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Learning vs Training - Is Learning Enough to Change Behavior?

By Bob Parks

Learning vs Training - Is Learning Enough to Change Behavior?

The internet is full of fresh new e-learning companies trying to re-define the training industry. We have all received the emails for free webinars or downloadable e-books. Many times there are nuggets of knowledge that you can apply. Many of these are task focused – How to Effectively Use Spreadsheets; Understanding LinkedIn Connections; 20 Tips to Increase Productivity. All of this is good knowledge with some form of potential application. But does it really focus on changing behavior or do they just deliver information?

As an organization considers their options for developing employees they must be clear on the outcomes they want; are you educating your employees to do a task or are you training them to do something different/better interpersonally? Learning skills that apply to tasks and functions are easier because there are only a few variables. You either pressed the right keys or you didn’t, right? The computer is not changing its opinion of you no matter how many times it takes you to get it right. But training takes learning to the next step – it transforms interpersonal behavior.

A friend was describing to us how the military goes about training to transform behavior. He described how important it is for soldiers to work closely together, to trust each other and work well under pressure. When they first come together, they are a group of individuals with varying skills, knowledge and attitudes. They are trained to become a unit that requires some very different behavior than many may have experienced.

They use the KNOW, SHOW, DO model for training. First they give the soldier the knowledge they need to understand what is being asked of them. What can seem complex becomes simple as the understanding takes hold. Then they are shown what to do. It looks difficult at first but after practice it comes easier. Now the average person needs to hear something five to seven times before it moves from complex to simple in their minds. This is where learning/education stops! Once they have that down, then it takes ten to 14 times of doing before it moves from difficult to easy. It is the process that helps the military turn out soldiers who are ready for duty.

For example, when training recruits on how use a rifle, there are elements of knowledge gained through learning, but attitude and skills come with practice, which results in the changed behavior that allows them to be a team that functions at a high level of trust and confidence.

Walk - KNOW

Instructors lecture new soldiers on the parts of the weapon, how to properly use the sights and what to do when the weapon doesn’t fire. This is done in a controlled low-stress environment so that the soldier can become familiar with the terms and gain some confidence in what to expect when they go to the range to actually hold the weapon.

Crawl - SHOW

The first time on the range there is no ammunition. It is about safety, control and more confidence. They take the weapon apart, put it back together, and then proceed to learn the safety procedures of the range. Once everyone is at the same level, the range is opened for the soldier’s first shoot, their first real experience. Some are nervous but everyone completes the elementary fundamentals of shooting.

Run - DO

Once the soldiers have proven that they can successfully hit the target, they are tested for “real.” The soldiers go to the range with a specified goal – the Expert Rifleman Badge. They have 40 shots to score at different distances from different positions. The stress of application negatively affects many soldiers who are perfect when learning. Those who not qualify must do the training all over again until they succeed. Success is mandatory!

Becoming an expert shooter is just the beginning. The soldier moves onto new skills with set standards of mastery. Learning the skills does not make the soldier, it is the course of the training - doing and practicing that insure success. How else can disconnected individuals from across the country become trained soldiers with common skills, vocabulary, traditions and culture? There is a plan for change.

The military is always training. They continue to execute, evaluate and correct with the single goal of “mission success.”

Is your organization truly focused on changing behaviors that will allow you to meet your goals or execute your strategies?

Published: October 24, 2014


Bob Parks

Senior Partner

Bob, one of the founders of Strategic Enhancement Group, has over 40 years of experience in business. Prior to starting Strategic Enhancement Group in 1984, he held sales, sales management, senior management and board of directors’ positions with three international companies. Bob earned his B.S. from the Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland and his M.B.A. from the University of Chicago Executive Program. SEG has consistently been one of Wilson Learning’s top performing and award-winning partners for over two decades. Bob has won both the Crystal Wisdom Award and the Summit Award given by Wilson Learning for outstanding contribution to the culture and growth of Wilson Learning’s agency network. He served as President of the Board of Advisors to Wilson Learning as well as on several charitable organization boards.

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