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Chapter 1: Learning Is a Lot More Than TrainingThe expotential growth of information that characterizes modern business makes the need for learning more important than ever. But the sheer volume of what we have to learn and the speed at which we must learn it can be daunting. So much so that old models of learning acquisition are failing us. Meeting this challenge requires new thinking about how we acquire knowledge and skill, and how we deploy learning resources that can keep up with the knowledge economy.
Learning and training are often thought of as synonymous; they are not. Training is the way instruction is conveyed; it supports learning, which is our internal way of processing information into knowledge. But since there are many ways we can learn, an effective learning strategy must transcend training.
Some dictionaries equate learning with activities such as training or education. Others use broader cognitive viewpoints like "acquired wisdom, knowledge, or skill," or scientific-sounding behavioral definitions such as "a modification of behavior as a result of experience." While all of these definitions are useful, we can go further to define learning in a way that works in the context of organizations and businesses.
What Is Learning?
In business, learning is a means to an end. Generally speaking, that end is enhanced workforce performance, which in turn reflects its value-better products and services, lower costs, a more competitive posture in the marketplace, greater innovation, improved productivity, increased market share, etc.
In the context of business, learning is the process by which people acquire new skills or knowledge for the purpose ofenhancing their performance. Companies want salespeople to learn new selling techniques so they can improve their sales results, which goes right to the business's bottom line. A hotel wants its desk clerks to learn more about customer service so they can be more helpful to guests, and, as a result, the hotel can increase occupancy rates and solidify brand loyalty. The independent plumber seeks to learn a new way to repair burst pipes so that s/he can do the job more quickly and thus handle more customers in the same amount of time. Investment houses want their stockbrokers to learn more about investment strategy so they can presumably provide a greater level of client service, while the firm can increase the amount of assets it has under management. In each case, learning enables an individual or groups of individuals to work faster, better, and smarter so that they and their organizations (or employers) reap business benefits.
The Role of Training
We have traditionally relied on training as the "default" approach to facilitating and improving performance, and instruction as the specific process that makes training work. Training/instruction is used when it is necessary to shape learning in a specific directionto support learners in acquiring a new skill or to utilize new knowledge in a specific way or to a specific level of proficiency, and perhaps within a specific time frame. Airline pilots are trained to be sure that they can demonstrate all the skills and competencies necessary to operate an airplane safely and efficiently before anyone flies with them. Surgeons are trained because of the grave consequences that might result if they practiced their craft without certification of their skills-in advance. Police officers are trained not only because society needs to be sure they are skilled, but also to be sure that they employ their skills appropriately in situations where life and death decisions are made in split seconds. Customer care representatives are trained to respond appropriately with customers every time, and technical experts are trained to fix infrastructure or systems problems quickly so our businesses run smoothly.
Training can be delivered in many ways-in the classroom, over the phone, through a computer or via satellite, to name a few. And a variety of instructional approaches are used to get the job done, including lecture, case study, simulation, drill and practice, laboratories, and small group work. In the end, training has four main elements:
1. An intent to enhance performance in a specific way, typically derived via needs assessments and reflected in learning goals and instructional objectives.
2. A design reflecting the instructional strategy that is best suited to the learning requirement and the learner's attributes, as well as the measurement strategy that gauges the effectiveness of the training.
3. The means and media by which the instruction is conveyed, which may include the classroom, a variety of technologies, independent study, or a combination of approaches.
4. In high accountability situations, a more formalized assessment or certification capability...