"Learning" and "training" are often used interchangeably, but what are the differences between the two? Are there any? And what impact do they have when people look for eLearning?

Jay Cross, who is credited with coining the phrase ‘e-learning’, said:

If your sixteen year-old daughter told you that she was going to take a sex education course at high school, you might be pleased. What if she announced she was going to take part in some sex training at school?

So the difference between education (learning) and training is not as negligible or irrelevant as may seem.

Learning vs. Training

Education is all about learning the theory. Traditionally, an education may reinforce knowledge in which that you already have a foundation.

For example, when you’re at school, you may already have command of the English language, but you still learn English.

Other subjects may be taught to you from scratch, but it is the theory that you learn. In Physics, you learn about splitting the atom, but you don’t do it.

It is for this reason that the traditional professions like Accountancy, Law and Medicine require a period of further practical training after academic studies are complete.

And that’s where training differs; training gives you the skills to do something rather than just know about something. Training can be specific to your need, your vocation or your skills-gap. It is there for people who want to implement a new system, improve a specific ability or further their ability in something.

That’s not to say education has no place - lawyers must understand the principles of law before they learn to deploy it and a surgeon must have a detailed knowledge of anatomy before they pick up the scalpel. But what is it you’re looking for - that foundation upon which to build or the skills you want to develop?

Consider the following when you’re looking to take a course:

Learning

  • Are you looking for a course in a foundation subject?
  • Do you want to gain qualifications you missed out on at school?
  • Would you tend to find the type of course you’re looking for traditionally in an educational institution?

Training

  • Are you looking to learn a specific skill for work?
  • Do you want to apply the knowledge you gain practically?
  • Would you tend to find the type of course you’re looking for traditionally in a commercial setting?

The landscape of learning and training has advanced greatly since the 80s, as more universal access to education and training has become available, particularly through elearning.

Learning and Training in the Digital Age

Distance learning is not a new idea, indeed by 1890, there were more people in the US undertaking Correspondence Courses than there were students in the undergraduate system. Today, online training and education is a huge market, with red brick and traditional collegiate universities offering online degrees and chartered societies recognising the value of giving electronic access to qualifications, resulting in its rivaling in popularity of the traditional correspondence course model.

Although initially the privilege of large corporations with enormous resources off the back of long negotiations and development, quality off-the-shelf online training is now available immediately and to everyone, with skills covering management, health and safety, accountancy, communication and more.

It is as a result of this accessibility and ubiquitousness that, today, some advocate dropping the ‘e’ in elearning, saying that it is a symbol of a by-gone era. This may be true as more and more learning now takes place in one digital form or another.

But the industry is continuing to grow. Globally, predictions for the total value of the industry in the next couple of years ranges from $51bn (£30bn) to $107bn (£64bn) as a response to the increasing demand for immediately accessible, quality training.

So it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. What is key, though, is that elearning has become an umbrella term used in schools, colleges and universities as much as it is in businesses. Whether you want to swot-up on your Latin and Philosophy or train for your ACCA exams, learn or train, elearning has it covered so perhaps it’s not quite time to retire the term.