Training vs. Education: Is There a Difference?

Recently my colleague, Ben Eubanks, posted a video blog about simulation being essential to getting good training results. That sparked a thought I want to explore today. What is the real difference between training sessions and educational sessions? Is there a difference at all?

For many people, the words training and education are synonymous. I’ve heard them used interchangeably for years. However, there really are differences and specific reasons why you would want each one at different points in your career. I’ve read the arguments that say that there is no difference; however, I stand firm that the purpose or goal of the session differentiates the type of session:


  • Has an intended purpose to train a specific skill or tactic that should result in specific behaviors to be used on the job
  • Is often part of a longer program designed to help the employee perform better in a specific job, task or skill
  • Has a more defined, tangible learning goal that is typically tied to performance goals

Educational Sessions

  • Can have a general desired outcome, but rely on participants to determine whether the information can be used in their own jobs or careers
  • Are designed to include participants with a variety of job titles, skill levels, and years of experience
  • Are designed to inform without ties to a specific job
  • Are better suited to address strategic or more theoretical approaches
  • Can allow for greater contributions from participants because they are not tied to teaching a specific set of tasks or process points

The challenge I see as someone who speaks at, and attends, conferences is that conference organizers often approach sessions like they are all intended as training. While that may meet certification criteria, there is value for conferences to provide educational sessions as well so learners can take some responsibility for determining how to apply advanced, complex theories to their work or life. These are also the sessions that tend to create the atmosphere for a great deal of discussion, thus bringing collaborative learning to the group.

Both types of sessions should factor into your organization’s learning strategy. Unfortunately, many organizations are just sending employees to training or other types of sessions without much of a plan. According to Brandon Hall Group’s 2014 Learning and Development Study, only 58% of respondents have a formal learning strategy in their organization. By considering various types of learning, you will be able to establish a learning strategy to better support organizational goals.

What have you seen or experienced in your career? Do you attend more training sessions or educational sessions? Do you believe there is a difference? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Trish McFarlane, VP and Principal Analyst,
Human Resources, Brandon Hall Group

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Trish McFarlane



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Trish McFarlane