THE BLOG

Teach a Man to Fish: Training vs. Education

06/10/2015 11:27 am ET | Updated Jun 10, 2016

thumbnail-1Given the transformational changes taking place in every industry, if you received a Ph.D. ten years ago, it means you used to know a lot. The need to learn new things, regardless of your age or position in an organization has never been more important and represents a powerful key to unlock both personal and business success.

As you consider both classroom and on-line training options, even those that are using the latest educational methods and tools, it's important to keep in mind that there is a difference between training and education.

Large organizations have training departments that are usually positioned under the HR department, but is training all that's needed? What do you do with your new hires? Are you training them or educating them? Before you answer, are you sure that you know the difference between the two? Why? Because they both produce different results.

It is possible to be educated but poorly trained, just as it is possible to be well trained and poorly educated. In order to succeed in today's world of nearly instantaneous and constant technological change, it is important to be both, and to ensure that your team receives the best training and education. It's the only way to stay on top of your game today, while preparing for, and building, tomorrow.

But first, let's distinguish between training and education.

An ancient truism says that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, and if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life.

I'd go a step further: Don't just teach him how to catch a fish. Educate him about the art and science of fishing.

Go beyond the mechanics of catching a fish and enlighten the man by explaining the biological forces underlying the key elements of fishing. Give him the big picture. Teach the reasons behind the design of the equipment. Teach him about water currents, patterns in fish mating and feeding cycles, including economic and environmental trends that impact the life-cycles of fish.

I return to this somewhat clichéd old saw about the fishermen to illustrate the divide between training and education. Training is skill-oriented: It's learning how to fish. Education is concept-based -- it's learning to see the big picture of why and how things work together. And it is only with education that true breakthroughs are possible.

I'm assuming that you are not in the seafood industry, so let's use an example that's a little closer to home.

Suppose someone is trained on how to create a simple graphic in Excel. No doubt he or she will be quite able to create a graphic, but they will have problems doing other things because they have not been educated about the many functionalities and applications of Excel.

Then suppose you have someone else, someone who has been educated about Excel's full capabilities. This person understands the major concepts that underpin Excel's functionalities and made them necessary in the first place.

This second person will be able to apply their background knowledge, and compound it with creativity, to find solutions to problems they have not encountered before and they can inventively use Excel to do things they have never been trained to do.

You train someone to do something. It is task-oriented. It is skill-based. You can train someone to increase their proficiency. But in essence, you get what you put into it. A trained person may get faster, but they're unlikely to find a truly new and better way to do something. Because  training has a skill-based focus; it does not provide the depth needed for creative problem solving and innovation.

You train people for performance. You educate people for understanding.

As I was working with top instructional designers to create a state of the art learning system called the Anticipatory Organization™ Accelerated Learning System, I knew the only way I could make sure that it would generate rapid and sustained results was to incorporate the best of both concepts.

It's important to recognize, first and foremost, that training has rapidly evolved. To train effectively today, it's important to take full advantage of the new tools at your disposal.

You can create interactive training materials, including interactive and dynamic audio and visual elements that respond to the learners' particular needs at any point in time. Provide feedback and practice opportunities in the form of competitive, immersive, and collaborative training modules to take advantage of the ways in which gamification can improve focus and accelerate learning

But rapid problem solving, inventiveness and innovation -- the kind of inspiration that revolutionizes industries and gives businesses the next competitive edge -- seldom emerge from training alone. They only come into being when you take a holistic approach to teaching -- giving them knowledge and tools that might not, at first glance, seem immediately applicable to their specific station or their particular department, but nonetheless enables them to see old problems in a new light.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that by both training and educating your team, you're going to be getting one "Eureka moment" after another. The kind of breakthroughs people think of when they think of "innovation" -- the leaps forward that disrupt industries, open new revenue streams, and change the game -- are few and far between (otherwise, they wouldn't exactly be breakthroughs).

The combination of both training and education enables another kind of innovation: everyday innovation. It empowers your entire staff to solve problems before or shortly after they happen, discover new efficient methods to streamline your operation, and propose solutions that will make seemingly intractable obstacles disappear.

They may not be as dramatic as an "Edison's lightbulb" moment, but these are the kinds of small everyday leaps that can keep your business humming along in pace with the times and give you a competitive edge. And you won't see them if you only train your staff to do only their assigned tasks, without giving them the tools to understand the how or why.

When it comes to training and education, it can be tempting to cut corners. Consider that investing in the abilities and potential of yourself and your team is one of the best moves you can make. Everything else you develop or invest in will one day be obsolete. But you and your team's ability to improve and refine their skills through advanced training methods, and to innovate every day through superior, comprehensive education will keep you relevant and in demand.

Anything you can do to enhance your team's abilities and performance is a sound investment. And if you don't recognize that, a competitor will.

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