Since the turn of the century, the field of training and development has gradually transformed into learning and development. We may intuitively understand this distinction or perhaps overlook this change as a natural evolution of the industry. Today, you may hear the words training and learning used interchangeably and there are many overlaps between the two. Both training and learning:

  • refer to the acquisition of skills, knowledge, ideas, habits, mindset, etc.
  • aims to help the learner or participant to better one’s self in their performance or skillset
  • can happen in a program
  • are related to personal and professional development

The difference between training and learning

Initially, it maybe hard to tease out it’s difference between training and learning. If we delve deeper into the usage of both words, we start to see its subtle yet powerful distinction.

When we use the word training, what springs to mind is the standard classroom program, where you have a trainer providing instruction or facilitation to an audience on a specific topic. The instruction can come in the form of a presentation, a demo, or public speaking. Sometimes, these training sessions are complemented with handouts, guidebooks, group discussions, flip charts and other classroom activities. Training happens then an instructor imparts his or her knowledge to their audience.

When we use the word learning, some of us may visualise a classroom… or some may consider eLearning, blended learning, social learning, or the vast array of learning technologies and methods that are readily available. Learning is an individual’s cognitive, kinaesthetic and emotional process which can occur outside the classroom. Learning happens when the learner takes in and assimilates the knowledge, mindsets and skills into their way of thinking, behaving and living.

Here are some other differences between training and learning:


  • Training is event-driven.
  • Training is something you do.
  • Training is sharing and teaching knowledge, ideas, facts and skills.
  • Training aims to change the behaviours of its learners.
  • Training is planned.
  • Training is specific to a program topic.
  • Training can happen without the learners learning anything.
  • Training has a specific goal.
  • Training may not change the learner.


  • Learning is about the experience.
  • Learning is something that happens.
  • Learning is assimilating the knowledge, ideas, facts and skills into one’s habits, mindset, behaviour, attitude and performance.
  • Learning happens when the learner changes their behaviour.
  • Learning can happen anytime and anywhere.
  • Learning is determined by the learner’s motivation.
  • Learning can happen without training.
  • Learning depends on the learner’s goal.
  • Learning changes the learner.

What is the impact of understanding this difference?

As learning professionals, understanding this difference opens up a wider range of possibilities that supports individual and organisational learning apart from the standard classroom. By shifting your focus towards the learner’s performance or behaviour, you will no longer wish to measure surface metrics such as number of training hours or number of participants. Instead, measurements will focus on behaviours or performance applied after the program. Such measurements will give a clear picture of how learning and development can contribute to your organisational goals of engagement, retention, productivity, or even your bottom-line.