Basic Terms in Training and Development


At the organizational level, enterprises need people with appropriate skills, abilities and experience. These qualities can be bought from outside the organization through recruitment, consultancy and subcontracting, or grown by training and developing existing employees.

This course unit focuses on the second approach to getting people with appropriate skills, abilities and experience.

The following terms are described in this document.  Note that trainers, developers and educators vary among their own definitions of the terms.

At its most basic form, a piece of information about something is a “unit of awareness” about that object or subject. Other people also accept information as a form of realization from other forms of inquiry, e.g., intuition.

Knowledge is gleaned by organizing information. Typically, information evolves to knowledge by the learner’s gaining context, perspective and scope about the information.

Skills are applying knowledge in an effective and efficient manner to get something done. One notices skills in an employee by their behaviors.

A task is a typically defined as a unit of work, that is, a set of activities needed to produce some result, e.g., vacuuming a carpet, writing a memo, sorting the mail, etc. Complex positions in the organization may include a large number of tasks, which are sometimes referred to as functions.

A job is a collection of tasks and responsibilities that an employee is responsible to conduct. Jobs have titles.

A role is the set of responsibilities or expected results associated with a job. A job usually includes several roles.

Typically, learning is viewed as enhancing one’s knowledge, understanding or skills. Some people see learning as enhancement to one’s knowledge, awareness and skills. Some professionals view learning as enhancing one’s capacity to perform. Some view learning as a way of being that includes strong value on receiving feedback and increasing understanding. It’s important to note that learning is more than collecting information — more than collecting unreferenced books on a shelf. Depending on the needs of the learner, knowledge is converted to skills, that is, the learner knows how to apply the knowledge to get something done. Ideally, the skills are applied to the most appropriate tasks and practices in the organization, thereby producing performance results needed by the organization.

Continuous Learning

Simply put, continuous learning is the ability to learn to learn. Learning need not be a linear event where a learner goes to a formal learning program, gains areas of knowledge and skills about a process, and then the learning ceases. If the learner can view life (including work) as a “learning program”, then the learner can continue to learn from almost everything in life. As a result, the learner continues to expand his or her capacity for living, including working.

This term is often interpreted as the activity when an expert and learner work together to effectively transfer information from the expert to the learner (to enhance a learner’s knowledge, attitudes or skills) so the learner can better perform a current task or job.

Training is defined as “a process for developing individual skills and effectiveness. Rarely is it a process of organization or group development. Individual effectiveness, in terms of skills, knowledge and attitude, is one of the essential building blocks towards achievement of the wider goal of improved organizational efficiency and effectiveness. The development of the individual and the organization are therefore inextricably linked.”

Training is also defined as a systematic process or changing the behavior, knowledge and motivation of present employees to improve the match between employee characteristics and employment requirements.

This term seems to be the most general of the key terms in employee training. Some professionals view education as accomplishing a personal context and understanding of the world, so that one’s life and work are substantially enhanced, e.g., “Go get an education.” Others view the term as the learning required to accomplish a new task or job.

This term is often viewed as a broad, ongoing multi-faceted set of activities (training activities among them) to bring someone or an organization up to another threshold of performance. This development often includes a wide variety of methods, e.g., orienting about a role, training in a wide variety of areas, ongoing training on the job, coaching, mentoring and forms of self-development. Some view development as a life-long goal and experience.

Employee Training and Development:

Reasons and Benefits

As a brief review of terms, training involves an expert working with learners to transfer to them certain areas of knowledge or skills to improve in their current jobs. Development is a broad, ongoing multi-faceted set of activities (training activities among them) to bring someone or an organization up to another threshold of performance, often to perform some job or new role in the future.

We must distinguish between the training needs of the individual and those of the organization. Personal and corporate objectives must be reconciled. Individual employees frequently look for wide-ranging courses, which will help them in promotion. They will look to develop transferable skills, which are seen as valuable by other employers. In contrast, local management is more interested in training which improves performance on their present jobs, leading to improved output quality and productivity. In other words, employees seek training, which will make them more marketable, whereas organizations prefer training, which makes employees more productive.

Typical Reasons for Employee Training and Development

Training and development can be initiated for a variety of reasons for an employee or group of employees, e.g.

  1. When a performance appraisal indicates performance improvement is needed
  1. To “benchmark” the status of improvement so far in a performance improvement effort
  2. As part of an overall professional development program
  3. As part of succession planning to help an employee be eligible for a planned change in role in the organization
  4. To “pilot”, or test, the operation of a new performance management system
  5. To train about a specific topic.

General Benefits of Training and Development…

  1. To the Task
  • Increased Productivity.
  • Task expertise
  • Reduction of mistakes.
  • Standardization of work.
    1. To the Team. (teamwork can be improved through)
      • Whether the labour market is in excess demand or excess supply training is important.  During high employment, the need for a job is high and some applicants will not be as competent and experienced. They will need training.
      • Exchange: Training gives employees in different parts of the company, the ability to exchange views and ideas. This helps promote a common identity and may generate new solutions to work.
      • The Hawthorne Effect: Occurs when employees feel they have been selected for special attention. This may lead to higher production levels.
      • Ideas: Business ideas can be generated internally and be cost effective.
      • Reduced employee turnover
      • Enhanced company image, e.g., conducting ethics training (not a good reason for ethics training!)
      • Risk management, e.g., training about sexual harassment, diversity training


  1. To the Individual
  • Increased job satisfaction and morale among employees.
  • Increased employee motivation.
  • Increased efficiencies in processes, resulting in financial gain.
  • Increased capacity to adopt new technologies and methods.
  • Increased innovation in strategies and products


Training and Development Processes:

That is, one can take an informal approach to self-directed or “other-directed” learning. Similarly, one can take a formal approach to self-directed or “other-directed” learning.

