In today’s environment, training organizations are struggling to prove their worth. They are also struggling to keep programs going on smaller budgets with smaller staffs. One way to get ahead of this fray is to know the difference between learning and training and development – and to understand the relevance of each in terms of your organization’s environment and the overall environment.
First, training managers should understand the difference between learning and “training and development”. Learning, in general, is the absorption of base knowledge about a particular subject, such as an industry. This knowledge will give an individual an understanding of the world around them and how the organization (and the individual) fit together. Training and development, on the other hand, is the act of teaching someone how to do something, such as a job, or teaching them the skills and attitudes that will have a direct impact on job performance, such as operations, human resources policies, or management and leadership. Let’s look at some examples of each before we discuss their relevance.
Learning in many organizations is no longer a formal structure. For example, workers in financial services may need to learn about the general things that move their industry, such as the Federal Reserve, the banking system, and the world of investments. But what if those workers are line associates in a bank, processing the items that come in from branches, such as deposits and checks? Do they need the general understanding of the Fed and investment banking to do their jobs properly? In general, we can probably say no. But some organizations want to provide that general knowledge to line workers so that they understand how they fit with the rest of the world. This may, in fact, assist in retention when workers understand how they can progress and what opportunities are available.
Training and development is the usual formal structure. Financial advisors must go through mandatory training for licensing and certification. They must also go through company-specific training on the computer system, customer management, and customer handling. Does the financial advisor need to go through a learning process about the bank’s item processing? Again, we can probably say no. If the advisor gets the requisite licenses and can prove that they understand how to service their customers within the law and within an ethical scope, then their training is effective.
But what is the relevance of each type of intervention in today’s environment? It can be argued that “learning” is now best left to on-the-job or self-discovery. The bank’s item processors may have an interest in how the system works and may find, on their own, the Federal Reserve’s website to explain the “how”. On the other hand, a financial advisor may already have an understanding of that system, and, if not, he or she may be compelled to find out about on an individual basis. With tight budgets and small staffs, organizations are being forced to “weed out” learning and stick to training and development, that is, those programs that can have a direct impact on job performance and the organization’s bottom line. In this sense, training and development is far more relevant than learning.
But is learning over? This is also a point where we can say no. A general, underlying knowledge of one’s industry or place in that industry can only be helpful. But can training organizations prove worth with general courses, when budgets are still being considered? Probably not, if you have to pull people away from the job for long periods of time or pay staff to deliver these programs. So how can you provide learning without losing value? One way is to manage learning online. There is cost involved with developing or purchasing courses, but typically costs decline after that. And with online learning, participants do not have to be pulled away for long periods of time. You can also consider obtaining organizational volunteers who are subject matter experts and have them deliver “brown bag” lunch sessions or half-hour programs at the end of the day. Using a volunteer is a great way to impart learning without stressing a financial resource. You can also look for online resources for your industry or organization. As we discussed earlier, some regulatory and oversight agencies such as the Federal Reserve offer interesting online information and even courses that are free to anyone who wants to take them.
We can definitely say that training and development is currently more relevant than learning. But we can also say that learning is not finished. Find creative and cost effective ways to integrate learning into training and development and develop that base of knowledge.