The Three Words Your Customer Must Know

Before I dive into the three words I need to clear up two more misconceptions about training first. Why? Because its one of the words.

Jay includes "training" in his of 8 Dirty Words and gives the following reason, "Training is something you do to someone. Learning is something people do for themselves."

Some of the roughest, toughest people in the training profession are U.S. Marine Drill Sergeants. One of their mottos is that they will not give up un a new recruit as long as he or she does not give up on themselves. Even though their training is some of the best in the world, it is not a one-size-fit-all solution, and they realize they can't "do it" to others; but rather the learners must be willing to learn it themselves. They adjust as long as the learners are willing to learn. I cannot "do it" to you; you must be willing to learn yourself.

Daniel Spira commenting on Jay's post (How Not To Sell Learning / Performance / Training & Development Projects), writes

On the flip side, the term “training” does suggest a strong one-way orientation, as in, “Here is the process.  Follow it.”  and in that way, appears to presuppose how a given solution will be delivered, which may or may not fit with the client’s needs. 

Just because I offer training as one solution, does that mean it is the only solution I am allowed to offer? If I am presented with a performance problem and if it is decided that learning is part of the solution and if the learning meets certain requirements, then yes, training just might be the solution.

OK, on to the three words, Training, Education, Development. These three words are important because they tell the customer when they are going to see a payoff (impact or result) and what must be done to achieve the payoff.


Training is learning that is provided in order to improve performance on the present job. This means training is orientated towards the present. And workplace performance is the only measure to determine its success.

Why must your customer know this? If it is decided that training is the solution, then it has to be carried over to the workplace. It does not require fancy ROI's or other fancy measurements but rather that the agreed upon performance is actually being accomplished once the training is performed. This means there must be an immediate impact once the training has occurred and if this impact is not seen then the training failed. Two quick examples.

I trained forklift operations in manufacturing and distribution centers. Note that these forklifts operate differently than cars in that they have no steering wheel but rather joysticks, their braking system is backwards in that you step on it to make it go and release it to make it stop, etc. Once we have completed the training in a safe place the learners are then certified in the actual workplace. I ascertain that the performance is carried over to the workplace. If I don't ensure the impact occurs then that means I did an half-a** job. Its that simple.

I have also trained SQL on AS/400 systems. The training is important because if they fail to do it correctly they can not only get an incorrect solution but may also bring the system to a crawl. Once we have completed the classroom training, the learners return to the workplace and within a set period of time they are required to build three SQL solutions. Before running each solution they send it to the instructional staff to ensure it is correct. If they fail to complete the assignment their SQL privileges are revoked. We ensure performance carries over to the workplace.


Education in organizations differ from education in schools so don't let the following definition confuse you. Education is training people to do a different job. It is often given to people who have been identified as being promotable, being considered for a new job either lateral or upwards, or to increase their potential. Unlike training, which can be fully evaluated immediately upon the learners returning to work, education can only be evaluated when the learners move on to their future jobs or tasks.

Why must your customer know this term? Since there is a delay between the learning solution and the actual performance, then reinforcement has to occur. If no reinforcement is provided then there is a very good chance that performance will decline (we loose what we do not use). Learning professionals and their customers often get themselves into trouble when they provided training solutions to educational learning problems.

For example, an organization is implementing a new system. Sixty-four days before the new system is to be implemented the learners receive their "training." On the day of the new system implemention things turn into a disaster because the workers forgot what they had learned. The only way a training solution would work is if for example the learners are trained on a weekend and the new system is implemented on Monday. Another method is to provide a performance support solution. If it is decided that the only solution is classroom learning and for some reason the learners will not be able to put their new skills and knowledge to immediate use, then it has to be treated as educational learning, which means reinforcement must be be provided during the delay.


Development is training people to acquire new horizons, technologies, or viewpoints. It enables leaders to guide their organizations onto new expectations by being proactive rather than reactive. It enables workers to create better products, faster services, and more competitive organizations. It is learning for growth of the individual, but not related to a specific present or future job.

Why must your customer know this term? Most development solutions require a lot of involvement from everyone involved, to include the leaders and the learning specialists. In addition the payoff (impact or result) is normally not going to be seen for some time.

For example, during my talks with my last three customers (all large organizations) I discovered that they all had wikis, but that that they were all basically barren wastelands. And they all implemented them in basically the same way — a training solution was provided. Again, wrong learning solution for the problem. Development solutions that get solved with training solutions is probably the biggest reason that training gets it bad reputation. For example, in my last post I noted that such programs as spirit-building, inculcation of company history and philosophy, and individual growth were identified as training, thus they failed to provide the proper impact when measured against Kirkpatrick's Four-Levels of Evaluation. The reason they failed does not mean they are bad programs, but rather they were treated as training problems rather than development opportunities.

So do yourself and your customers a favor — know the three terms and know when to use them


Dan Spira said...

Thanks for this, Donald -- you've proposed some very interesting performance-based distinctions for these three words ("training," "education," "development"), all of which incorporate the concept of "learning" in different ways. I’m going to integrate some of these distinctions into how I talk about training and development to peers and clients.

Adding to your distinction on the "education" part: “Continuing Education” is important for people who aren’t changing jobs per se, but whose existing jobs have more fluid, changing requirements. In those cases, a training solution (or training-based measurement of effectiveness, as you point out) may not be an appropriate match.

Donald Clark said...


I'm starting to get a little sloppy on my references (I did it in my last post too). These terms have been around for quite some time as Nadler discussed them in 1984: Nadler, Leonard (1984). The Handbook of Human Resource Development. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

What is also interesting in that the late great Michael Tovey uses the same terms in his book, Training in Australia that was published in 1997. Thus the terms are really quite universal.

BunchberryFern said...

This is soooo useful.

I've recently found myself halting during conversation and in writing as to what to call myself and what I do.

On my blog, I trip over the T-word, wondering if people are going to turn up at my gates with torches and pitchforks to burn the 20th Century command-and-control recidivist.

Part of the problem is the word: eLearning. Much of it is eTraining. Some of it is eEducation.

I've been playing around with what to call everything here:

It's on my 'noticing' blog rather than the proper one - so it's fairly half-baked.

elisabeth said...

This was a very interesting post. I feel like I knew the difference between these 3 words, and yet have always used them incorrectly.