The decision about what approach to take to training depends on several factors.  Factors include the:

  • Amount of funding available for training,
  • Specificity and complexity of the knowledge and skills needed,
  • Timeliness of training needed, and
  • Capacity and motivation of the learner.

Other-directed, formal training is typically more expensive than other approaches, but is often the most reliable to use for the learner to achieve the desired knowledge and skills in a timely fashion. Self-directed, informal learning can be very low-cost, however the learner should have the capability and motivation to pursue their own training. Training may take longer than other-directed forms.

Highly specific and routine tasks can often be trained without complete, formal approaches. On the other hand, highly complex and changing roles often require more complete and formal means of development, which can be very expensive as a result.

If training is needed right away, then other-directed training is often very useful, e.g., to sign up for a training course at a local university, college or training center. Or, a training professional can be brought in. Again, other-directed training is usually faster and more reliable, but more expensive.

Self-directed forms of training require that the learner be highly motivated and able to conceptualize their approach to training, particularly in formal training.

Informal and Formal Training and Development

Informal training and development is rather casual and incidental. Typically, there are no specified training goals as such, nor are their ways to evaluate if the training actually accomplished these goals or not. This type of training and development occurs so naturally that many people probably aren’t aware that they’re in a training experience at all. Probably the most prominent form of informal training is learning from experience on the job. Examples are informal discussions among employees about a certain topic, book discussion groups, and reading newspaper and journal articles about a topic. A more recent approach is sending employees to hear prominent speakers, sometimes affectionately called “the parade of stars”.

Informal training is less effective than formal training if one should intentionally be learning a specific area of knowledge or skill in a timely fashion. Hardly any thought is put into what learning is to occur and whether that learning occurred or not. (However, this form of training often provides the deepest and richest learning because this form is what occurs naturally in life.)

Formal Training and Development

Formal training is based on some standard “form”. Formal training might include:

  • Declaring certain learning objectives (or an extent of knowledge, skills or abilities that will be reached by learners at the end of the training),
  • Using a variety of learning methods to reach the objectives and then
  • Applying some kind(s) of evaluation activities at the end of the training.

The methods and means of evaluation might closely associate with the learning objectives, or might not. For example, courses, seminars and workshops often have a form — but it’s arguable whether or not their training methods and evaluation methods actually assess whether the objectives have been met or not.

Formal, Systematic Training and Development

Systematic, formal training involves carefully proceeding through the following phases:

  • Assessing what knowledge, skills and /or abilities are needed by learners;
  • Designing the training, including identifying learning goals and associated objectives, training methods to reach the objectives, and means to carefully evaluate whether the objectives have been reached or not;
  • Developing the training methods and materials;
  • Implementing the training; and
  • Evaluating whether objectives have been reached or not, in addition to the quality of the training methods and materials themselves

A systematic approach is goal-oriented (hopefully, to produce results for the organization and/or learners), with the results of each phase being used by the next phase. Typically, each phase provides ongoing evaluation feedback to other phases in order to improve the overall system’s process.

Note, again, that not all formal methods are systematic. Some courses, workshops, and other training sessions have goals, methods and evaluation, but they are not aligned, or even integrated. The methods, in total, do not guide the learner toward achieving the training goal. The evaluations are too often of how a learner feels about the learning experience, rather than of how well the learning experience achieved the goal of the training.

Self-Directed and “Other-Directed” Training

Self-directed training includes the learner making the decisions about what training and development experiences will occur and how. Self-directed training seems to be more popular of late. Note that one can pursue a self-directed approach to informal or formal training. For example, self-directed, informal training might include examples of informal training listed above (book discussion groups, etc.), as long as the learner chose the activities and topics themselves, either for professional or personal reasons. Self-directed, formal training includes the learner’s selecting and carrying out their own learning goals, objectives, methods and means to verify that the goals were met.

Other-Directed Learning

This form, of course, is where someone other than the learner drives what training activities will occur. Other-directed, informal training includes, e.g., supervisors sending employees to training about diversity, policies, sexual harassment in the workplace.

Other-directed, formal training includes where someone other than the learner specifies the training goals will be met in training, how those goals will be met and how evaluation will occur to verify that the goals were met. This form of learning is probably the most recognized because it includes the approach to learning as used in universities, colleges and training centers. This form of learning typically grants diplomas and certificates. Note that this form of training, although readily available in universities, etc., is usually somewhat “generic”, that is, the program is geared to accommodate the needs of the most learners and not be customized to any one learner. Therefore, a learner may pay tuition fees to learn knowledge and skills that he or she may not really need.

Another form of “other-directed’, formal training is employee development plans. The plans identify performance goals, how the goals will be reached, by when and who will verify their accomplishment.

“Other-directed’, formal training can be highly effective for helping learners gain desired areas of knowledge and skills in a timely fashion. A drawback is that learners can become somewhat passive, counting on the “expert” to show them what they should be doing and when.


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