Training, learning, and word games

2nd half of 14th century

This is no U-shape! Image via Wikipedia

One of the occupational hazards of delivering training sessions professionally is the person who believes they are being truly insightful by explaining the difference between training and learning. Ok, so no actual person has done this to me, but they could have! The thought is that training explains how to follow some sort of process, methodology, system, or rules and learning is, well, almost anything beyond that.

As an aisde, business people love to point out small differences between the meanings of words. Never mind that they are just parroting it from someone else. Or that in practical terms, the difference fades into obscurity faster than Anna Kornikova on her thirtieth birthday. Its a seratonin thing.

So, in a training session, we should just explain how x follows on from y, and if y is this, then z is that, right? Well, I’m not so sure.

I think that wrote, step-by-step learning (for people who have real blood coursing through their veins) remember things that spark those emotions. They’ll quickly forget the logical progression but remember an animated discussion of which they are part. They’ll remember working Porter’s Five Forces and realizing that they are playing a losing hand trying to diminish supplier power through a tender exercise, but that developing a new supplier might change the game.

When learning is tossed into the mix with training, people’s minds form connections in their brains that they wouldn’t have otherwise made. One of the most powerful ways to generate insights is to ditch the subject matter expert, and ask someone from another discipline. Just ask the guys that compete in crowdsourcing-style competitions that solve problems outside their areas of expertise – e.g. Ed Melcarek, a physicist that solved a “chemistry” problem that stumped scientists at Colgate Palmolive (from Crowdsourcing by Jeff Howe).

Why would people like Melcarek even think to try? My hunch is that someone challenged them, and that somewhere along they way, they realized that the brain is capable of much more than following what they’ve been told by someone else.


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