The terms “teaching” and “training” are often used interchangeably, but there are important distinctions. Both are useful when done effectively, but to understand their role in development, it is necessary to understand their differences.

Those responsible for development activities will find it helpful to make the definition very clear within development programs and for those who participate in them. Making the distinction helps to clarify and underscore the objectives and outcomes of each. Teaching is more theoretical and abstract, while training (when done well) is more hands-on and practical. Teaching seeks to impart knowledge and provide information, while training is intended to develop abilities.

For example, it is possible to teach someone about buoyancy, fluid dynamics, water displacement and coastline safety, but that knowledge will not make them a good swimmer. Specific, practical and applied training is necessary to use abstract knowledge to learn or master a skill. In many cases, teaching and training are complementary. Vocational training programs often combine teaching and training quite nicely.

Teach: to provide knowledge, instruction or information

Train: to develop abilities through practice with instruction or supervision

A common complaint about university graduates is that they do not have the practical skills that are necessary to thrive in the workplace. Although many universities and institutions are excellent at teaching, the training component either falls short or is nonexistent. Teaching can impart the information required to do a job, how to understand that information and how to make best use of it.

It might seem to be appealing for students to leave formal education fully taught, trained and ready to hit the ground running. However, this experience is rare. The truth is, training should not be viewed by employers as a burden; it is also an opportunity. A strong training program helps employees understand not just what to do, but also how and why to do it. It also involves imparting values, reinforcing organizational culture, and building relationships with and among employees. The best trainers know how to bring in pre-learning materials and useful follow-up processes and to bridge the gaps between past learning and future development programs.

Teaching Versus Training

Both teaching and training are important parts of long-term employee development that can be used independently or together to improve employee performance. The chart below highlights some major differences between teaching and training. Training and learning leaders may find it helpful to use a similar framework to match teaching or training activities with learning outcomes.

Teaching vs. Training table

Effective Training

It can be challenging to identify good training programs or good trainers. There is a large industry built on training, but some trainers and training programs are more style than substance: glossy brochures, overblown claims of “transformative experiences” and unlimited productivity increases. An attractive package is not always empty, but some certainly are.

Look past the shiny sales pitches and slick suits to see the true value of a training program and how it fits with the development of your employees and organization. Experienced trainers know how to identify the difference: Are there meaningful and measurable outcomes to the training? Are the outcomes valuable and applicable to learners’ work? If the training is intended to improve productivity, there should be follow-up and measurement to see if productivity actually increases. If the training is intended to prevent bullying or harassment in the workplace, then the organization should actually be able to identify a reduction or elimination of such incidences following the training.

Training should bring people’s previous knowledge and experiences into the real world of their work. By providing supported practice, it transforms knowing what one should do into actually doing it.

There is value in both teaching and training, and there is a clear difference between the two. While some would argue about the value of theoretical knowledge compared with applied practice, both are complementary and necessary parts of development programs. Defining and distinguishing training and teaching help to identify and select the role of each in individual development and improvement within the organization.