a blended learning so that time in the classroom was maximized for practice. However, we do know that some will just take the online course. What our firm learned is that if we did not have this option available, some clients pushed back on the amount of classroom time required. Once the e-learning option was available, the push back was for more practice time. By giving people a choice, they always choose the option for more coached practice.

So if you are charged with increasing the proficiency of your workforce to an agreed standard of performance, choose wisely. In a difficult economy, your job could hinge on understanding the difference between education and training.

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