Learning and training are often used interchangeably but are two very different things. If you’re not careful, a training-for-training’s-sake strategy will actually hurt your learning goals more than help them.
The learning / training distinction is an important one, so let’s start with some definitions.
Learning at its core is about internalizing information. It’s being able to receive new information and not just review it, but take it in, store it and then apply it when necessary.
Learning happens everywhere. It’s not just informational. It’s situational, too. We learn from experience just as we learn from reading a book or taking a course.
Training is a structured format where learning is designed to occur in context. It can be delivered in many ways: Classrooms, vILT, eLearning and applied training. The ultimate goal of training is learning—whether that means new technology, operational functions, machines or processes.
One thing to keep in mind—training can happen without learning if the training isn’t focused. When training is done just for the sake of training you run the risk of having a lot of problems including a lack of engagement, poor outcomes, and resistance from learners.
Here’s how you can keep your training focused on the learning.
There are many factors to account for when creating training programs. These six tips will help you stay focused on learning and not training for the sake of training.
#1) Identify the Two Journeys Involved
In the same way there are important distinctions between learning and training, there are distinctions between the learning journey and the training journey.
Remember how we said learning can take place at any time? Well, those times when learning takes place (before, during and after training) make up the learning journey. And as you may have guessed, that makes the learning journey different for everyone.
The training journey on the other hand is much more contained since it only takes place during the training. To that end it’s largely the same for everyone involved.
When setting up training, realize that everyone is starting from a different point on their learning journey. You need to understand where people are; some will be farther along than others. Your job is to make sure your training doesn’t hold back those farther along while also not leaving those just starting out in the dust. Pre-assessments are a great tool for figuring this out.
#2) Know What Your Learners Need to Learn
In the same vein as the learning journey discussion—to get the best results, the training must meet the learners’ needs.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of designing training around a new process, technology, or software. But even though you want to teach employees all those cool new features or efficiencies, this kind of approach isn’t practical.
You avoid this by making sure your training is relevant and applicable to the job your learners are doing. As a result, they feel like they’re getting something out of the experience, which will keep them engaged.
#3) Set Clear Expectations
It’s important that everyone is ready for the training before it starts, and that process begins with setting expectations.
Be clear about why the training is being implemented. Make sure everyone knows what they are expected to learn, and what they’re expected to do differently after the training.
Making those points clear from the start removes ambiguity and keeps people focused on the task at hand.
#4) Expect Resistance
Training brings change. And people don’t always like change, especially if their job is on the line. This is where proper change management is needed.
When communicating your training expectations, pay attention to points of resistance. Things like time constraints, unwillingness to change and even hostility can happen. It’s your job to account for and then address these issues from the start.
Doing so will help ease fears, reduce anxiety around training, and prevent people from completing the training with residual negative feelings.
#5) Leave Room for Unexpected Training Outcomes
Suppose someone completes training without learning much about a new task—but when the time comes to perform the new task, they know where to find the information they need (in the training materials) to perform it correctly. Should this be considered a successful training outcome?
We would argue YES.
Training outcomes aren’t always as clean as we would like them to be, especially when the training environment can’t possibly mimic the reality of the job.
For example, let’s suppose you’re training a new salesperson. You can give them every talking point and run them through scenarios in the classroom, but you’ll have no way of knowing how they’ll perform until they’re on the phone with prospects.
Providing post-training reference materials and allowing time for mistakes goes a long way toward supporting your learners. Those moments of applying the knowledge, making mistakes and finding the information they need when they need it are where the most impactful learning occurs. Don’t let training get in the way of them.
#6) Follow Up
It’s always important to check in on the effectiveness of the training afterwards to see if people are applying it. You’ll want to know if the training was worth it or if it wasn’t a good allocation of resources.
More importantly, you’ll want to get learner feedback. Did the training help them? Do they have positive feelings about it? Was it a good use of their time?
Finally, hold people accountable to the changes. You can put your employees through training, but habits take time to fully ingrain. If you’re not paying attention, old habits will return—negating any effectiveness the training might have had.
Learning and training are similar but distinct. If you’re not careful about how you plan and implement a training, learning outcomes are bound to suffer. Following the above six tips will give your training the right context—one centered around learning—leading to better outcomes for your people and your business.