Is Learning Synonymous With Training?

I don’t think so.

In my model-set, and many have their own set, I always see the needs of Performers in an Enterprise Learning Context needing to have Performance Competence, to use the following Formal means, including:

  • Communications
  • Education
  • Training

Aren’t all of these capable (too bad not all are successful) of assisting the Learner to Learn?

These are some of the means to the ends, right?

These 3 buckets are of course the Formal vehicles to get Performers aware, knowledgeable and skillful. Which is or should be the goal of Enterprise L&D functions, systems, processes and products. IMO. Yours may differ.

And of course there are many Informal ways to get awareness, knowledge and skills, too. Same as it ever was. There are too many Informal means to list here – and I don’t wish to create a competitive model of modes and media for that, in this Post.

And while I am at it – not all of the Informal Learning means lead to Content/Learning that are accurate, complete or appropriate enough to the Learners’ needs to become Performance Competent – think about all the “stuff” in your PKN about Learning Styles. Or perhaps your PKN got that right from the git-go and you didn’t get led down some false path, only to unlearn that – or struggle with that (if you had then invested yourself and your clients/projects using THAT).

True too – regarding the accuracy/ completeness/ inappropriate of Content for some Formal Learning that’s been slapped together without a successful replacement for ADDIE – if you haven’t gotten some derivative ADDIE-like approach to work for you – as I have.

The need to become Performance Competent includes “for the current job” and “for the next job” and/or for all of the likely next jobs – when there isn’t a straight path to that next position. As often is the case.

And in my view, all Enterprise Learning – Formally – fits into my 3 buckets – which have a varied set of means within each as well. Of course your model-set may differ.


Most Communication (ideally) leads to awareness or some shallow knowledge – which when combined with other prior knowledge/skill may be totally sufficient for the Learner/Performer in order to Perform differently. It may be insufficient for those without that “prior knowledge.”

A Communique that informs the target audience to start submitting the monthly reports quarterly, might be totally sufficient for those who Know about Monthly Reporting, but not for the newbie.

Communications overlaps with this next category.


Most Education (ideally) leads to knowledge, shallow or deep. This too may lead to Performance Competence – “if” there is enough “prior knowledge” in each individual in the Target Audience.

It may be insufficient for those without that “prior knowledge.”

Education that informs the target audience to start submitting the monthly reports quarterly, and written procedures (i.e.: a Job Aid) on “step-by-step” how to do the Assessments of Risk – aligned to the Scorecard metrics and the processes, products, outcomes that the executives are tracking – that is now being required in those future Reports, might be totally sufficient for those who already know about Monthly Reporting and basics about Risks and Assessment, but again, probably not for the newbie.

Education overlaps with the next Category. And with the former Category.


Most Training (ideally) leads to the knowledge and skills needed to perform job task to produce outputs to Stakeholder Requirements – which leads directly to Performance Competence – “whether or not” there is enough “prior knowledge” in each individual in the Target Audience.

Training that develops the capability in the target audience to start submitting the monthly reports quarterly, following the written procedures (i.e.: a Job Aid) and practicing with feedback on the “step-by-step” how to do the new Assessments of Risk tasks – aligned to the Scorecard metrics and the processes, products, outcomes that the executives are tracking – probably require 2 versions – one for those with Prior Knowledge and without, the newbies.

Training overlaps with the former two Categories.

Overlaps and Differences

These 3 Categories in my model-set for Formal Learning overlap with each other and with many Informal Learning modes and media.

In any of my 3 Categories for Formal Learning, Informal Learning can and will happen… just as you cannot stop people breathing while they are learning formally, you cannot stop informal learning.

What most often gets learned in Formal Learning goes well beyond the Learning Objectives (hopefully tied to authentic-enough Performance Objectives). That’s great – as long as those “Learn to perform authentic job task” objectives were met.

But the reverse is not so true.

What gets learned in Informal Learning may not always square with the on-the-job Performance Objectives.  Again, we are in an Enterprise Learning Context, and not an Educational Learning Context (I would like a BS in Chemistry to get an entry-level  job) or a Personal Learning Context (I want to learn fly fishing).

