Your Training Programs Are Preposterous And Fail Miserably To Foster Learning

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Training is for dogs.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m educating my dogs” or “I’m instructing my dogs.”

Of course you haven’t. That’s because most training programs are for dogs.

The Education Semantics Challenge

Many people use the words training, education, instruction and learning interchangeably.

However each conveys a unique message and meaning. Individually and combined, these four activities help build different types of skills, knowledge and ultimately attitude and behavior change.


We’ve all heard of training a dog.

“Instructing your dog” and “educating your dog” sound preposterous.

When training a dog, the goal is for the dog to perform something specific and precise. We want the dog to perform that task on our command without any variation. When I say sit, I want my dog to sit. The more effective the training, the more accurately and rapidly the dog responds.

With training, the goal is for each audience member to identically reproduce a behavior or skill with fewer errors, greater speed and in more demanding conditions. It’s very mechanical and requires an automatic response in behavior. It requires no thinking on the learner’s part.

For example, being able to shift manual gears in a vehicle is an automatic response that required training. Knowing when to shift the gears requires thinking, estimation and judgment which are not part of training behaviors.

Many organizations offer training and call it education. They are actually in the training business. They are shortchanging their members and customers.

They provide some online and face to face experiences that require the participants to respond automatically the same way all the time. There is a limited shelf-life to this type of program. Often disruption innovation changes how we should respond and the training becomes outdated. Much of the content of training programs is also provided online in a variety of formats from elearning to articles.


Instruction helps audiences generalize beyond specifics of what is taught. It is imparting knowledge and helping listeners adapt the new information to their own situations. It requires synthesizing specific knowledge and reconstructing or modifying it for their experiences.

Instruction allows the audience to act thoughtfully and adapt the learning to each new set of conditions. It is the opposite of training which requires applying the information without variation regardless of conditions.


Education conveys a more long-term and broader application of the information than training and instruction.

Training and instruction are short-term and narrowly focused. Education is the application of a variety of knowledge and skills to professional experiences. The purpose of education is to help build strategic thinking, mental models and value systems. Education is the application of cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, decision making and evaluation.

  • Training tells someone which fire extinguisher to use, where it is located and which emergency numbers to call.
  • Instruction allows us to acquire skills to identify safety hazards or to act when an emergency occurs that we’ve never encountered.
  • Education enables us to adopt a safety outlook at work and evaluate all situations to identify which are safe and which are not. Education means that we assess situations, take precautions and proactively apply measures to avoid accidents.


Learning is change.

The entire reason organizations have education programs is to enable people to change. It is about transforming lives professionally and personally. Training is just about imparting information.

Ultimately, learning is an active process that takes place in the working memory. It requires that the learner attend to words and visuals and abstract meaning from them. The learner must then connect that meaning to existing knowledge and experiences for it to enter long term memory. Learning programs require a different teaching method than the typical training or instruction program.

Successful Organizations Shift From Training To Learning

Successful organizations have moved from offering training programs that tell people specifically what to do when and instead are offering professional development or learning and development programs.

Organizations that continue to offer training programs for a fee face extreme competition from a variety of sources including the Internet. Their training programs are nothing more than charging for the broadcast of information.

Audiences can find the same information online even from their own employers or local organizations.

Why have so few organizations made the shift from training to learning? What does learning look like in our conference settings as compared to training?

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