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Training versus learning: how important is human contact?


This Opinion Piece article appears in LearningWire Issue 60, distributed to TrainingZone members on 2 August 1999.

This issue has been a recurring theme for me throughout this year, and various events and articles have helped to bring it into sharper focus. Some time ago I ceased to refer to 'Training' as it carried implications of a passive process to which people were subjected. My preference has been to refer to 'learning' - a more proactive process in which people choose to engage for their own development. I now tend to talk with clients about 'learning needs analysis' and 'learning resouce centres'.

At the same time, the rapid growth of technology-based training / learning has also influenced the debate. This was brought into sharper focus for me at the recent Training Solutions Show with its emphasis upon computer and internet solutions to training needs. Individualised computer-based training is undoubtedly cost effective in terms of time (both for the employer and the staff member); it can be individualised, allowing people to learn at their own pace; and it can be delivered to uniform standards across an organisation. However, I'm still looking to read an extensive body of evaluative research into the longer-term impact of CBT on staff performance. My experience of tutor-led training is that participants value the human interaction which is implicit in group learning situations. It is interesting that at the same time as technology solutions are expanding fast, there is a parallel growth in coaching and mentoring approaches - which rely on direct human contact for their effectiveness.

My thoughts were crystalised by an article in the 15 July 1999 issue of 'People Management' magazine written by Howard Hills and Peter Francis in which they explore the value of interaction in learning:

"Across the country, flip charts, laser pointers and overhead projectors are being consigned to the scrapheap. Banks of quiety humming computer terminals are taking their place as businesses make huge investments in technology to delivery training .... but there is a stron argument that computer-based methods do not result in real learning. The reason is that learning requires social contact. People tend to see using technology ... as a solitary experience which takes places away from the real job - therefore it doesn't apply to what happens in the workplace."

This is an excellent and throught-provoking article. IPD members can read the full text online in the archive area of
It's strengthened my commitment to the concept of learning, rather than training - and it will certainly influence my discussions with clients about the best way forward in their staff development. Just at the time when we start to recognise the importance of diverse methods in our training and learning repertoires, why are many organisations investing in another 'single-approach' solution? We know that people have different learning styles which influence how they like to learn. An obvious implication is that we need to offer a diverse range of learning methodologies. This might make it more problematic to ensure consistency of standards, but that should become the next problem to tackle, not an obstacle to diversity.

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