Defending training

My Twitter stream is full of excellent professional learning people and 1 major trend: Non-training based learning.

The continual repetition of ideas like 70:20:10 along with the SoMeSoLearn fashion and chats like #IHateTraining are having a great impact on the learning sector. People truly understand the first 2 suppositions of the Infinite Learning principle:


BUT: There is nothing wrong with training!

Many of the same people who are talking everyday about SoMeSoLearn, learning in the work stream, informal unintentional learning etc etc… don’t always say directly that training is bad. But I feel the intention is nonetheless there. And the training profession is not doing a good enough (or loud enough) job of defending itself against that intention. And while it’s harder to defend something that is not directly under attack, here goes…

I’ve been asking learning professionals 2 questions:

  • What is the value of training? (as opposed to other learning approaches)
  • When is training the right answer?


But before we get started, let’s define “training”…

Much of the anti-training movement seems to be fuelled by a particular understanding of what training is: People equate training with top-down expert-to-non-expert instruction, as if training uses exceptionally the S1 hierarchical/directive leadership style of Blanchard + Hersey’s Situational Leadership model and only the L+D department is allowed to manage it. I can understand why they would think THAT is only useful 10% of the time…. and it certainly isn’t adapted to much of the knowledge-era Gen-Y “connected” “Yes We Can” learning population!

…or, as Harold Jarche (@hjarche) told me: “Sitting in a classroom listening to someone talk isn’t training. It’s just a waste of time.”

But THAT is not how training should be…


During a Twitter conversation with CNY ASTD President Mark Britz (@britz) we both agreed on the following simple definition of training:

  • “A formal structured learning moment that takes place out of the workflow, with defined objectives and curriculum/approach”

@hjarche referred me to the Wikipedia entry on training which says it is the acquisition of knowledge, skills and competences as a result of teaching specific things.


Note that neither of these definitions exclude learners from the definition and creation of the training package and they certainly don’t imply that the only teaching style to be used is top-down teacher/school-like instruction.

So far so good…. Now what about those 2 questions of mine….?


About the value of training

The added-value of training in terms of competence is in skill and attitude building, not knowledge delivery. Knowledge can be delivered via multiple other channels. The only knowledge to be attained in a training environment is self-knowledge, usually via constructive feedback following relevant exercises.

Sometimes a training environment is used to deal with objections and reactions to new information being acquired. For example, during a change project, people are put in a room together to receive and understand new ideas, question themselves, brainstorm and give feedback.


When is training the right answer?

When direct access to a subject matter expert over a condensed period of time is more efficient than self-learning or indirect access to that SME. Example: Hard skills learning like software, programming…

When taking time out from the workplace with colleagues is more likely to produce discussion, (team) reflection and brainstorming than staying in the workplace

When the risk of making errors learning on the job outweighs the investment of learning in a safe risk-free environment

In my at-distance-video-interview ASTD President Tony Bingham summarised his thoughts on when training is the right answer….

@britz referred me to Mosher + Gottfredson’s “5 Moments of Learning Need” which states that training is only required when “learning something for the first time” or “learning more”. The other 3 learning moments can be done via other channels (performance support, SoMe, reading…).

@hjarche told me that “training is the right answer when there is a clear lack of skill/knowledge and when learning it for the first time”.

@charlesjennings told me that formal training is usually the right answer when dealing with (a) high-level concepts or (b) compliance demands.


… I personally add that all of the above is only true with the important (obvious?) addition that what is learnt in the training environment is practically relevant (“authentic”) and effectively transferred to the workplace. Training alone (no follow-up) will almost never do the trick. Training as part of an effective learning strategy will.


Good training is here to stay when it adds value because it’s done well and for the right reasons.

…and I’m looking forward to it 🙂


Thanks for reading


Published by Dan Steer

Wandering corporate trainer, learning and development consultant, conference speaker and professional El-Magico. I help people get better at stuff by creating and facilitating Infinite Learning © opportunities. The world would be a better place if everyone was doing what he loved and doing it well. I am working to bring out the "El Magico" in everybody. Training in presentation and communication skills, leadership, social media for learning and marketing, learning and development management + personal effectiveness.

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  1. Hi Dan,
    While I think your definition of training hits some key points, I believe it is a little too broad. For example, basket-weaving would be training, even though it might have little or no impact on the organization. I tend to like this definition, which is from the HRD craft, “Training is learning that is provided in order to improve performance on the present job.”

    This definition has two points:
    1. Training is learning. Thus if they are not learning, they are not training. This touches upon a couple of points in your post – there is a clear lack of skill/knowledge and when learning it for the first time.

    2. The learning leads to an improvement on the learner’s present job. If there is no improvement, then it was not training. This does not mean that other learning processes are bad, for example, learning to perform a future job or broadening one’s horizon are good goals, but they are not training (the HRD craft calls them development programs).

    This allows the interested parties to know exactly where their learning dollars are being spent and whether there will be an immediate impact or not.

  2. Thanks Don for your reply.

    As a personal point, I’d like to add that I and my colleagues/team (when employed) have been using your site as a standard reference point for learning about training for years now.

    Recently I gave several pages as pre-reading for a TTT course and just today lunchtime I referred new technical trainer to your site for reference material on instructional design.

    Quietly proud to have merited your input here 🙂
    Thanks Don!

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