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Project Success Factor; Education vs. Training

Education, Training: to-may-to, to-mah-to, I run into this frequently. When preparing a training session I first determine whether there is a need for Education alone or Training as well. This raises the question, what is the difference? And more importantly which is the best choice for the need at hand? With ever increasing constraints on training budgets, it is critical that we get the most for the dollars we spend. Often stopping short will incur a loss instead of a return on our investment; less is not always more. A prudent choice will not only maximize return on investment but increase the chance of the overall project’s success.

For the purpose of this discussion I will use a simple definition: education is knowledge and training is skill. If by the end of the session you know more than you did before you started, that is education. If at the end of the session you are able to perform (to a measurable standard) a skill or task, that is training.

Most trainers/instructional developers spend a fair amount of time establishing the objectives; “at the end of this module, you will be able to..”, but what about the objective of the session? Why are we here? I am not talking about what the students will learn, I am talking about the purpose of the session. Are we looking to educate the team on the coming change so that they are aware of the reasons or are we getting staff up to speed so they can hit the ground running? Too often, projects are allowed to fail because this detail has not been properly addressed. To better understand this, let’s take a look at some key differences.

Education = knowledge. When we educate we give a person the information on a particular topic, task or skill. This could be anything from the reason behind a process change to how to land a jet airliner. While that person is not ready to take the controls, they know what needs to be done. They have not yet developed the skill to be able to complete the task.

Training = skill. A skill is the ability to successfully complete a task to a particular standard. While we can educate someone on every minor detail of a job or process, that does not mean they have the skill to perform that job. Skills are developed when the student takes that education and puts it into practice. True training involves about 80% hands on with the instructor standing back, monitoring and correcting hence the term facilitator.

My piano teacher used to make me practice, practice, practice. This is how we build muscle memory so we no longer have to think about how to do something, we just do it. The problem is muscle memory cannot distinguish right from wrong. How we practice is how we perform. I will never forget preparing for my first recital. I would almost always hit the wrong note in the fifth bar. I practiced and practiced, determined to get it right. Sure enough, the night of the big performance I played it exactly as I had practiced – wrong note in the fifth bar. It is not practice that makes perfect, it is perfect practice that makes perfect. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So the question then becomes, how do we as the student know what is perfect if we have never done it before? A good instructor will demonstrate what needs to be done in a perfect way, providing the example as well as guiding the student in their practice.

At SPM we have broken the training cycle down into three key elements; Tell-Show-Do.

Tell. That is education, a critical first step. We need to know what we are doing.
Show. This is perfection. We know it, now we see how it is supposed to be done.
Do. This is where true learning happens. A student who can demonstrate a task now truly has the skill.

I have encountered many models for training and training delivery in my years as a facilitator and I think this is one of the best. ‘Tell’, that is the education portion, you now know what it is you are expected to do. Most trainers jump straight to ‘Do’ and this is a mistake. ‘Show’ is a critical step in learning. It is perfection, it is the example that the student can use to model on or aspire to. This is the clear picture of the destination. Finally, ‘Do’ brings it all together, solidifies it. Even if the objective is just education, ‘Do’ will greatly increase retention. Research shows people remember 90 percent of what they do and only 10 percent of what they hear.

An additional strategy for improving retention of both knowledge and skill is that of just in time delivery. There is much truth in the adage “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” This is commonly associated with languages and, while it applies to both physical and non-physical skills, it is the cognitive that is mostly effected by the passage of time. Consider the yearly task of completing your taxes. By the end of the exercise, you have built your proficiency to a certain level. Assuming you are not an accountant, there is a learning curve each year as you start the task anew. Training delivered just before the users are required to employ their new skills is always best. One very successful project I was on involved a major upgrade [replacement] of the entire workforce’s desktop computers. Literally while the student was in the class room learning the new system, IT was at the student’s desk installing the new system. Students walked out of the training and into their new environment.

The choice of Education versus Training can have a profound impact on the eventual success of a project. At great expense we have built the perfect machine for the job, but if no one is trained how to operate that machine it will surely fail. Part of the problem is that true training is viewed as expensive – and it is. While education alone may seem like a short cut that is good enough consider this: would you trust your life to a pilot who has only read the manual?

When considering the necessary elements of a successful project, remember, the proper amount of education coupled with quality training is an investment that will pay dividends.

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David Donaldson is an experienced project manager/consultant with over 20 years experience working on and managing projects. With a passion for leadership and people development, David has a proven track record of working in difficult situations with multiple stakeholders. Using his coaching skills, he is able to break complex problems down into manageable terms that the players can understand, digest, make decisions and move forward. He has built a reputation as being the “go to guy” for challenged projects, consistently delivering results…

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