Learning & Development

Training vs Learning: What's the Difference?

You know training is essential for your teams to be healthy and grow, but are they learning? You need both, but don't assume one comes with the other. Training and learning are two different yet interconnected parts of the complex and fluid education process. By definition, training uses various methods to give knowledge and information to people who seek it. Learning is the series of activities that people engage in to take that information in, understand it, and integrate it.

Ideally, training and learning happen in tandem. However, that's rarely the case. When training doesn't result in changes or new behaviors, it's clear the participants didn't learn, and there is a disconnect. It takes both training and learning for new knowledge to change actions.

If you are in charge of developing training programs, you work tirelessly to ensure your company creates and presents materials for participants to absorb, remember, and apply. To do this successfully, you must understand the critical differences between training vs learning.

Training Is Only Successful with Learning

Training programs are only successful if learning takes place. Industry leaders who invest time and resources into training and don't see results can testify to that. So can anyone who has left a training class knowing less about a subject than they did before.

What causes the disconnect between training and learning?

Common Issues with Training that Prevent Learning

There are several common issues with training that prevent participants from learning. 

Participants don't see value in or connect with the material

Before any training begins, every participant should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What am I expected to learn during this training?
  • Why is it valuable to me?
  • How will I apply this new knowledge in my job?

If teams can't answer these questions initially, it's unfair to expect them to engage with the training. Clear training objectives help to bridge the gap between training and learning.

Lack of practical assessments during training

Assessments should happen during all training phases, not just at the end. When assessments are given before training, participants and trainers understand where they are as far as competencies and mastery. 

Assessments during training determine how much each trainee has mastered and can show what concepts need reteaching. 

Finally, post-training assessments provide a realistic view of the program's overall success. Evaluating people after the training will indicate whether they can retain and apply their new knowledge.

When you introduce participants to new concepts and processes, they may not recognize shortcomings in their understanding. They need assessments to show them where to seek additional help or explanations.

Training is often designed for a single learning style

There are eight distinct learning styles. Unfortunately, training often accommodates just one or two, leaving many struggling to learn in ways that aren't optimal for them. When you personalize training according to learning style, the outcomes improve significantly.

There is more emphasis on technology than on content

When it comes to the disconnect between training vs. learning, over-prioritizing technology is a real issue. Training professionals often focus on the technologies they can use to deliver instruction. While delivery is important, instructional design and content are crucial to learning. 

Management doesn't buy in

If management doesn't see the value of training for their team or the organization, they will not motivate anyone to engage or learn actively. While it can be difficult for managers to embrace training that could leave them shorthanded, it's crucial to promote a genuine culture of learning to help your teams thrive.

Participants are afraid of or frustrated by change

Training often precedes a change in the workplace. It may introduce new processes and procedures or add additional expectations. Not all of these changes happen through democratic processes, generating fear and doubt in the organization. This doubt leads to a critical point of friction that highlights where training vs. learning can conflict with one another.

Imagine being overwhelmed and short-staffed at work, then being expected to learn processes that will make your daily tasks even more difficult. That's a challenging circumstance to learn and integrate new knowledge effectively.

Lack of post-training support

It's difficult to tell how effective training has been until participants apply what they have learned. This application period isn't always a smooth transition, and teams need support to incorporate these changes.

The most effective training is thoughtfully designed. It considers the current culture, needs of the organization, and the roadblocks to learning that might exist. Then, address those things up front to create better outcomes.

Training Objectives

Download Free Training Objectives How to Guide

Learning Can Occur Without Training

Learning is the deliberate and active pursuit of knowledge and information. Ideally, it happens every day in every organization regardless of any formal training initiative. 

Any time an employee researches a work-related topic online, seeks information from coworkers, or digs into company reference materials, they are learning. However, that learning is only valuable if the employee finds relevant and correct information. The employee also needs a way to implement that knowledge.

At first, it may seem as if all failures in training and learning result from training failures. This isn't always the case. Participants must make an active decision to engage in the material and put forth the effort to learn. They must also provide some self-motivation when it comes to learning. 

For example, not all materials can be exceptionally engaging. This is often true with safety and compliance training, where the material may be dry or repetitive. However, it's still imperative that trainees participate and commit to learning.

Finally, learning requires resources. To learn effectively, teams must have access to valuable training and knowledge resources. They must also have time to engage in learning. 

Most importantly, employees engaged in learning must have the physical and mental energy and the suitable information sources to engage in learning.

Training May Have Time or Location Constraints

Another key difference between training and learning is that learning can happen any time an individual decides to pursue knowledge and has the resources to do that. Training may have constraints that make it challenging to offer as freely as self-directed learning.

In many instances, there are ways to get around limitations like time or location. Training can happen virtually. Video training can be created from live training sessions and distributed to remote workers or people in satellite locations. You can bring in additional trainers to ensure training sessions happen when and where they need to.

Still, it is essential to acknowledge the challenges to delivering and receiving training. When workarounds aren't possible, these constraints can create frustration and setbacks:


Training happens when it's accessible. However, participants must be motivated for learning to occur. This motivation might come from innate curiosity, desire to avoid negative consequences or the prospect of rewards. Whether people push themselves because of internal or external factors, they must want to learn.

Creating a Learning Culture

It isn't enough to understand the differences between learning vs. training. Organizations that want to experience growth, retain engaged employees, and foster innovation must create a learning culture.

A learning culture is a work environment where employees have the time, resources, and access to improve their knowledge and skills. Training is an integral part of this, and so is the availability of a knowledge base that workers can use for self-directed learning.

In the best of circumstances, leaders realize that training is their most effective tool to empower their people to learn. Once you understand this, you can improve your training and get better results from those efforts. Here are some critical steps to take while designing and delivering training programs to enhance learning.

  • Provide training options to remove sources of stress and inconvenience
  • Create effective training assessments
  • Communicate the purpose of training clearly
  • Use gamification and other methods to increase engagement
  • Test new activities and collect feedback to identify gaps between training and learning

Finally, provide support after training to ensure your teams actively apply their new knowledge in their daily work. 

How Can Your Organization Merge Learning and Training?

Once you evaluate learning vs. training, it becomes clear that the two concepts are interconnected. You must use engaging methods for your teams to learn in ways that benefit themselves and the company. This process requires a solid training infrastructure. 

That infrastructure can come from a reliable online learning platform. Implementing a platform that amplifies learning gives you more time to design and conduct training courses that encourage your team members to learn new skills.

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Continu Team responsible for Continu's content.
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Continu is the #1 modern learning platform built to help companies scale and consolidate learning. From training customers to employees, Continu is the only platform you need for all learning.

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