Effectiveness and Efficiency

Eventually Informal Learning might get a Learner/Performer to be Performance Competent just as a Formal Learning approach might (should). Perhaps they could both pass a battery of Performance Tests or be just as successful on-the-job at performing.

But how would the two – Formal and Informal – score on efficiency?

Might Informal Learning, a trial and error approach to finding accurate, complete and appropriate learning content – with no (or sometimes a little) guidance – simply take longer?

How much longer and is that tolerable?

When to Use Informal and When to Use Formal Means to the Ends?

Here is my graphic to help explain when to Go Formal or to Leave it to Informal. It’s all about the Returns on the Investments – where those Rewards are the “Rewards to be Achieved” and/or the “Risks to be Avoided” – the stakes.

In general – if the Returns are low or meager – then you would forgo Formal Learning and leave it to Informal Learning – if the ROI FORECAST assessments/projections (not after the fact ROI analysis). If THAT Informal Learning is too risky a proposition – due to the effectiveness and efficiency perceptions – then management might fund meeting that need with Formal Learning means, rather than continue with the Risk.

I find it helpful to remember that all Learning starts as Informal.

Only when management decides (rightly or wrongly) to Formalize it – does Formal Learning happen. Otherwise all Learning is Informal.


But Wait – There’s More

This will be about Blends.

Informal Learning is always going to happen, like breathing.

Trying to control it may be a good strategy or not.

Here is where it – controlling it – Informal Learning – would be good…

Getting ahead of the Informal Learning Curve with Formal Learning – and then letting a blend of Formal and Informal “happen” – may negate the time and expense of getting everyone to un-Learn what they learned Informally about Designing Instruction for Learning Styles (as just one of thousands and thousands of real-world examples) before they learn “how to design” formally and then augment that with slightly guided Informal – for example: planning Learners’ interviews with experts for additional insights to how things really go in our type of work – after the Formal instruction.

If you’ve ever taught courses with experienced Performers, you know that one of the things you need to address (uncovered in the analysis hopefully so that this effort is reflected in the design of what then got developed for access or deployment) is getting the Learners to unLearn past practices, be they just old/outdated, or incorrect… designing for Leaning Styles, always asking Opened Ended Questions or Closed Ended Questions at different stages of the Sales Call (which was current theory and Training Content for most Sales Training Programs until Neil Rackham and his research disproved THAT back in the 1970s and 1980s – that unfortunately still remains as one of those myths that cannot be eradicated, just like Learning Styles.

Here is where it – controlling it – Informal Learning – might not be so good…

When an expert performer – with lots of prior knowledge – is trying to advance the Performance, improve something to be better, faster , less costly or time consuming (cycle time and touch time). Controlling the Informal Learning might be too restrictive.

There are times when you just need to “let go” and trust that the Learners’ Prior Knowledge will help those Learners carry on, and soprt the wheat from the chaff – discarding Designing for Learning Styles – and any other “distractions” from what has been proven to work – and not work.

Unfortunately – there isn’t Research (valid research) on all possible things. Some things learned via Informal Learning may work just fine, others not at all. Trial and Error as they say. The goal would be to minimize that (most of the time) for efficiency sake.

If you were the single shareholder and that was “all your money” – where profits that could have gone into your pocket were being “plowed” back into the business – you’d want it done both effectively and efficiently.

I’m guessing. I would.

EBP – Evidence Based Practices

Some Communities of Practice are safe havens for learning to continue Formal Learning with Informal Learning on EBP – and others not so much.

It is tricky. Be careful out there!

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One comment on “Is Learning Synonymous With Training?

  1. Engaging thoughts. I’ve long thought about the contrasts of formal/informal and learning/training. Today’s world opens up a lot of new options for informal learning then recognized formally to get qualifications/credentials of some kind. e.g. I just challenged an HR certification exam of sorts and passed. Still many peple who are self-taught often have gaps in their knowledge though tnd to focus on the more pragmatic stuff that actually gets applied. I tend to think of training as a cat being taught to use a cat door – practical, skill-based, needful to do the job – education as long-term foundational knowledge of a field, and learning as the most expansive, including everything (self-learning, courses, workshops, seminars, books, CoPs, etc.). Thanks for your thoughtful post.


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