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3.2 from 32 votes

Training vs. Learning: The Debate

Date: July 1 2005

“There is a great divide between training and learning, but it is not what one might expect. It is not a divide between who offers the training, but who owns it – that makes learning possible.”

I am confronted with many great adventures as I develop my new book, Corporate Learning Strategies. One such adventure took place last month in New York City. I left the Fire Department training academy and hopped on the Long Island Railroad headed for Penn Station. My goal was to meet with a Chief at a Manhattan firehouse and talk about the impact of training on performance. I walked down the electric streets of New York to find the firehouse at the corner of 8 th and 48 th. Once I was admitted in, I found a relaxed atmosphere resembling a college dormitory but with big equipment. The Chief welcomed me and we moved upstairs to his office. I met another Chief-in-training who was participating in the mentoring program – a very hands-on approach to learning. Within minutes the loudspeaker roared to life and I was posed with a question. “We have just been called on a run. You can wait here for us or come along.” The calm relaxed atmos! phere all at once became a paramilitary organization.

In a matter of a brief few moments I was riding with the Chief down packed Manhattan streets with sirens roaring. It was another exciting adventure. The rest of this story I will include in my book, but for now, I want to focus on my conversation during the returning trip.

The Chief shared with me that in his perspective, training must be hands-on. I said “experiential.” He agreed. “Why?” I asked. “Training must be hands-on so that we can see if the trainee can really do the job required,” he replied. This correlates directly to my concept of training impact. Forget measuring the training itself, measure the impact on job performance. That will become the accurate measurement. For the NYFD the measurement for solid training is benchmarked on job performance…as if your life depended on it. Which in their case, it really does.

So in light of this experience, is there a difference between training and learning? I believe the answer is “yes.” But the very same training experience may be training for one person and learning for another. Training is done to someone. Someone is put through training. Learning is something that the student desires, needs, and sees an immediate application for. The issue is ownership. If it is only owned by the company or organization, it is pure training. If it is owned by the learner, the locus of motivation is internal and not external. Ultimately this becomes the question of motivation, and the responsibility to frame the motivational question is on the organization.

When a New York City Firefighter races to a call, when a new manager is faced with a significant systemic organizational issue that requires confrontation, when a paint professional within Whirlpool’s manufacturing division must make a technical call – nothing is greater than learning formed by experience. Nothing is greater than the employee knowing why the learning is necessary and how it can be applied today.

What is the difference between training and learning? It is the difference between who owns it and who does not!


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