‘Training’ is making a comeback

‘Training’ is making a comeback.

I don’t mean that classroom training is undergoing a revival. It never went away (classroom delivery accounts for about 60-70% of the effort of most L&D departments). I’m talking about the name we give ourselves.

At some point in the mid-2000s we shifted collectively from describing what we do as ‘training’ to calling it ‘learning and development’. That made perfect sense at the time. ‘Training’ was inadequate to describe our role, which had grown to encompass the new world of learning systems, electronic learning content and much more. And anyway, ‘learning and development’ sounded more modern, cooler, than stuffy old ‘training’.

But I have heard ‘training’ increasingly used recently by L&D professionals to describe their activities, and I think it’s for two good reasons. Not only does ‘training’ actually mean something to most people (unlike ‘L&D’), the alternative of ‘learning and development’ still doesn’t really adequately describe what we do. At best it describes the results of what we do. After all, it’s other people who do the learning and the developing. Sales people don’t call themselves ‘product purchasers’. Hairdressers don’t call themselves ‘nice haircut wearers’.

And this is no semantic quibble. The lack of clarity may have generated some wider confusion. Too often we refer to ‘providing’, ‘generating’ or ‘distributing’ something called ‘learning’, when what we are really talking about is pushing around bits of ‘content’, not ‘learning’. People do the learning, it’s not a commodity or object.

So we need a term that is both easily understood and describes what we actually do – which increasingly is about supporting performance and creating opportunities to learn. It’s tempting to throw in everything we do and create a very long term like the splendid ‘rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz’ (the ‘law delegating beef label monitoring’, which sadly this month passed out of use in German).

Recognising this is not an option, some L&D professionals have turned back to ‘training’. It isn’t perfect, but it does describe a lot of what we do and it is easily understood. If it brings with it some misconceptions, then perhaps we should deal with those directly rather than first having to describe what we mean by ‘Learning and Development’ and then uncoupling that term from its own associated misconceptions.

Of course I started my working life as a classroom trainer, so I may be biased. What do you think? Does ‘training’ describe your profession? What short, easily-understood alternative would you suggest? Let me know at and I’ll post the best answers on the LSG website.

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18 responses to “‘Training’ is making a comeback

  1. Hi Don
    I understand what you are saying. I’m a Training Manager but that does not describe what I do. While I do manage training resources (people or documents/resources/courses) I also manage communities, act as a system expert, manage projects, support colleagues, review documents, advise on new procedure roll outs etc… I guess I like to think of myself as a ‘Change Manager’ – but what does that really mean?
    Training is at least identifiable but it’s still so identified with the formal (classroom) element of what we do. Perhaps this goes back to how we market ourselves as ‘trainers’ (or don’t!)
    Perhaps the title doesn’t matter – it’s what we do that does?

  2. what about ‘Department of Capability-Potentializing Maximification which Architectify Self-Congnisatory Experiences in the Post-Modern World’?

  3. Interesting question as like Julian I and the people I work with in the L&D team spend quite a large amount of our time contributing to creating a learning environment. An amount of our time is taken up by developing and/or delivering training, yet a great focus of our time is spent contributing to empowering the business to own and drive their own development. For me it’s about workforce development as this to me suggests a direct link to operational and organisational activities.

    As the current remit of ‘L&D’ encompasses far more than ‘just training’ I think it would be a great shame to step backwards and its a great idea to look at new terms that fully define our current role.

  4. Always love this topic, it sparks many a great debate for us internally, my view and not necessarily that of all my colleagues, is if we say we are learning specialists, then it sounds like we are the receivers of the learning, not great for credibility. If you say we are the trainers then it implies we have the learning to impart, generally what people are after. In the same way a sales team are called sales and not the buying team! Always in favour of keeping it simple.

  5. I have just come out of a ‘training’ room where I have left my learners to prepare a short presentation – I do not see my role as a trainer, even though the course is what is nominally known as a ‘train the trainer’. It may sound corny but I really am only facilitating a certain amount of learning and mostly reassuring people of their latent abilities and recognising the skills that they actually demonstrate. Training suggests to me: I show – You learn. What we do is much broader and has, thankfully, shifted focus from what we know to what the learner learns. I work for a training company that facilitates learning…

  6. I don’t think ‘training’ ever went away. People ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I work for a training company. I talk to clients and they ask me if I have any trainers available to deliver a training course. I talk to learners and they tell me that they enjoyed the training they received. The only time we talk ‘Learning and Development’, ‘imparting knowledge’ etc, is on websites/brochures/conferences, etc.
    Training may encompass more than it ever has in the methodology of design and delivery, but it always will be known as trainng to the people involved in it.

  7. As long as we don’t go back to calling ourselves, or being called ‘HRD’.

  8. My organisation is currently working with our intranet and various collaborative tools to create what we are calling a “learnscape”. i laughingly referred to myself the other day as a “Learnscape architect”! Trainers could be “learnscape managers”; training material developers could be “learnscape builders”. I think this has some traction, a whole new nomenclature for us to play with!

  9. It’s true that learning and development doesn’t cover what we offer. But perhaps no single term can? Should we have a variety of names to cover the very different skills our profession delivers: performance support, coach, talent optimizer, trainer etc. Maybe once upon a time, we could all fit into one bucket, I’m not sure that’s the case any more.

  10. I think everybody is right–no single term describes what each of us (let alone all of us) does. I don’t know if any term even comes close. What I do know is that our company continues to view us as “training.” We’ve made a few stabs at renaming ourselves, just to be told “everybody knows what training means, and there’s no need to change it.” I won’t speak for others, but I’ve decided to get over it. I manage a training department–no matter what it does.

  11. Whether we call it “Training” or “L&D”, what really matters is have people learned as a result of our intervention and will they continue to learn when they return to the workplace?

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