Are there really any differences between an organization with a training culture versus one with a learning culture?

While these two things might sound interchangeable, they’re not.

We’ll begin by exploring training cultures and learning cultures independently of one another, and then make some comparisons to help businesses understand which approach is most advantageous.

Comparing a Training Culture with a Learning Culture and Which Is Best for Business

The Training Culture

In a training culture, the experience is centered around instructors and managers responsible for training employees. What happens in a training culture is very much dependent on these instructors and leaders.

The idea is that these are the people that ultimately act as driving forces of the employee learning experience.

Other defining features of a culture centered on training include:

  • The focus isn’t only on trainers but also on the needs of the business. Rather than taking into primary account the needs of learners (a.k.a employees), the experience is focused on addressing the needs of the enterprise. There are very finite ways to determine the needs of the business as a training instructor. One of the simplest ways is to look at training as a means to address the requirements of job function.
  • When a company has a training culture, there’s a focus on specific events. For example, learning is to occur at a set time and in a set place—typically within a classroom. There is a definite beginning and end to all training-related activities. For example, onboarding training may occur during the first week for a new hire, and may end as that initial weekends.
  • There’s a lot of formality found in businesses with a training culture. Training is defined in a certain way and typically is carried out by instructors, with rigid standards and delivery practices.
  • Rather than focusing the training experience on long-term goals and framing it as a reward for high-performing employees, you’ll frequently see that organizations with a culture of training use it as only a way to address problems or issues in the workplace. This frames training as more of a punishment than a reward. Because of this framework, training in these organizations isn’t seen as something that’s inherently valuable for employees or really even for the business. Instead it’s seen as something that’s like taking a bad tasting medicine—it has to be done, no matter how difficult.
  • Particular skills are taught, but within a training culture these skills aren’t necessarily bridged with the every day work requirements of employees. They’re taught in a bit of a training vacuum, which often contributes to  the sense training lacks relevance or importance.
  • Training cultures revolve around short-term results, with little importance placed on the long-term.
  • Because of the formal structure and often a classroom and instructor-led delivery, in a training culture employees aren’t encouraged to seek out and personalize their learning experiences. Training materials are distributed only by instructors, and there’s not a lot of flexibility in how employees access and use these materials.
  • Training cultures don’t often rely heavily on data and reporting, which makes it challenging to calculate any discernible return on investment.

Features of a Learning Culture

A learning culture varies from a training culture in so many ways. Perhaps the most pivotal of ways is the fact that within a learning culture, the experience, process and even the delivery of training and content are centered on the employee.

This is why companies with learning cultures often rely on a learning management system as a means of delivery. It puts the content in the hands of the learner and allows that person to serve as the driving force behind their own experience.

In a learning culture, it’s not just the delivery of skills and information, but how those elements lead to a chance within the learner. This may be in their job performance, but it could also be in other areas including job engagement and satisfaction.

Other features of a learning culture include:

Features of a Learning Culture

  • In a learning culture, training and development never end. It begins as soon as a person is hired and continues along with their career in an organization. There isn’t a real sense of formality, and it’s not event-based because of this constantly advancing timeline.
  • In a learning culture the experience of training and development isn’t framed as a punishment or something that’s only done when someone isn’t performing to expectations. Instead it’s viewed through the lens of being a reward and something that’s offered to high-performing employees. Many organizations with a true culture of learning even tout their training and development programs as part of the employee benefit package.
  • While a learning culture encourages flexibility in how employees obtain knowledge, there is a lot of responsibility placed on them as well. With self-guided e-Learning, for example, it’s really up to employees to take the initiative required to complete training and advance their careers.
  • Learning in this type of culture isn’t just for the employees at the bottom—it’s for everyone in an organization up to and including the top executives. Everyone not only embraces the idea of continual learning, but also actively participates.
  • This type of culture isn’t centered around the learning itself—the importance within a learning culture rests on the results. For example, e-Learning in a learning-centric culture is meant as a way to evoke real world scenarios and then lead employees to make actual changes in the workplace following training delivery.
  • Finally, in a learning culture it’s not a solo experience. Instead, it’s about people coming together for the greater good that’s produced through learning. There are shared ideas and collaboration.  The entire organization is strengthened through a learning culture.

Would You Rather Have a Training or a Learning Culture?

It’s pretty clear from taking a look at the lists above that a learning culture is the preferred route for most organizations.

While it can be a process to move from one culture to the other, often the first step is to begin investing in new forms of learning technology.

Just by moving from a classroom, instructor-led training model to an e-Learning concept you’re already making significant strides toward shifting your culture.

Using a learning management system puts the control of the learning experience in the hands of employees. New technologies also makes it easier to maintain a continual learning experience, since you’re not depending on employees being present in one place, at one time, as is required in traditional instructor-led training.

After taking a look at these lists, let us know– does your organization have a training culture or a learning culture?